Tag: 2017 (Page 1 of 4)

TAFC – POMONA 2017

Annie Whiteley’s 2017 season didn’t turn out to be the one she’s always dreamed of, but in the end it was one that almost any driver in the ultra-competitive world of Top Alcohol Funny Car racing would be glad to have: multiple finals, multiple wins, and yet another Top 5 finish in the national standings.

At the season-ending AAA Finals in Pomona, Whiteley, who won two of her first three starts of 2017 and obliterated the national record with the fastest run in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (275.00 mph) along the way, finished second to John Lombardo, who was the championship runner-up again. Whiteley, who came out on the wrong end of a 5.37-5.38 showdown with Doug Gordon in the Dallas final, had the misfortune to do so again in the Pomona finale opposite Lombardo in another all-time matchup. Lombardo’s NAPA Camaro edged her J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro in by far the best race of the entire weekend, 5.42 to her slightly quicker 5.41.

“I’ve just got to get a little better on the lights,” she said. “I worked on my practice tree all weekend, had it all set up, but it didn’t help. It’s just not the same as being in the car, on the starting line, with somebody in the other lane. On Sunday, I just forgot all about it and did a lot better.”

Whiteley was No. 1 after the first of three qualifying sessions with a tremendous 5.439 at 272.61 and again after the second session with an even better 5.414 at 273.27 mph that held up all weekend for top speed of the meet. Bumped to No. 2 by Lombardo’s 5.409 in the second-to-last pair of the final session, she mowed down one veteran after another in eliminations, beginning with Bret Williamson in the first round.

Whiteley’s 5.410/273.05 (one-thousandth of a second from low e.t.) took out Williamson’s 5.669/255.43. A 5.453/271.13 covered Jegs Allstars runner-up Chris Marshall in the quarterfinals, and a similar 5.478/270.70 in the semi’s dispatched two-time 2016 national event winner Terry Ruckman and set up the titanic final-round clash with Lombardo. “It sucked to lose the final, but you can’t feel too bad about a weekend like this,” she said. “This is the best we’ve ever done at Pomona. I don’t know what it is about this place, but it’s never liked us, but this time the car ran good all weekend.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2017

For once, Annie Whiteley was out early at her best track on the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series tour, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Whiteley, whose J&A Service/YNot Racing Top Alcohol Funny Car crew has landed in the winner’s circle at nearly half the races they’ve ever entered there, inexplicably went up in smoke in the first round and was gone early.

It was the exact opposite of what had been happening all weekend – for everybody. The bump was the quickest in Alcohol Funny Car history – 5.547 seconds – and even the non-qualifiers were thundering, with couple in the 5.50s and almost everybody at least in the .60s. When eliminations commenced Sunday afternoon, more than 70% of the cars that left the starting line weren’t under power by half-track: Six of eight in the first round, three of four in the semifinals, and Brian Hough in the final were idling when they went across the finish line.

“I don’t know what happened to the race track, but it looks like nobody else does either,” said Whiteley, who qualified right near the top, No. 3 with back-to-back 5.50-flats, including one at 270.10 mph, the only run all weekend over the 270-mph mark. With everybody in the low .50s, at least, there were no easy draws in the opening round, but she lined up against the toughest one of all, newly crowned world champ Shane Westerfield, who surprisingly qualified just 6th at this event.

Whiteley got of the line on time with a solid .071 reaction time but was out of the race before she passed the Tree when the car went up in hard smoke. “We have no idea why that happened – especially here,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe it’ll be the opposite at Pomona, where we never seem to do any good, and we’ll win the whole thing.”

PRO MOD – LAS VEGAS 2017

Steven Whiteley wrapped up the finest season of his drag racing career with a tight first-round loss at the Toyota Nationals at the fabulous Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The points leader early in the season and a contender for the J&A Service Pro Mod championship until he sat out a race late in the season to be with wife Delaina for the birth of their daughter Bayslei, Whiteley wound up seventh in the final standings after holding steady in the Top 5 almost all year.

“Fifth or seventh in the points – what does it matter if you’re not number 1?” asked Whiteley, who would’ve finished in the Top 5 either by winning one more round anywhere all year or by merely attending the one event he skipped. “Nobody will remember exactly where I ended up in the standings, but I’ll always remember where I was the day my daughter was born and nothing could ever make me miss that.”

The Vegas race was shaping up to be another solid outing for Whiteley’s YNot Racing team, from qualifying right up until high gear in the first round of eliminations. He pounded out a 5.87 to make the fast half of the program, and father Jim Whiteley, the 2016 Spring Nationals Pro Mod champ, joined him in the race day field with a 5.91. Running alongside Troy Coughlin, who clinched the championship in a thrilling second-round showdown with Mike Castellana, Whiteley clocked a 5.879 at 245.49 mph in Q2 that seeded him seventh in the field at the time. He backed it up with a nearly identical 5.883/245.05 in last-shot qualifying and entered eliminations in the No. 8 slot, pitted against the powerful turbocharged Camaro of No. 9 qualifier Harry Hruska in what theoretically should’ve been the closest race of the day.

It didn’t disappoint – the race was decided by just 8-thousandths of a second – but Whiteley had Hruska all the way until an ignition failure in high gear made his engine drop a cylinder, costing him almost 10 mph and allowing Hruska, who trailed by almost a car length at half-track, to slip by for the narrow win, 5.864/250.64 to 5.888/237.46. “No complaints,” Whiteley said. “We won our biggest race ever [March 19 at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.], led the points for a while, and won a lot of rounds. All in all, this was the best year I’ve ever had.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2017

Annie Whiteley’s late-season frustration continued at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where she’s won almost as much as all other Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers combined since picking up her first win anywhere here as a rookie in 2012. When the smoke from qualifying literally had cleared Saturday evening, Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team was positioned perfectly for eliminations in the No. 2 spot, with one great run after another in their wake – a 5.527 at 267.80 mph, 5.511 at 268.92, and 5.491 at 268.71.

As it turned out, No. 2 was exactly the spot not to qualify at Vegas. For possibly the first time in alcohol racing history, the No. 15 qualifier laid down low e.t. of the meet in the first round, a 5.487 that eclipsed No. 1 qualifier Doug Gordon’s 5.488 by just a thousandth of a second. Whiteley was even quicker in the other lane, resetting low e.t. a fraction of a second after opponent Nick Januik crossed the finish line with a slightly better 5.480 at 268.93 mph (top speed of the meet). It was her bad luck to cut a respectable .088 reaction time right when Januik was knocking the Tree down with a telepathic .028.

“It just keeps happening,” Whiteley said with a sigh. “As soon as they told me what Nick ran, I said, ‘Really?’ I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When things aren’t going right, every now and then something gets in your head. I don’t know what it is – trying too hard, maybe? I know I can cut better lights, but lately it’s been getting worse, not better. An .080-something light isn’t bad, and as soon as I let the clutch out, I knew it was something decent. I just need to stop beating myself up so bad and get a little better at these last few races.”

PSM – LAS VEGAS 2017

Cory Reed and Team Liberty’s 2017 season came to an unexpected and abrupt end at the penultimate event of the 16-race NHRA season, the Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas, where, for the first time all year, Reed failed to qualify for Pro Stock Motorcycle.

After sitting out a couple races to regroup, Reed, who had made the cut at 16 races in a row dating back to Sonoma in June 2016, was off his usual pace at the high-altitude Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, missing the 6-second zone and even the 7.0s. He opened with a 7.173 at 184.04 mph in the first qualifying session Friday afternoon, and picked up slightly to a 7.130/184.80 that evening that wound up being his best run all weekend.

“Changing cams was just too aggressive for what we were trying to do,” said Reed, the 2016 NHRA Rookie of the Year. “It just wore out the intake valve springs on the first two runs.” Saturday dawned clear and slightly cooler but the improved conditions weren’t enough to help the weakened engine in Reed’s Team Liberty machine, which fell off to disappointing times of 7.172/182.35 and 7.233/181.59

“This definitely isn’t the way we wanted to end the year, but in that situation, there wasn’t much we could do,” Reed said. “We’ll skip the Finals at Pomona – there’s really no reason to go out there – and be back better than ever next year. We knew it was going to be tough to start a brand-new team from the ground up, and it has been, but we’ve got some big things coming this off-season.”

TAFC – DALLAS 2017

All Annie Whiteley did at the Fall Nationals was make the fastest run of all time – 275.00 mph – in the final round in what was also the quickest side-by-side race in Top Alcohol Funny Car history, 5.37 to 5.38. “That’s the ups and downs of drag racing, right there,” said Whiteley, whose 5.38 came up just a few feet short of winner Doug Gordon’s 5.37. His run was the second-quickest of all time, hers the fifth-quickest.

Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team, which dominated the Gatornationals and the Belle Rose, La., regional event earlier this year, has never run better than it did at Dallas. Each run down the all-concrete Texas Motorplex quarter-mile was faster than the last – 269.24 mph in the first round, then 274.27, 274.33, and the shot-heard-’round-the-world 275-flat in the final. “Two-hundred-seventy-five point zero zero – a nice, round number isn’t it?” she said. “Too bad the 5.38 wasn’t just a little quicker.”

From the No. 6 qualifying spot, Whiteley improved from a 5.53 qualifying best to a 5.49 in the first round to send home Kris Hool, the first of four straight former national event champions she had to deal with in eliminations. In the quarterfinals, the YNot team unloaded a then-career-best 5.39 at 274.27 mph to take out Sweden’s Ulf Leanders and set up a semifinal showdown with former Las Vegas winner Nick Januik. A consistent 5.40 at 274.33 in that round was enough to catapult Whiteley to the historic final-round showdown with Gordon that she barely lost.

“You hate to lose a deal like that, but when you’re the first to 275 mph, set the national record, and are in the quickest side-by-side race of all time, you really can’t complain,” Whiteley said. “This weekend was way more good than bad.”

PRO MOD – ST. LOUIS 2017

Steven Whiteley may have been gone by the quarterfinals at the Midwest Nationals, but not before he knocked out by far the greatest series of runs in J&A Service/YNot team history – 5.79, 5.75, 5.77, a career-best 5.74, and another 5.77 Sunday in the heat.

Just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Madison, Ill., almost in the shadows of the arch, Whiteley, who’d been beaten on a holeshot only one other time in his career, lost to eventual winner and new points leader Troy Coughlin in the second round of eliminations, 5.78 to 5.77. The .77 was low e.t. of the round, and his .74 in a first-round win over Danny Rowe was just a thousandth of a second from low e.t. of all of eliminations.

“That run against Troy would have been a nice time to run the .74, but sometimes you get so focused on staging as shallow as you can that you don’t cut as good a light as you could’ve,” said Whiteley, who fell short by just .026-second. “A .061 light – that’s slow for me. I mean, .029 was the worst I had in all four rounds in Denver. What happened to that guy? I never saw Troy. I didn’t look over – with blinders on your visor you can’t see anything anyway – but I never saw him till he went by me after the laundry was out.”

Whiteley, who skipped the last race, Charlotte, to be home with wife Delaina for the birth of their daughter, Bayslei, picked up right where he left off at Indy, hitting a 5.79 off the trailer for the No. 2 spot at the time and only running better from there. “Hands down, this is the best we’ve ever run,” he said. “You talk about a kick in the ass … I can’t believe I lost on a holeshot. Running the second round on Sunday makes it almost like another first round. There’s that pressure, those first-round jitters … I wish we ran all four rounds on one day – that’s when you can really get in a rhythm.”

The St. Louis race was the quickest race in the history of the J&A Service Pro Mod Series, with a bump of 5.80-flat. Team leader Jim Whiteley came through in the clutch with a 5.803 in last-shot qualifying, and the most recent winner on tour, Jonathan Gray, didn’t even make the cut, missing with a 5.807 that would have qualified for any other race ever.

“A 5.80 bump – that’s ridiculous,” Whiteley said. “We qualified No. 1 here just a couple years ago with a 5.84. Today, a 5.84 gets you nothing. I hate losing – I had the best car on race day and didn’t get it done – but I’m more impressed with the team running a 5.77 Sunday in the heat than I am with running our best ever, 5.74, in better conditions. I just want to get to Vegas for the last race of the season, kick ass, get back in the top five, and finish out the best year we’ve ever had.”

PRO MOD – CHARLOTTE 2017

At the Carolina Nationals at spectacular zMax Dragway, Jim Whiteley, who won Houston last year despite not qualifying for the race, nearly became the only driver in drag racing history to pull of that incredibly rare feat twice.

Whiteley, who joined Clayton Harris (1973 Summernationals), Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen (1973 Supernationals), Ken Veney (1985 Gatornationals) and Michael Bartone (1995 U.S. Nationals) as the only drivers to get in as an alternate and go on to win an NHRA national event, barely missed the cut in Charlotte.

He wasn’t 17th in the 16-car field – he was 18th, five-thousandths of a second short of the 5.873 bump with a 5.878 – but No. 17 qualifier Dan Stevenson was literally driving out the gate when the word went out that Shannon “the Iceman” Jenkins wouldn’t be able to make repairs in time for the quick turnaround between the final qualifying session and the first round of eliminations. Whiteley was tending to business on the opposite side of the track when his crew frantically tracked him down and informed him that if he could get to the lanes in time, he was back in the race.

While other cars were parading past the J&A Service/YNot Racing pit area on their way to the lanes, Whiteley hustled back to his pit, where his ’70 Chevelle sat, ready to run. “I threw on my suit and they were already backing the car out,” he said. “If the guys hadn’t already done all the maintenance to have the car ready for testing tomorrow, we never would have made it in time.”

Whiteley’s first-round opponent was Sidnei Frigo, who survived a spectacular over-the-wall crash last year at Houston, where Whiteley beat eventual world champ Rickie Smith, who crashed, in the final. Frigo, who won the biggest race in drag racing, the U.S. Nationals two weeks before this event, took another wild ride opposite Whiteley in the first round, careening into the right lane behind Whiteley’s ’69 Camaro, which was long gone with a winning 5.90 at 247 mph.

“The car is pretty consistent but not quite quick enough right now,” said Whiteley, whose steady 5.92/247 in the quarterfinals fell short of 72-year-old Chuck Little’s 5.87/245. “We’re right in there, in the high 5.80s most of the time, but to win these races, you really need to be in the low .80s all the time and the high .70s when it counts.”

Son Steven Whiteley, a fixture in the top 5 of the J&A Service Pro Mod standings all year, slid from fourth place to seventh after skipping the event to be home with wife Delaina for the birth of daughter Bayslei.

TAFC – INDY 2017

She still hasn’t joined Frank Manzo, Pat Austin, Bob Newberry, and the all-time greats of Top Alcohol Funny Car as a U.S. Nationals champion, but with another solid performance at the sport’s most prestigious event, Annie Whiteley continued to add to her Indy legacy.

Whiteley, who has not reached the semifinals at Indy just once in her career, reached to the final four again with one low 5.40 after another in qualifying and one 5.50 after another in eliminations. Whiteley, who qualified No. 2 with a career-best 5.420 at nearly 275 mph, wiped out Ohio’s Tony Bogolo and Alaska’s Ray Martin in the preliminary rounds before bowing out in the semifinals against national points leader and eventual winner John Lombardo, 5.49 to 5.54.

“I don’t know why we always seem to run so good at Indy, but I’m getting tired of doing good but not quite good enough,” said Whiteley, who has three runner-ups in five career appearances at the Big Go, in 2013, 2015, and 2016. “Runner-up sucks, and losing in the semifinals isn’t much better.” Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot team, led by Bonneville Salt Flats record holder Mike Strasburg, fell just short of victory this year with another successful but ultimately frustrating late-round finish.

She blistered the Lucas Oil Raceway quarter-mile in qualifying with easily the best series of runs in team history if not in the history of the entire class – 5.445/273.11, 5.432/272.78, and 5.420/274.55. When eliminations commenced Sunday under much less favorable conditions, it was more of the same – back-to-back 5.50-flats that obliterated Bogolo’s competitive 5.66 in the first round and Martin’s similar 5.64 in the second.

Even with the semifinal loss to Lombardo, who went on to top title contender Doug Gordon in the final, Whiteley has forged one of the finest Top Alcohol Funny Car win-loss marks ever at the U.S. Nationals: 13-6 (.684). “That’s great,” she said. “But before I’m done I’ve got to win this thing at least once.”

PSM – INDY 2017

Forced to sit out qualifying sessions at the biggest race of the year for fear of destroying the only engine he had left, second-year pro Cory Reed hung on to make the U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle field and just missed going rounds for the second race in a row.

After a tire-rattling 7.01 under the lights Friday night, Reed laid down a 6.94 early Saturday afternoon, then sat out the next three sessions at the only race on the NHRA tour with five qualifying sessions. “It was weird not running, but we saved parts and it got us to race day,” he said. “If we’d run every session we probably could have gone a .90-flat, but it wasn’t worth trying to blow it up.”

When everybody else got three more shots at the track, Reed eventually slid down to the No. 14 position, setting up a first-round match with No. 3 qualifier Hector Arana Jr., who had reached the Indy final last year. Reed, who broke through for his first round-win of the season two weeks earlier in Brainerd, got a huge jump on Arana with a clutch .018 reaction time, held it until well past half-track, but eventually was overtaken on the big end for a 6.89/194 to 6.97/190 loss.

“I knew I was ahead of him,” said Reed, who maintained the lead to the 1,000-foot mark. “It wasn’t like when I raced Scotty Pollacheck at Brainerd, where I was so far ahead I actually had to turn around to see where he was. I heard him – it’s not hard when there’s a V-twin in the other lane – and I knew he was coming.”

Well aware that Team Liberty might be forced to sit out more qualifying sessions as the season winds down, Reed and crew made the difficult decision to skip the next four races – Charlotte, Maple Grove, St. Louis, and Dallas – and come back with a vengeance at Las Vegas and Pomona. “We’re not in the Countdown and we don’t need to blow up any more motors,” he said. “It’s better to spend more time in the shop, show up at the last two races, maybe shake up the points standings a little, and remind everyone what we can really do when we have all our power.”

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