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TAFC – DALLAS 2022

The Fall Nationals, home of some of the truly unforgettable weekends in both Jim and Annie Whiteley’s careers, was anything but in 2022. This year, Dallas, where Jim scored three times in Top Alcohol Dragster (2008-12-13) and Annie was part of the quickest side-by-side race in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (5.37-5.38 opposite Doug Gordon in the 2017 final), ended in first-round frustration for both drivers.

In just their fourth NHRA national event appearance of the season (following Norwalk, Brainerd, and Indy) both members of drag racing’s premier husband-and-wife team were gone after a single round of eliminations, Jim in a match anybody else would’ve lost too and Annie in a heartbreaker she had in the bag.

After stringing together solid back-to-back qualifying runs (5.54/264 and 5.57/261), Jim found himself up against one of the top two Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers of the past five years, 2020 world champion Doug Gordon, who was all but out of title contention a few weeks ago but now finds himself very much back in it. It didn’t last long. Jim got off the line with the known leaver but overpowered the track in low gear while Gordon, fresh off a win at the St. Louis regional, drove away to a 5.51/267 win he desperately needs to chase down Shane Westerfield for the 2022 championship.

Annie positively drilled first-round opponent Kris Hool on the Tree and couldn’t possibly have lost unless something mechanical went wrong. Something mechanical went wrong: the car shut itself off. She and Hool staged simultaneously – always a difficult prospect because both drivers think they’re staging first but in effect are actually staging last. Annie maintained her composure for a clutch .033 light that had her a car-length ahead of Hool, who flinched for a .157 but advanced anyway when Annie’s car inexplicably shut itself off at the top of low gear, spewing unburned fuel out the headers as she looked on helplessly while he drove around her and into the quarterfinals.

PRO MOD – TULSA 2022

At the second-to-last race of the 2022 Mid-West Drag Racing Series Pro Mod season, Steven Whiteley delivered on the promise he’s shown all year, pacing the field with an outstanding 3.64 – the exact E.T. mom Annie Whiteley recorded to lead the Funny Car program.

“You get additional runs here because you just ran a whole race [the rescheduled Great Bend event] a day ago, so there’s a lot more opportunity,” Whiteley said. “But it’s not just that. The weather conditions all weekend were favorable to our team, and not just our car – all the YNot cars seem to run good at Tulsa.”

Whiteley, who fell just short of 210 mph on the 3.64, was joined in the .60s by eventual winner Dustin Nesloney, who won the rescheduled Great Bend event earlier in the weekend; Kentucky’s Tommy Cunningham; series founder and Tulsa Raceway Park co-owner Keith Haney; and the 220-mph Second Gen Camaro of Ed Thornton.

Whiteley wasn’t the only driver in the 3.60s, but he had the field covered early on race day, too, wheeling the J&A Service/YNot Racing ’69 Camaro to not just low E.T. of eliminations but the two lowest E.Ts.: 3.67 and 3.63. A 3.67/207 in the opening round was the quickest run of all 16 qualifiers and handily erased Brian Lewis’ respectable 3.76/199, and he established low E.T. of the entire event in a 3.63/208 demolition of Mark “Tydo” Werdehausen’s slowing 4.89/152 in the quarterfinals.

When the blower belt snapped in the semifinals, silencing his engine and costing him the race, Whiteley absorbed a disappointing 3.66/213 to 6.62/67 loss to Nesloney, who extended his already insurmountable points lead. “We were on a tear, but we keep killing blower belts,” he said. “The two-step is really hard on them. We were only getting five runs on a belt, then it was three runs, then two, and then this one broke on the first run. A burnout and a launch, and a brand-new lets go. It’s too bad – we really had the car to beat all weekend.”

The YNot Pro Mod team now stands second in the MWDRS standings, joining mom Annie, who’s second in Funny Car and wife Delaina, who’s second in Top Dragster behind Whiteley’s aunt, reigning series Anita Pulliam-Strasburg.

TAFC – TULSA 2022

Any doubt that Jim and Annie Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaros are identically prepared (if there ever was any) was put permanently to rest on a single qualifying run at the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ Throwdown at T-Town.

Husband and wife blasted off the Tulsa Raceway Park starting line within 1/200th of a second of each other and charged down the strip side by side with nearly identical performances right to the end: .954 to .955 in 60 feet, 2.46 to 2.46 to the 330-foot mark, and matching 3.628s at the finish line, with Jim crossing the stripe going half a mile-per-hour faster, 213.47 to Annie’s 212.96.

A day after the rescheduled Great Bend Nationals were completed, the biggest weekend of the eight-race MWDRS season continued with the Throwdown, which, as was the case a day earlier, went better for Annie than it did for Jim. By a single position (on the speed tiebreaker), he had the edge in qualifying in what turned out to be the quickest field in MWDRS Funny Car history. The entire field was in the 3.60s, from pole sitter Chris Marshall’s 3.61 to No. 6 Bill Bernard’s more than respectable 3.69.

Those 3.60s came to a screeching halt in the first round of eliminations, when only Marshall and Annie maintained their consistency. Annie had low E.T. of the entire round in a 3.64/212 win over Colorado’s Steve Macklyn, who gave it his best shot with telepathic .009 reaction time in a losing 3.71/204 effort.

Texan Bryan Brown, who eliminated Jim in the opening round, 3.71/206 to 3.79/198, did Bernard one better in the semi’s with an ever quicker .00 light against Annie – a near-perfect .001. Annie was on time with a solid .059, but Brown put together his best run of the weekend for a tight 3.63/210 win over her fast-closing 3.64/213, then lost to Marshall in the final.

PRO MOD – GREAT BEND 2022

In his return to competition after crew chief Brandon Snider filled in admirably with a semifinal finish at the U.S. 131 Nationals, Steven Whiteley did likewise at the rescheduled Great Bend Nationals, advancing to the final four to soar into second place in the Mid-West Drag Racing Series Pro Mod standings.

Whiteley managed just a shut-off 5.52 at 78 mph on the original date four months ago in Great Bend, Kan., but he, like many, got just one run, and for the worst possible reason: in the second qualifying session, Ronnie Hobbs’ car went over the wall in a tragic crash that took his life and took out the timing system, ultimately pushing the race back four months and to a different site, series headquarters Tulsa Raceway Park.

“I went only about 10 feet and blew the tires off in the left lane on that one run at Great Bend and never got to make a run in the right after Ronnie’s crash,” Whiteley said. “I think morale was down for everybody, and rightfully so. We were all just thinking about his family.”

A world away in Tulsa, the rescheduled Great Bend event served as Race 1 of a two-race extravaganza on the penultimate weekend of the eight-race MWDRS season. From the No. 2 qualifying spot, Whiteley plowed through the first round of eliminations with the quickest and second-fastest run of the stanza, a sizzling 3.64 at 208.33 mph. Only Ed Thornton’s 219.54-mph blast was faster, and he was nearly a full tenth of a second behind Whiteley in the all-important E.T. department with a 3.72.

For Whiteley, the race may have ended in the quarterfinals when his ’69 Camaro slipped to a 4.59/111 against second-generation driver Justin Jones, but the weekend was far from over. Things were looking way up a day later at the Throwdown at T-Town, where the J&A Service/YNot team towered over the entire field with an event-best 3.64/209.

“By the time we made up this race, it wasn’t the same vibe as at that next one after Great Bend,” Whiteley said. “It’s a different track, and enough time has passed that things were just different. You could feel it. I wasn’t fazed about getting in the car again – I just wanted to get back at it. I think we all did.”

TAFC – GREAT BEND 2022

The last time a cancelled Mid-West Drag Racing Series race was contested at another venue (earlier this season when Memphis was moved to Tulsa), Annie Whiteley emerged victorious. This time, not so much – but she didn’t miss by much.

Whiteley, who entered the rescheduled Great Bend Nationals atop the Funny Car rankings, made the final but actually lost ground in the standings because the only driver ahead of her was the one who took her out: longtime nemesis Chris Marshall. The 10-year pro, who’d shut off to a 5.76 at 82 mph on her lone qualifying attempt back in Kansas, which was called off after Ronnie Hobbs’ fatal crash took out the clocks, led Marshall by a single point when they passed through the gates at Tulsa Raceway Park.

With an outstanding 3.636 at 213.27 mph in the first round, Whiteley trounced friend Steve Macklyn, who blatantly fouled and coasted to a 9.25 at 48 mph, completing an odd pattern: for perhaps the first time ever, every single race in a round of Top Alcohol Funny Car eliminations was decided on a red-light.

Bryan Brown’s near miss (-.006) invalidated a 3.68/206, advancing Annie’s husband, Jim, who ran a similar 3.67/210 in what otherwise would have been the best race of the round. Then Colorado’s Bill Bernard, using a clutch instead of the torque converter he has for years, threw away any shot he had of upsetting Marshall’s 3.57/314 low E.T./top speed blast with a -.107 bulb.

After Marshall clocked a 3.64/212 on a single, Jim and Annie faced off, as they seem to every weekend, in the other semifinal matchup. Annie got the best of their latest head-to-head clash in a great race after Jim moved first. Both were more than on time ­­(Jim with a .041 reaction time, Annie a .052), but Jim’s 3.68/209 wasn’t enough when she duplicated her first-round time almost to the thousand of a second for a 3.635/213 win.

Pressing to dip into the 3.50s in the final, Annie lost traction, coasting to a disappointing 8.24 at 51 mph. It was particularly exasperating because another low .60 might just have been enough to win – Marshall slowed to his worst run of eliminations, a 3.64 at 212 mph, but still won the race and passed her for the points lead.

PSM – ST. LOUIS 2022

A round and a half ahead of Matt Smith coming into the Midwest Nationals, Cory Reed and rider Joey Gladstone hit St. Louis thinking big. Title contenders typically average a semifinal finish across the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, and Gladstone did in fact make it to the semifinals, but the rider best positioned to keep him from the crown – five-time world champion Matt Smith – got the best of him there and won the final to assume the points lead with three races to go.

“I’m not going to stress too much about points,” said Gladstone, who’d won three of the past four races, the first three of his NHRA career – Sonoma, Topeka, and Reading. “It’s a dogfight every weekend, and we’re all running so close together and are so close to each other in the points, but whatever I’ve been doing seems to be working so I’m just going to keep doing it.”

Gladstone’s Diamond W/Fatheadz team didn’t make a bad run all weekend, hovering in the 6.70s throughout, starting with a 6.79/199 Friday evening in the first qualifying session that placed him precisely in the middle of the pack, seventh of 13 qualifiers. He followed with identical 6.777s Saturday afternoon, first at 198.67 mph to leapfrog emerging star Marc Ingwersen (6.785) and former world champion Jerry Savoie (6.791) for the No. 5 spot and then backing it up with a second 6.777, this one at 199.58 mph.

“In weather like this, you can really get after it,” Gladstone said of the ideal track and barometric conditions present all weekend. Sunday morning in the first round, he drew a much tougher first-round opponent than No. 5 usually faces, national record holder Karen Stoffer, the only rider to beat him since Denver.

When the tree flashed green, Gladstone was more than up to the challenge, trouncing her otherwise fine 6.87/196 with his best run all weekend, a 6.75 at more than 200 mph. In the quarterfinals against Angie Smith, he covered the quarter-mile in precisely 6.777 seconds for the third time in four runs and passed the tree with a bike-length lead, .031 to .177, to easily outdistance her.

The wheels came off in that crucial semifinal battle, when Matt Smith matched Gladstone on the tree, .019 to .023, and walked away for a 6.75/201 to 6.78/198 win to overtake him by a single point. (After Smith’s final-round win, the lead now stands at 21 points.) “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” Gladstone said of their ongoing championship battle. “If it happens, it happens, and if it goes our way, we’ll enjoy it.”

PSM – MAPLE GROVE 2022

Righting a ship that seemed adrift just two weeks ago at the U.S. Nationals, Joey Gladstone rode Cory Reed’s Diamond W/Fatheadz Hayabusa to victory in the first race of the five-race Countdown to the Championship, the Pep Boys Nationals. Qualified in the middle of the pack – No. 8 – he came to life in eliminations, smashing incoming points leader Matt Smith in the quarterfinals in perhaps the biggest single round of his career.

“This is awesome,” Gladstone said, still clearly in disbelief after winning for the third time in four races – his first three NHRA wins ever. “It’s still hard to believe it’s really happening.”

“Pure happiness,” exclaimed Reed, now almost fully recovered from his devastating crash last September in Charlotte. “Having so many people rooting for us … it’s a dream come true.”

Gladstone, who entered the Countdown in second place, an even 20 points behind Smith, opened with a decent 6.81/198 in Friday night qualifying, slowed to a 6.83/197 early Saturday afternoon, then powered to a 6.79/199 in last-shot qualifying to move back into the fast half of the field – barely. Waiting for him was Hector Arana Jr., a 15-time national event winner whose career has been marred by red-light starts and who took himself out with another one here.

Smith, the five-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion who passed Gladstone for the points lead with his Indy victory and qualified No. 1 at this race, loomed in a titanic second-round showdown. For a crucial win that surely will be looked back on as the turning point if he eventually wins the title, Gladstone got Smith at the line and outran him in an instant classic, 6.815 to 6.818.

“I thought I saw the win-light,” Gladstone said, “but then I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Did I really?’ I wasn’t sure until they pointed at me as I rolled around the corner. I’ve never beaten Matt on his V-Twin, have I? He’s a great competitor, one of my idols, and getting him out of here early was huge.”

In the semifinals, Gladstone came from behind for a 6.86/196 to 6.92/195 win over upstart Marc Ingwersen, who’d taken out Angelle Sampey on a huge holeshot, then faced Angie Smith, who had the full might of Matt Smith Racing behind her, in the final. That one was over immediately when she went red, but he had her all the way with a clutch .012 reaction time and a better run, 6.83/196 to 6.86/198.

“To win these things, you really have to learn how to tune on Sundays,” said Gladstone, now Pro Stock Motorcycle’s top-ranked rider. “Eliminations is not the same thing as qualifying, and, as we learned at Indy, what works at one track doesn’t necessarily work at another one.”

TAFC – MARTIN 2022

Both J&A Service/YNot Racing Funny Cars – Jim Whiteley’s spotless white machine and wife Annie’s familiar blue one – were taken out by the same car at the U.S. 131 Nationals, the flamed Camaro of 2021 Mid-West Drag Racing Series runner-up Chris Marshall. Everything was wide-open in the absence of reigning series champion Sean Bellemeur, and Marshall made the most of it, starting with a wheels-up, nearly aborted 3.58 in qualifying that was on the ragged edge of control from start to finish.

Jim ended up fourth and nearly pulled off an outrageous first-round upset with a massive holeshot, falling just short of Marshall in the lights by the invisible margin of two-thousandths of a second. Annie put away Steve Macklyn’s Ford Mustang in the other opening-round matchup and in the final just missed pulling off what Jim almost did had: beating Marshall on a holeshot.

But instead of a perfect .000 light, Annie, who has really come into her own on the Tree this year, red-lighted by mere thousandths of a second with a frustrating -.002 reaction time. With the race lost, she shut off early and coasted across the eighth-mile finish line at 88 mph with what would’ve been a great E.T. on a quarter-mile (5.52), while the Oregon-based driver, who reverted to an old setup for this race after a disappointing U.S. Nationals, sped to a 3.62 at a booming 212.06 mph. For Annie, who qualified No. 1 here last year, it was her second runner-up in a row at the revamped Martin, Mich., facility.         

The 2022 Mid-West Drag Racing Series season wraps up with another double event in Tulsa (not unlike the rained-out Memphis event that was finished in conjunction with the regularly scheduled Tulsa event this spring). It all unfolds Oct. 7-8 at Osage Casino & Hotel Tulsa Raceway Park, where the cancelled Great Bend Nationals will be contested as part of the traditional Throwdown in T-Town MWDRS season finale.

PRO MOD – MARTIN 2022

Back behind the wheel of one of the fastest Pro Mods on the eighth-mile instead of tuning it for Steven Whiteley as he has all year, talented driver/tuner Brandon Snider qualified near the top and drove to a semifinal finish at the U.S. 131 Nationals. At Martin, one of the crown jewels on the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ eight-race tour, Snider showed the form that made him one of the more feared drivers on the NHRA circuit, where he won multiple events and came within a round of the 2020 championship.

“It’s great to have a crew chief who can drive the car when you can’t,” said Whiteley, whose focus was on the YNot Racing Top Dragster driven by Delaina, who’s just as much in contention for a championship in her class as he is in his. “I didn’t have help on Delaina’s car this weekend – we knew that ahead of time – so I concentrated just on her car. One of the great things about this Mid-West deal is that you can substitute a driver and not lose any points.”

As the MWDRS season resumed following a three-month break since St. Louis, Snider picked up right where Whiteley left off, wheeling the J&A Service/YNot Racing team’s immaculate ’69 Camaro to an outstanding 3.65 at 205 mph for the No. 4 spot in the all-3-second 16-car lineup. Series newcomer and eventual winner Preston Tanner paced the field with a run just a couple hundredths of a second quicker than Snider’s 3.65, a 3.62/204.

In the first round, in all-Camaro showdown with Mike Recchia, Snider was out first with a .024 reaction time and came out on top in a great race, 3.68/206 to 3.73/203. When the sun set for the quarterfinals, Snider picked up to a 3.66/205 to erase the close 3.72/201 of second-generation racer Jackie Sloan Jr. and set up a semifinal showdown with Tanner.

Tanner, who would go on to score in his MWDRS debut, got off the mark first with a telepathic reaction time and held off Snider’s quicker 3.61/208 for a 3.64/203 holeshot win. “When we want to test and I can’t be there, Brandon always drives, so it was just like having me in there,” Whiteley said. “Having him drive was a no-brainer. He knows what the car’s doing from the inside, tuned that way for years – that’s what makes him so good.”

TAFC – INDY 2022

The U.S. Nationals, site of one of Jim Whiteley’s greatest victories ever (Top Alcohol Dragster in 2013) and three final-round appearances in four years for wife Annie (Top Alcohol Funny Car in 2012, 2013, and 2015) turned out to be an exercise in frustration this year. Husband and wife ran head-to-head in the first qualifying session, left almost simultaneously, and posted virtually identical E.T.s – 5.625 and 5.627, respectively – but from there it all went downhill.

“The car’s just not running right,” said Jim, who fell in the opening round to eventual winner Sean Bellemeur’s 5.48/266 (low E.T. of the meet to that point). “It won’t run on the other end. We thought we had it all figured out at Brainerd, but, obviously, we don’t.”

Annie got quicker as qualifying progressed but also found herself on the sidelines before round two. After the matching 5.62s on altogether dissimilar runs – Jim coasted across the finish line at just 245.90 mph and Annie charged through the traps going 20 mph faster (265.48) – her blue J&A Service/YNot racing Camaro improved to a 5.61/264 and then to a much quicker 5.54/265 Saturday afternoon. Over the same span, Jim’s matching white machine improved only marginally, to a 5.60-flat at 261 mph that left him in the slow half of the field, 14th overall.

Though they were only six-hundredths of a second apart, Annie qualified eight spots higher than Jim in the final order, a solid No. 6. Two pair behind him in a first-round rematch of the 2015 final against Andy Bohl, she blasted off the line first but was dead in the water 100 feet out while Bohl pedaled to a beatable 5.82. “After we saw what Jim’s car did, we made adjustments to mine,” she said. “I don’t know what happened, but whatever we did, it didn’t like it.”

One positive was that with a .058 reaction time, Annie had the edge at the Tree with one of many .050s and better this season, indicating that any past problems are now a thing of the past. “We poured a new seat, and I’m comfortable in the car,” she said. “I feel good now. That’s all I needed.”

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