Tag: 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

TAFC – POMONA 2014

Annie Whiteley closed out a frustrating season with a frustrating DNQ at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. Experimenting with a completely different style of clutch – the Leanders model that’s sweeping the class – the Grand Junction, Colo., driver had to shut off early on all three qualifying attempts and missed the cut for just the third time in her career. The only other times were at this event in 2012 and last week at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It was just a bad year,” said Whiteley, who endured a winless season for the first time in her Top Alcohol Funny Car career. “It happens to everybody, and this year, it happened to us.”

Though the forgettable second half of the season was plagued with freak parts failures and occasional traction problems, the first half was a typical J&A/YNot Racing season. Whiteley was the No. 1 qualifier at four races in a row (Houston, Topeka, Denver, and Tulsa) and advanced to the final round at three of them – Houston, Denver, and Tulsa.

She set low e.t. of the meet four times – at Houston, Topeka, Denver, and Brainerd, where she also qualified in the top spot – and set top speed in Denver (249.58 mph). Whiteley, who had yet to finish outside the Top 5 in her alcohol career until 2014, wound up this season 14th in the national standings and fifth in the Central region with a decent 9-13 win-loss record and three final-round appearances.

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2014

Annie Whiteley still hasn’t been beaten at the final regional event of the 24-race Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, but instead of going 3-0 for another win at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, she went 0-0 this time – she didn’t qualify.

Whiteley, who won the event in both 2012 and 2013 (and swept the spring regionals there both years, too) missed the cut for just the second time in her entire career and the first time anywhere in nearly two years. Whiteley, whose only previous DNQ had come at the 2012 NHRA Finals at Pomona, was one of 20 drivers – including two from Sweden and one from Australia – who attempted to qualify at what annually is the toughest regional event in the country.

With a respectable 5.700, she was in the field with one qualifying session to go, but an up-in-smoke leave in that third session left her on the outside looking in when four other drivers bumped into the field. “It was just too much for the track,” said Whiteley, who smoked the tires and coasted to a 14.33. “We have an all-new clutch [designed by the Leanders Brothers, who eventually won the race], and when you change something as big as that, it takes a little time to get everything sorted out like the old setup was. Eventually, this new clutch is going to be better, and this is just something we have to go through to get where we want to be.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2014

 

Perennial Top 10 driver Annie Whiteley suffered a frustrating first-round loss at the Toyota Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, by far her best track on the entire NHRA circuit. The third-year veteran won the first race of her Top Alcohol Funny Car at the desert supertrack in April 2012, runner-upped at the national event there that fall, and scored again the late-season regional there, annually the toughest race of the season. It was the same thing last year: a clean sweep of both Vegas regionals.

 

This year? Not so much. Whiteley qualified No. 3 in the tough field but was eliminated in the first round of the Toyota Nationals by Top 5 driver Doug Gordon in a rematch of their Topeka first-round race, where she also was upset after qualifying No. 1. Gordon fought for traction in an on-and-off-the-throttle 5.73 win while Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Mustang, which had charged to a 5.55 in qualifying, slipped to a 6.18.

 

“We just didn’t have enough for a track that good,” Whiteley said. “Doug didn’t make a great run either, but he got it down there quicker than we did. He had to pedal it to get rid of the shake. So did I, but I tried short-shifting first. It didn’t make the shake go away, so I pedaled it, and he just drove away from me.” Whiteley stayed on the throttle until there was no catching Gordon and finally clicked it off for a 6.18 at 234 mph.

 

 

TAFC – CHARLOTTE 2014

Annie Whiteley’s maddening 2014 season grew even more aggravating at the Carolina Nationals at state-of-the-art zMax Dragway in Charlotte when she slipped over the centerline in a very winnable first-round matchup against Tony Bogolo and was disqualified. “I had the wheel cocked all the way to the right, and the car just kept going and going and going to the left,” she said. “I had my arms completely crossed at the end, but it wouldn’t come back, and boom – right over the centerline. The whole year’s been like that. It’s just been a bad season.”

Whiteley wheeled her J&A Service/YNot Racing Funny Car to five wins and the West Region championship in her rookie season, 2012, and piled up four more victories – including a first national title, in Chicago – in five final-round appearances last year on the way to another Top 5 finish in the prestigious NHRA national standings.

“Hey, maybe we can still make the top 10 this year,” said Whiteley, who currently is tied with Kris Hool and John Lombardo Jr. for sixth place, just two points out of the Top 5. “The best part about this weekend is how well we ran in qualifying with a new crew chief [Mike Strasburg]. It was his first race tuning a Funny Car, and with all the rain we had and considering that we lost a qualifying run, I’d say he did pretty well.”

Strasburg, who drove the YNot Racing dragster to his first career national event title earlier this season at Norwalk, tuned Whiteley’s Funny Car to a 5.63 in last-shot qualifying in Charlotte, good for the No. 6 qualifying position. “I’m just getting started, but the Funny Car doesn’t seem to be that different from a dragster so far,” Strasburg said. “5.63 isn’t too bad for our first time out, and I’m pretty encouraged about the rest of the year.”

The YNot season picks back up next month with the first of back-to-back-to-back races, the West Regional closer in Las Vegas, where Whiteley has scored three times already in her young Top Alcohol Funny Car career.

TAFC – INDY 2014

After tearing up the Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks from the time she broke through to win in just the fourth start of her rookie season, J&A Service/YNot Racing driver Annie Whiteley finally hit the first slump of her career.

An upset first-round loss at the biggest race of the season, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, where last year she made it to the final and barely lost, was Whiteley’s fourth first-round defeat in five races. It happened just four times in her entire rookie campaign, when she amassed a 26-11 win-loss record and tied for fourth in the national standings, and just five times all last year, when she put up a 23-12 mark and finished fourth in the nation.

2014 hasn’t been a washout – Whiteley currently is locked in a three-way tie for eighth place in the national standings and has three final-round appearances in the bank – but it’s been no 2012. “This stinks,” said Whiteley, who qualified No. 5 at Indy with an off-the-trailer 5.61 that covered the other 23 drivers by the almost unheard-of margin of half a tenth. She ended up No. 5, solidly in the fast half of the field as she has been at every race but one this year, but shook violently against Jay Payne, who qualified just 12th but went on to win the event.

“It was a weak shake,” she said. “It wasn’t that we overpowered the track – that track was way better than anyone thought it was going to be. Usually when you short-shift, the shake goes away, but that time, short-shifting just made the car shake harder.”

TAFC – TOPEKA REGIONAL 2014

At the Lucas Oil Regional at Heartland Park Topeka, Annie Whiteley and the J&A Service/YNot Racing team reached new depths of frustration in what to this point has been a trying season. One of the clear-cut favorites to win, as she has been at every race this season, Whiteley, who had veteran Lance Van Hauen covered by more than two-tenths of a second going into their first-round matchup, never made it to the starting line.

After qualifying a No. 2 with a 5.70-flat at more than 254 mph, just three-hundredths of a second behind No. 1 qualifier and eventual runner-up John Lombardo Jr., Whiteley coasted helplessly down the track when her car lost fire after the burnout. “It just quit,” she said. A tiny screw that fastens an ignition wire to the data recorder failed, instantly silencing Whiteley’s powerful engine and granting Van Hauen, who had qualified No. 7 with a 5.94, a bye run to victory.

“We made a lot of withdrawals from the ‘luck bank’ the first year I raced Top Alcohol Funny Car [2012], and I guess we’re paying it back now,” Whiteley said. “We just got taken out by a 50-cent part. It would be nice if that could have happened in testing or in qualifying somewhere after we were already in, but it had to happen then. I’ve been sent down the track in the rain three times this year, and we’ve had little parts break and stupid things happen to us all season. It’s just been one thing after another.”

“We got to the final at Tulsa, and it was 5.61 to 5.62 and we lost. I can take that – no problem,” said crew chief Roger Bateman. “But to lose like this … it’s just a lot tougher to swallow. What can I say? It’s been one of those years.”

TAFC – BRAINERD 2014

After running not just low e.t. of the meet but low e.t. of all three qualifying sessions at the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Annie Whiteley was upset in the second round of eliminations when her car got loose and drifted over the centerline. It was the fifth time in her career that she’s qualified No. 1 at a national event and the third time already this season.

“Somewhere before half-track, the car decided to make a left turn,” said Whiteley, who reached the first national final event of her career at this event in 2012, her rookie season in Top Alcohol Funny Car. “I have no idea why – it left hard and until that point was running just like it had all weekend.”

Whiteley wheeled her J&A Service/YNot Racing Mustang to a 5.61 at 257.63 mph to pace the field and clocked a 5.67 and a 5.64 in the other two qualifying sessions. She earned a first-round bye for being No. 1 in the short field, but following a solid 5.67 on a single that was within .01-second of low e.t. of the round, the car veered toward the centerline in round two not long after she swapped feet.

“Shane Westerfield’s car broke the rear end in the pair ahead of us,” Whiteley said. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or if it was because it was misting when I staged – the conditions weren’t ideal for any of us – but the car turned left right where his rear end broke. When [crew chief Roger Bateman] looked at the computer, he saw right on the G meter where something upset the tires.”

The Brainerd event was the first of back-to-back-to-back events for the busy YNot team. This weekend is the Central Regional at Heartland Park Topeka, and next weekend is the most prestigious event of every season, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, where last year Whiteley fell just short of victory in a close final-round match with Frank Manzo.

TAFC – NORWALK 2014

At the Summit Racing Nationals in Norwalk, Annie Whiteley, tied for seventh in the national standings, was upset in the first round of eliminations for the second week in a row – again after a particularly strong performance in qualifying. Whiteley, a Top 5 driver in each of her two years in Top Alcohol Funny Car, qualified the J&A Service/YNot Racing entry second in the field with an outstanding 5.56 at 261.78 mph and also ran a 5.60-flat during qualifying, but she went up in smoke right off the line in the first round and fell to 2011 event winner Fred Hagen Jr.

“When it smoked the tires at Chicago, there was nothing I could do,” said Whiteley, who had been a finalist at three of four races before this recent slump. “This one was my fault. The rpm was too high when I let the clutch out because I didn’t get the swap right – I led a little too much with my right [throttle] foot.”

“No way that thing’s going to make it when there’s 18 pounds of boost at the hit,” said crew chief Roger Bateman, a veteran of more than 3,000 runs as a driver. “I don’t care how good the starting line is; that’s too much.”

Teammate Mike Strasburg, fresh off his first Top Alcohol Dragster win in 13 years, scored for the second time in three outings and for the first time ever in national event competition with a final-round victory over Mark Taliaferro. In his first season back in the class since beginning his Top Fuel career more than a decade ago, Strasburg is up to fifth in the standings.

Driving the car that Jim Whiteley wheeled to the 2013 national championship, Strasburg banged out back-to-back high-5.30s to qualify for a field so tough that early season points leaders Duane Shields and Joey Severance missed the cut. He marched through the preliminary rounds of eliminations with one 5.30 after another against past national event winners Robin Samsel, Bill Reichert, and Rich McPhillips, then topped Taliaferro in the final, 5.45 to 5.68.

TAFC – CHICAGO 2014

After advancing to the final at three of the past four races and qualifying No. 1 at every one, defending champ Annie Whiteley had an off weekend at the Route 66 Nationals in Chicago. She qualified the J&A Service/YNot Racing Funny Car a strong third but went up in smoke immediately in the first round against nemesis Shane Westerfield.

“It didn’t make it far at all that time,” said Whiteley, who coasted to a 21-second time and crossed the finish line at just 73 mph. “[Crew chief Roger Bateman] told me that there was nothing I could have done because the car went up in smoke so early.”

Until then, Chicago was shaping up to be another solid outing for Whiteley, who won the first national event of her career at this here vent last year and was runner-up recently in Houston, Denver, and Tulsa, barley losing the last two. Bateman delivered the perfect setup in the second qualifying session and Whiteley wheeled the car to the provisional No. 1 spot with a 5.65 at 256.99 mph. She improved to a 5.64, also at 256 mph, in the final session and eventually settled into the No. 3 spot.

Everything seemed to be in order for yet another late-round finish when Whiteley left on time with a solid .073 reaction time  and Westerfield smoked the tires early. But as in their final-round matchup in Houston, he was able to recover and win with a subpar time in the 6.30s while she could only idle helplessly down the track.

“It was a bummer for sure,” she said, “but that’s why there’s always another race.”

TAFC – TULSA 2014

Defending event champ Annie Whiteley, who had never lost a round at Tulsa Raceway Park in her Top Alcohol Funny Car career, dropped a close final to fellow championship contender Dale Brand, 5.61 to 5.62. Whiteley, who wheeled the YNot Racing/J&A Service Mustang to victory at the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series regional here in both 2012 and 2013, ran quicker than anyone had to that point, but Brand outran her by a scant hundredth of a second with low e.t. of the meet, 5.61. Both hit the finish line at 255 mph.

“Dale’s always good on the lights,” Whiteley said. “He got ahead early, and we stayed pretty much the same distance apart all the way to the finish line.” Whiteley and Brand were locked together in qualifying, too, earning the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, with matching 5.62s at 257 mph side by side in the final pair of last-shot qualifying. Whiteley was slightly quicker, 5.620 to 5.628, and Brand slightly faster, 257.38 mph to 257.14.

In the opening round, Whiteley got the best of an all-female matchup with No. 6 qualifier Nancy Matter, who was back in competition for the first time in more than five years. She clicked it a hair early and still won comfortably, 5.69, 249 to Matter’s shutoff 7.78 at 120 mph.

“The car drove toward the centerline and wouldn’t come back,” Whiteley said. “One tire was spinning and the other was still in the groove, and I couldn’t get it back in the center of the lane no matter what I did. I don’t know how close I got to the centerline, but it was close – I was actually afraid I might have crossed it.”

Whiteley followed with a strong 5.68 on a semifinal single earned by being the No. 1 qualifier in a short field, but Brand gained the upper hand for the final with a slightly quicker 5.65 in his semifinal win over third-ranked Shane Westerfield. In the final, Brand was four-thousandths of a second quicker to the 60-foot mark, two-thousandths and 0.34 mph faster at half-track, and 12-thousandths quicker at the 1,000-foot mark, and for the second time six days Whiteley came out on the wrong end of a classic final. Last week in Denver, she was nipped by Clint Thompson, 5.78 to 5.78.

Next up for the YNot/J&A Service team is the Route 66 Nationals in Chicago, where last year Whiteley earned her first national event title, followed by the Summit Racing Nationals a week later in Norwalk, Ohio.

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