Tag: 2019 (Page 1 of 4)

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2019

In her 17th and final start of 2019, Annie Whiteley won her third race of the season to lock down yet another Top 5 finish in the NHRA national standings. The J&A Service/YNot Racing driver established top speed of the meet, as usual, and came out on top of one of the toughest fields in Top Alcohol Funny Car history with her sixth career final-round appearance at the fabulous Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and sixth win.

“I don’t know what it is about this track,” she said. “I always say that, I know, but there’s just something about this place and Sonoma.” Qualifying began with a thud when she blew the tires off, but, after a subsequent 5.52 at 268.60 mph (top speed of the meet to that point) run, she entered eliminations fifth on the final grid, paired against a driver who has more lifetime appearances than anyone in alcohol racing history (even Frank Manzo): Jay Payne. He clocked a 5.523 on his final attempt to move around Whiteley by one spot, but that just meant that he had lane choice – they were already 4 and 5 and destined to meet anyway.

When the Tree flashed, Whiteley was out first and made the third-quickest run of the entire weekend, a 5.500 at 269.67 mph (top speed of the meet) to hold off his right-there 5.56. That set up a semifinal match with the most feared driver in Top Alcohol Funny Car, back-to-back world champ Sean Bellemeur, who was sidelined by, of all things, a stuck throttle on the burnout. “I was just putting it into reverse when I heard this weird revving sound as he went by me,” she said. “He kept rolling down there and it hit me: ‘We just won the semi’s – we’re in the final.’ ” The resultant bye couldn’t have come at a more opportune time – after the .50-flat in the first round and another .50-something run in the final, she blew the tires off at the hit and coasted across the finish line at a speed that wouldn’t have gotten her a speeding ticket out on I-15, 74 mph.

In the final against Brian Hough, who’ll finish second in the championship standings this year, Whiteley blasted off the line right on time and came out on top in a close race, 5.54 to 5.56. “I told myself, ‘Relax, relax, relax,’ before I went up there, and I did,” she said, “I thought, ‘You know you can do it, so just do it.’ My clutch pedal is fixed now, and I am too. I’ve never been much of a gambler, but I guess in Vegas I’m lucky. I have no clue why we always run so good here – maybe I just save all my luck for the race track.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2019

Mired in the toughest stretch of her eight-year career just as the year winds down, Annie Whiteley bowed out early at the Dodge NHRA Nationals. In her penultimate start of 2019, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where she’s enjoyed more success than at any other track (and more than any active Top Alcohol Funny Car has had anywhere on the circuit), Whiteley was out after a single round of eliminations.

Qualifying got off to a rough start when the YNot/J&A Service team, Las Vegas winners in both regional (many times) and national competition, blasted the tires just off the line for an abbreviated 9.12 at 119 mph and followed with an equally disappointing 8.75 at 109. Closing in on another Top 5 finish in the national standings but perilously close to not even qualifying, Whiteley and crew chief Mike Strasburg came through Saturday morning in last-shot qualifying.

Stuck in the first pair of that high-pressure session because of how far down on the grid she was at that point, Whiteley stepped up dramatically when it mattered most with a clutch 5.47 at more than 270 mph to skyrocket to the No. 5 spot. That should have assured her an imminently winnable first-round match with an opponent well down in the final order, No. 12. Instead, as has been the case a disturbingly disproportionate amount of the time this year – especially lately – she had to race someone who never should have qualified that low, pre-race favorite Chris Marshall, who, in three qualifying attempts, mustered a best of just 5.59.

In the first pair of the first round under the lights Saturday night, Whiteley drilled Marshall, consistently one of the best leavers in Top Alcohol Funny Car, with a reaction time literally twice as good as his – .076 to .152 – but blew the tires off and looked on helplessly as he sped away to a winning 5.46/265 while she coasted to a losing 13.54. “The guys had a whole new clutch pedal for me for this weekend and I really felt good up there,” she said. “I feel a lot more comfortable now, like I’m more in control, and I knew I had a good light, but when you go up in smoke in low gear there’s not a whole lot you can do.”

PRO MOD – LAS VEGAS 2019

Steven Whiteley’s final start as a Pro Mod driver (at least for now) and father Jim Whiteley’s last this season both went down as an unmitigated success: Jim wound up 2019 on an ascendant arc with his finest performance of the season, and Steven, runner-up the last time out with one teen light after another, reached the quarterfinals in easily the YNot/J&A Service team’s best overall 1-2 finish all year.

Both ran strong in qualifying at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Steven with a best of 5.76, the same E.T. he ran under vastly different conditions in Charlotte, and Jim with exactly the same time he ran in Charlotte, right down to the thousandth of a second – 5.805. In the opening round of eliminations, Jim took a hard-fought holeshot win over Norwalk winner Khalid alBalooshi, 5.81 to 5.80, and Steven blew out Doug Winters with one of the best runs of the entire round, a 5.77 at 249 mph.

Just how tough NHRA Pro Mod racing can be was readily apparent in the quarterfinals when Jim fell to championship runner-up Todd Tutterow by just 27-thousandths of a second, 5.81 to 5.83. Steven, facing recent U.S. Nationals winner Mike Castellana two minutes later in the same lane, ran better than six of the other seven drivers that round, another 5.77 at 249 mph that left him just short of Castellana’s sinister black Camaro, which moved on with a 5.75/249.

“I’m done,” said Steven, who, by going rounds for the second race in a row while former Bristol winner Bob Rahaim lost first round for the fourth straight, cracked the season-ending Top 10. “As of right now, spending time with my family and kicking ass at work means more to me than running all over the country racing a Pro Mod car. As much as I love it, Pro Mod has nothing on being with your family.”

TAFC – DALLAS 2019

Annie Whiteley, half of the quickest side-by-side race (5.37-5.38) in Top Alcohol Funny Car history here in 2017 and victimized by the only crash of her career here last year, experienced no such drama in 2019. She ended up No. 2 on the final grid and established top speed of the meet (271.19 mph) in qualifying but, foiled by a lousy first-round draw, didn’t last long in eliminations.

After blowing the tires off immediately in first-shot qualifying Friday afternoon, Whiteley rebounded with an outstanding 5.45/271 that evening that earned the YNot Racing/J&A Service team the provisional pole. The near-perfect run (.945 in 60 feet, 2.47 to the 330-foot mark, and 3.64 at 213.81 mph at half-track) eventually was good for the No. 2 spot, which is exactly where you want to land on an 11-car ladder – usually.

Not this time. “In an 11-car field, No. 1 gets a bye run in the first round but No. 2 gets one in the semifinals, which is when you really want it because by then you’re probably running a much faster car,” Whiteley explained. Only this time, the 11th and last driver in the lineup was one of the last people she’d want to face: Brian Hough, who led the national standings for much of 2019. Overnight rains pushed back the entire schedule and cancelled last-shot qualifying Saturday morning, denying Hough and crew chief Jonnie Lindberg one last chance to atone for their aborted runs in the first two sessions.

Instead, Lindberg and Hough got their act together in the first round of eliminations – right when Whiteley was in the other lane. He got off the line first and managed a 5.56 to hold off Whiteley’s quicker 5.51 by the almost invisible margin of 16-thousandths of a second. “I was mad at myself when they told me it was a holeshot,” she said. “He kinda left me sitting there for a while, but I still should have cut a better light – it didn’t actually feel that bad. We’re going to work on the clutch pedal before Vegas – hopefully that’ll help.”

TAFC – CHARLOTTE 2019

Annie Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service Camaro dominated Carolina Nationals Top Alcohol Funny Car qualifying with not just low e.t. but low e.t. of all three qualifying sessions – 5.46, 5.46, and 5.44, all at 271 mph, including top speed of the meet to that point, 271.84. Her slowest speed was faster than anyone else’s fastest. “There were a couple of times we thought we could run quicker,” she said, “but when [crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] really looked at the track and saw all the bald spots, he backed it back down.”

The 5.44 for No. 1 came as a direct result of Strasburg’s last-minute fine-tuning expertise. “He started adjusting the barrel valve right there in the lanes,” Whiteley said. “I was all strapped in and ready to go, and when I saw him walk back, dip under the body, and go right for the injector, I thought, ‘Whatever you think is fine with me.’ ” It worked to perfection and cemented a first-round win over overmatched John Headley, the No. 16 qualifier, who, whether inadvertently or on purpose, rolled right in and turned on both bulbs. “That was weird,” she said. “I saw him do it and thought, ‘OK then … from now on whenever I race you I’ll just be ready before I pre-stage.’ ”

It didn’t matter. Whiteley maintained concentration and advanced easily, moving first and leaving Headley in the dust in a 5.51/268 to 7.27/170 blowout. She bowed out in the following round, an imminently winnable race opposite Dan Pomponio, who’s always had good luck in Charlotte. Chassis-shredding tire shake brought the YNot team’s weekend to a premature end, as Whiteley watched helplessly as Pomponio drove away to a winning 5.54. “It shook so hard I couldn’t see anything anymore,” she said. “Right as I went to pedal it, that tube that goes from the firewall to the left side window vibrated loose and started bouncing around inside the car with me, and at one point it hit me. I probably couldn’t have caught him anyway, but when that thing hit me I said, ‘OK, I’m done.’ “

PRO MOD – CHARLOTTE 2019

In the second-to-last start of his Pro Mod career, second-generation driver Steven Whiteley turned in his second-best outing ever, behind only his victory at the 2017 Gatornationals. Whiteley drilled everybody on the Tree and reached the final round of the penultimate event of the 2019 season, which “Stevie Fast” Jackson won to clinch the NHRA Pro Mod championship. “This was almost better than winning Gainesville,” he said, “just because of who we had to run. It was great to run with the big guys and not just run with them but beat them.”

With one round-win in 20 career head-to-head matchups against Steve Matusek, lifelong nemeses Rickie Smith and Todd Tutterow, and Jackson heading into the Carolina Nationals, Whiteley went 3-1 against them and started from the No. 5 spot, the highest he’s qualified all season. Matusek, like every driver Whiteley raced all weekend, cut an excellent light, and like the other three he still trailed the J&A Service/YNot Camaro off the line. He was the only one who didn’t make it close, falling well short of the first of Whiteley’s first of four consecutive runs between 5.756 and 5.762.

“Tricky Rickie,” who narrowly lost the U.S. Nationals final on a holeshot, outran Whiteley in the quarterfinals but came up seven feet short for another holeshot loss, 5.761 to 5.757. “He’s always had my number,” said Whiteley, who stood 0-8 against the many-time series champ until now. “Every time I ever lined up against him, he chewed me up and spit out the bones, but it’s different with this car. I just feel good in it. Always did, really. With the converter, I feel like I can cut a light.” That’s putting it mildly – he averaged a .019 reaction time for the event, with a worst of .024. He’s averaging a .029 for the season and leaving first 85 percent of the time.

In the semi’s, Whiteley and Tutterow, who led the early season standings before veering across the centerline in Topeka and T-boning Whiteley’s car, both ran 5.75s. The veteran was more than on time with a .021 light, but Whiteley had him all the way with a .016 to win by 8-thousandths of a second. “It felt really good to put that guy’s ass on the trailer, I can tell you that,” he said. “After all the times I’ve run him – especially Topeka – that had to be the round of my career.”

The final ended in a loss to “Stevie Fast,” who clinched the NHRA championship when Whiteley took out Tutterow, but it wasn’t much of a disappointment. “This was a great weekend,” Whiteley said. “We’ve always run well in Charlotte, probably because we test there more than we do anywhere else. Yes, Stevie has been helping us for a while ­– that’s no secret – but not to the degree that he’s been helping my dad’s team. This weekend was all about [crew chief] Jeff Perley. He really showed his colors here.”

TAFC – RICHMOND 2019

With her quickest run all year and the fourth-fastest speed of all time, Annie Whiteley qualified No. 1 for the third time in four races. Her Mike Strasburg-tuned YNot/J&A Service Camaro shot off the line with a .935 60-foot time, blasted through the 330-foot timers in 2.44 seconds, and hit the half-track mark in 3.59 seconds at more than 216 mph. She crossed the finish line two seconds later at 274.44 mph and now owns the fastest, second-fastest, and fourth-fastest time slips in Top Alcohol Funny Car history.

That 5.38 under the lights Friday night at Virginia Motorsports Park paced easily the toughest Division 1 field of the season, one fortified by the presence of three western invaders – her, former world champion Shane Westerfield, and 2018-19 U.S. Nationals runner-up Chris Marshall. Those three qualified 1-2-3, but past East Region champs Matt Gill, Dan Pomponio, and D.J. Cox were right on her wheelie bars with otherwise outstanding times in the 5.40s.

“The guys told me when they buckled me in for that run that it was either going to haul ass or not go anywhere at all,” Whiteley said. “I believed them, too – they don’t say that too often.” As the No. 1 qualifier, Whiteley was scheduled to race the slowest driver in the field, No. 8 Joshua Haskett, but Haskett blew up his only engine in the final qualifying session, opening the door for the only other entrant, Melinda Green. She made herself ineligible by plowing over the top-end cones on both of her qualifying attempts, nullifying a 5.87 in the right lane that ended with one rear wheel in each lane and a subsequent 5.83 in last-shot qualifying that also had top-end cones flying.

With no one to race when eliminations commenced, Whiteley swung for the fences on her first-round single and came up empty, quietly advancing to the semifinals with a 10.29 at 84 mph. It all came crashing down after that when she was upended by Gill, the eventual winner, 5.49 to a coasting 7.62 at 126 mph. “We didn’t change tires soon enough,” she explained. “The first and second round were the 36th and 37th runs on that set, and I guess 36 runs was one run too many.”

PRO MOD – ST. LOUIS 2019

0-2 in Friday qualifying and 2-for-2 Saturday, former Gatornationals winner Steven Whiteley was on the upswing entering NHRA Midwest Nationals eliminations. Following a shut-off 6.33 at 167 mph on his initial attempt Friday afternoon with his completely rebuilt ’18 Camaro and a shake-plagued 10.21 that evening, Whiteley, the only Pro Mod driver not to put up a clean run Friday, unloaded a 5.84 at 247 mph in Saturday morning in Q3 to shoot from dead last to the fast half of the field.

In the fourth and final qualifying session, opponent Mike Castellana, coming off a victory at the biggest race of the season, the U.S. Nationals, did the same thing: catapulted himself from 19th and last all the way to the top half. Whiteley wasn’t far behind with his quickest run of the weekend, a competitive 5.81/246 that moved from 14th to 13th and pitted him against quick-leaving Brandon Snider in the first round of eliminations.

Snider was on time with a .052 reaction time, but Whiteley, who leaves first 78% of the time, was literally twice as quick with a killer .026. The lead didn’t last long when he shook immediately and Snider got by him not far past the Tree for a 5.77/247 win. The YNot/J&A Service driver could have won on a holeshot with anything better than a 5.797 but had to lift long before reaction times came into play.

“It wasn’t moving fast enough when the power came in – it already had a weak shake to begin with,” Whiteley said. “I don’t like pedalfests. That’s not my thing – that’s when you wreck. Maybe I could’ve stayed in it, maybe not. It made a big move and I didn’t like it, I know that. When that happened, I was like ‘Yeah, I’m done.’ “

TAFC – BRAINERD 2019

Annie Whiteley, the defending event champ who made the first national final of her illustrious career here in a memorable 2012 match with the greatest Top Alcohol Funny Car driver of all time, Frank Manzo, bowed out in the quarterfinals this time. “I’ve always liked this race – not because we won it last year but because my first ever final was right here,” she said. “I still remember the whole thing – it was like I was watching somebody else. Backing up from the burnout in the final, it hit me: That’s Frank Manzo over there.”

Whiteley was stopped two rounds short of a third career Lucas Oil Nationals final when eventual winner Shane Westerfield nipped her in a close quarterfinal match, 5.559 to 5.572. “I knew that that was going to be a tough one,” she said. “It’s Shane Westerfield – everybody knows how good he is on the lights. Before we ran, he told me, ‘Don’t make me look stupid up there,’ and I was like, ‘Don’t you make me look stupid. Try not to cut another .012 light, OK?’ I really thought saw the Tree well when we left and it felt like a good light, but I guess it wasn’t. I was really disappointed when I saw that it was a .111. It sure didn’t feel like a .111.”

By then, Whiteley had already pounded nemesis Scott McVey in the first round of eliminations, 5.55 to 5.64. She qualified the YNot/J&A Service Camaro solidly with a tamed-down 5.60-flat at 266.53 mph that just missed top speed of the meet and outran McVey, the surprise 2014 Brainerd winner, in the opening round before falling to fellow championship contender Westerfield in round two. “I’ve handed McVey the win a couple times so I was glad to get around him,” she said. “He only runs a few times a year but he’s beat me more than once, so I really wanted that one. We qualified OK but nowhere near where we should have. Anything that ever worked on the old car just doesn’t work on this car. They’ve been fighting this thing all year. I don’t know what it is – it’s just finicky.”

TAFC – SEATTLE 2019

2015 Northwest Nationals Top Alcohol Funny Car champion Annie Whiteley’s shot at a second Seattle title this year unraveled early when she was sidelined in a first-round loss to 2001 event winner Doug Gordon. She may have qualified No. 1 and lost to the slowest qualifier in the field, but Gordon, like Whiteley a perennial championship contender, can never be considered an upset first-round winner, no matter where he qualifies or who’s in the opposite lane.

If anything, it was more of a 50/50 proposition. “If you qualify No. 1, Doug Gordon is not who you ever expect to run first round,” said Whiteley, who entered eliminations ranked No. 1 for the second time in a row and the fourth time in 10 starts this year. “I mean, who’d ever think he’d be 12th in a 12-car field?” When the Tree flashed green, Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service Camaro blew the tires off at the hit but not because the team overreacted to the tougher-than-anticipated opening round opponent and had her car too hopped up. Seeded No. 1 with a 5.47 at more than 271 mph (low E.T. and top speed of the entire event until Gordon ran one-thousandth of a second quicker and 0.28 MPH faster in the following round), Whiteley pedaled to a 6.73/194 that fell short of Gordon’s backpedaling 6.34 at 265 mph. It was her only first-round loss all year.

“No way we thought it was going to go up in smoke there,” said Whiteley, who, despite the aggravating setback is still in position for another Top 5. “We backed it down for that run – with the hotter conditions we would have no matter who we were racing. [Crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] richened the barrel valve and lowered the launch RPM 400 RPM. What else are you going to do? It was totally backed off and still it didn’t go anywhere. A 1.13 60-foot time?’ It’s tough. You know they struggled in qualifying, but you know they’re going to figure it out – you just don’t know when. When he won with a 6.30-something, I think we were more just bummed than disgusted or mad.”

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