With three straight runs in the mid-to-low 5.40s, Annie Whiteley wrapped up her seventh season as a Top Alcohol Funny Car driver with a another solid showing at the NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. Whiteley, who ran .40s in all four rounds of eliminations last year, put together three runs from 5.45 to 5.43 for a semifinal finish to complete a four-win campaign third in the final standings, tying the career-high she established in 2015.
“It was a really good year,” said Whiteley, who scored in Belle Rose, Charlotte, Denver, and Brainerd and also made it to the final in Gainesville and Dallas. She qualified No. 1 six times, including five in a row to open the season, had an average qualifying position of 2.9 with an average e.t. and speed of 5.522 at 269.10 mph, and made the fast half of the field in 15 of 16 starts – all but the race before this one, the Las Vegas regional.
The electronic gremlins that hamstrung the YNot team in Vegas persisted in the first qualifying session at Pomona, where the car shut itself off and had to be pushed off the line. Whiteley roared back with a 5.45 at 272 mph for the No. 2 spot and wiped out Northamptonshire, England’s Robert Turner in the first round with a better 5.44/268 and Wyoming’s Kris Hool in the second round with an even better 5.43/272.56 (top speed of the meet). Banished to the left lane for the semifinals, she came out on the wrong end of a pedalfest with Sweden’s Ulf Leanders, who earned lane choice with a career-best 5.38 (low e.t.) in the previous round.
Neither driver cracked the six-second mark in the semi’s – Whiteley shook hard off the line, pedaled, recovered, and charged for the top end until it was clear that there was no overtaking Leanders, who had made it farther downtrack before tire-shake set it. “That was a one-lane race track,” Whiteley said. “If I was in my car, I’d have tried a little harder to pedal it earlier, but when it’s somebody else’s stuff, there’s always one thing in the back of your mind: Don’t tear up their car. The steering box was going bad. It felt loose, like the front end wasn’t planted, and it kept getting worse. You’d just barely touch the wheel and the car would be turning and I didn’t want to push it. It’s OK, though. Four wins, third place in the points – that’s a pretty good year.”