Tag: 2020 (Page 1 of 3)

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2020

At The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the final race of a trying and largely unfulfilling season, Annie Whiteley wrapped up 2020 with a dispiriting first-round loss to outgoing Top Alcohol Funny Car world champ Sean Bellemeur.

The four-time TAFC Regional Champion (2013-14 in the West, and 2018-19 in the Central) never made a representative run all weekend. Whiteley, a many-time Vegas winner, posted an OK .974 60-foot time in Friday afternoon’s opening qualifying session but had to lift and slowed to a 12.47 at 66 mph, eighth in an eight-car field and the only one not to get to the finish line under power. Under the lights in Q2, she made it further downtrack but ultimately had to back off the throttle again and coasted to an 8.77 at 120 mph to enter eliminations on the bump for the first time in years.

Whiteley’s weekend came to an unceremonious, abrupt end not far off the line in the first round. Bellemeur, who had more than a tenth on the field going into last-shot qualifying with a 5.48/268 and ran in .40s in the only other qualifying session (combined .40s for all other teams: 0), claimed a lopsided victory. The 2019 series champ was long gone with a with a winning 5.50/269 in the left lane while over in the right, Whiteley’s suddenly stubborn, uncooperative machine refused to respond to crew chief Mike Strasburg’s between-rounds adjustments. Again she was forced to lift almost immediately, slowing to a 9.23 at 106 mph and winding up an up-and-down season on a decidedly down note.

“Too much wheel speed,” Whiteley said. “It’s been that kind of year.” She closes the door on 2020 second in the Central Region standings behind returning veteran Bob McCosh and sixth the national rankings. It wasn’t the best season the YNot/J&A Service team ever had, but in the end Whiteley qualified No. 1 four times (all in the first half of the year), racked up three final-round appearances and a win (at the 2020 opener in Belle Rose, where she’s still never lost), and finished with a 12-12 win-loss record, including a respectable 10-9 mark in NHRA competition.

PRO MOD – LAS VEGAS 2020

At the Dodge NHRA Finals, the end of the line for Pro Mod drivers every year but this year for all the pros, too, Jim Whiteley lined up against theoretically the toughest possible opponent and definitely the last one he wanted to see lose, YNot teammate Steve Jackson. But with absolutely everything on the line for defending NHRA Pro Mod champion “Stevie Fast,” locked in a down-to-the-wire battle with incoming points leader Brandon Snider for the 2020 championship, Jackson is exactly who Whiteley got first round.

To intensify what already would’ve been an epic showdown, Whiteley, the No. 8 qualifier (5.836) in a short but stout field, and Jackson, surprisingly just fifth in the order with a 5.788, had a couple friendly side bets going: $100 for the best reaction time head-to-head, and another $50 for supertuner “Philbilly” Shuler if Whiteley’s car got into the .70s. In the end, everybody won.

Whiteley and Jackson staged almost simultaneously, the Tree flashed, both were way more than on time, and “Stevie Fast,” who would have lost it all with anything slower than a 5.773, stayed alive with a 5.770. Staring down the most pressure imaginable, he came through with a clutch .011 reaction time, but Whiteley outdid him with a near-perfect .005 only to be edged out in the lights by four-thousandths of a second, 5.770 to 5.780. Anything less than a .015 reaction time, and “Stevie Fast” would have been done. “I wasn’t messing around up there,” he said.

“Neither was I,” joked Whiteley, who matched Jackson stride for stride and shift for shift the length of the quarter-mile: 2.53-2.53 to the 330-foot mark, 3.79 at 196 mph to 3.79 at 196 mph at the eighth-mile, and 4.86 to 4.86 to 1000 feet. At the top end, the superior aerodynamic characteristics of Jackson’s late-model Camaro trumped the early ’60s “aero package” of Whiteley’s split-window Corvette. With equal power under the hood, Whiteley could only look on helplessly as Jackson crept incrementally ahead in the final quarter of the course, 248.48 mph to 246.71.

From there, Jackson got the best of a winner-take-all second-round match with Snider and went on to the event win, his third this season, and a second consecutive NHRA championship. Whiteley locked up his first Top 10 finish as a Pro Mod driver and first since he retired from Top Alcohol Dragster with seven in a row, from 2007-13 – and not just Top 10s. All seven were Top 5s, including back-to-back championships in 2012-13. “Next year, that car’s gonna run better than ever,” Jackson said of Whiteley’s’ old-school hot rod. “You just wait.”

PSM – LAS VEGAS 2020

Cory Reed never really got going at the 2020 NHRA Finals, which, for the first time since way before he was born, wasn’t at Pomona. With California locked down by the state’s draconian COVID-19 restrictions, Las Vegas, long the penultimate event of the season, became the Finals.

It was a disappointment by any name and over early for Reed, who, until now, hadn’t lost in the first round in his abbreviated 2020 campaign. The second-generation racer barely made it off the line in the opening qualifying session and rolled to a stop not far downtrack while in the other lane teammate Joey Gladstone, who’d made the first final-round appearance of his young career two weeks earlier in Dallas, charged to a 6.89 at 195.56 mph to assume an early qualifying lead he didn’t relinquish until the final pair went down the track.

“My front brake was locked up,” Reed said. “I could tell right away that something was wasn’t right, but I’ve never had this exact thing happen before, so I didn’t know what it was.” Stuck in the first pair in the only remaining session because teams run in the inverse order of how they performed in the first go, he stumbled to a 7.31 at 190 mph but at least got a time up on the board. Meanwhile, Gladstone backed up the 6.89/195 with a mirror-image 6.90/195 and headed into eliminations in the No. 3 spot, a career best that had him qualified higher than championship contenders Scotty Pollacheck and Andrew Hines.

Gladstone advanced to the quarterfinals, but Reed, 16th in a 16-bike show, had no chance in the first round opposite top qualifier Eddie Krawiec, who paced the field with a 6.81 and took him out with a 6.90/196. “It wasn’t our day,” Reed said. “It’s cool – we’ve got better things ahead, and I’m really looking forward to next year. But that front brake held me back all weekend.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2020

With the season winding down, Annie Whiteley dove into the first of back-to-back events at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, her favorite track on tour with the possible exception of Louisiana’s No Problem Raceway, where she’s never been beaten. “We couldn’t get the car to run good early here,” she said. “Our 330-foot times were off all weekend.”

Things got off to a promising start Friday afternoon when the YNot/J&A Service team cruised to a competitive 5.54 at 267.43 mph opposite outgoing world champ Sean Bellemeur. She was quicker and faster that evening but ultimately dropped a few spots in the order when others drivers dropped into the 5.40s and entered eliminations 6th on the final qualifying grid with a 5.53/267.96 (top speed of the meet to that point).

“All our E.T. was lost early,” Whiteley said, and the numbers bore it out: both 60-foot times were 2.52s. “Five guys are in the .930s [to the 60-foot mark], and we’re only in the .970s? [Crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] was shocked that the car only picked up a hundredth [of a second].” In the first round, an otherwise forgettable weekend was highlighted by a significant milestone: her 100th career round-win in national event competition. Whiteley, runner-up here in her 2012 rookie season, train-lengthed friend Steve Macklyn, at the wheel of one of her old cars, a ProStart-built ’13 Mustang, for the landmark win, 5.57/266 to 5.91/238.

The wheels came off in the quarterfinals when a perplexing electrical glitch intermittently cut the power in high gear. “It felt like my head was going to hit the dashboard twice after the 2-3 gear change,” Whiteley said. “The car stopped and then took back off, stopped and took off. It almost felt like when the rear end broke [in the first qualifying session last week] at Houston.” It didn’t matter – there was no winning that round anyway when Bellemeur unloaded low e.t. of the entire event, a 5.45 at 266 mph.

TAFC – HOUSTON 2020

For Annie Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Racing Top Alcohol Funny Car team, the rescheduled “Spring” Nationals started poorly and only went downhill from there. Contested a week after the Fall Nationals because 2020, the first qualifying session was a disaster. A shelled rear end ignited a chain-reaction of mechanical chaos, starting with a dropped valve and ending when the freewheeling, over-revved engine eventually couldn’t take any more.

“I don’t know about this place,” Whiteley said of Houston Raceway, which has always been kind to husband Jim Whiteley but never to her. “We’ve never had any luck here. I blew a tire one year and it just about ripped the whole back end off the car. I ran the final round in the rain one time, and it wasn’t the first time that weekend I’d gone down the track in the rain on the windshield.”

The already abbreviated 2020 COVID-19 two-shot qualifying format was compromised further by biblical rains Friday afternoon that shut everything down for five hours, and, with half the drivetrain from the fuel pump to the wheelie bar trashed in the opening session, Saturday morning represented Whiteley’s only other opportunity to get a spot in the top half of the field.

The conditions were ideal: 59 degrees with a track temp of 78 degrees. All four cars in front of her ran 5.40s, and Whiteley managed a safe but still fast 5.52 at nearly 269 mph for the No. 6 position in the 10-car field. Then, right when everything already wasn’t going right, the car wouldn’t start first round. “Things happen to us at Houston that don’t happen anywhere else,” she said. “We’ve had a switch go bad and shut the car off. We blew the transmission up here one time, and that’s the only time that’s ever happened anywhere. Whenever we get here, it’s always something.”

Just as first-round foe Jay Payne was halfway back from the burnout, Whiteley’s engine came to life and she rushed through an abbreviated burnout to keep from interrupting his notoriously fast routine. In Payne’s 900th round of national event competition – the most in alcohol racing history and 22% more than the second-most experienced driver, Frank Manzo – what could have been a classic battle of seasoned veterans was over almost immediately. Whiteley’s car practically jumped off the ground, leaving her no choice but to click it and granting Payne safe passage to the quarterfinals with an ordinary 5.57/265. “I don’t know what it is about Houston,” she said. “Sometimes I think God just doesn’t want us to come back here anymore.”

PRO MOD – ST. LOUIS/HOUSTON 2020

As the carnage piled up from crashed and blown-up Top Fuel dragsters, Funny Cars, and Pro Stockers at St. Louis, the Pro Mod contingent ultimately decided that it wasn’t safe to complete the NHRA Midwest Nationals – or, really, to even start. Rain-shortened qualifying was finalized Saturday solely on the basis of the Friday night session, and despite cars being called to the lanes for first round twice Sunday, eliminations never happened.

The lone session Friday went off in mineshaft conditions, but after a completely washed out Saturday slate, the air was downright crisp and the track so cold Sunday that most Pro Mod teams deemed it unsafe, especially after Pro Stock veteran Kenny Delco crashed in the first round of Pro Stock and retiring former champ Jeg Coughlin nearly did in the second round before deftly regaining control. Rather than tempt fate, Jim Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service team came to the same conclusion the other Pro Mod teams ultimately did: punt.

“If it came right down to it, I would’ve run,” Whiteley said. “If it was, ‘Run now, or you’re out of the race,’ I would have run, but I didn’t want to. Nobody did. All we would’ve done is torn up a bunch more cars.” Based off just that one session, top cars were in the 5.60s and Whiteley was right in the middle of it all, ninth with a 5.78, set to race No. 8 qualifier Kris Thorne (5.77) first round Sunday morning.

Then people started running into things, and, after heading to the staging lanes intending to run first round a couple times only to be turned back or pull out of their own accord, the whole event was pushed back Houston, where the Pro Mods always used to run but weren’t scheduled to this year. Every run from St. Louis counted, teams that didn’t make the trip to Texas were wiped off the qualifying sheets as if they’d never been there, and everybody got two shots. Whiteley was in the .70s on all three qualifying runs and ended up in the No. 7 spot for the second race in a row, with a 5.735, almost identical to the 5.737 he ran to qualify seventh last week at Dallas.

Under cloudy skies in the first round, Whiteley, whose two career Pro Mod victories (in 2016 and 2018) both came at Houston, leapt off the line with a killer .018 light and had opponent Jeff Jones covered all the way in a lopsided 5.77/247 to 6.20/228 win. Another nice light and a steady 5.75/247 left him just short of the wheelstanding 5.72/249 by underrated Brandon Snider, who a week earlier had never won an NHRA race but found himself in the points lead, riding a six-round winning streak with one race, Las Vegas, to go.

TAFC – DALLAS 2020

Sustained by a cadre of family and longtime friends at the Texas Motorplex, where she’s tasted more than her share of success in a distinguished nine-year Top Alcohol Funny Car career, Annie Whiteley absorbed a grating second-round defeat at the 2020 NHRA Fall Nationals. The YNot/J&A Service driver, part of the quickest side-by-side race in Top Alcohol Funny Car history in the 2017 final here, scorched the quarter-mile with a 5.426 at 274.00 mph under the lights Friday night – top speed of the session by nearly 6 mph and 1/250th of second from low E.T. of the entire event.

“I always liked this track,” the onetime Texan said following a booming 5.47 at 272.01 mph (top speed of that session by 2 mph) Saturday in the only other qualifying session under the stilted two-shot pandemic qualifying format. “We usually do pretty well at this race, there are usually a lot of people here, and it’s just always felt like home to me.” Entering eliminations in the No. 2 position, Whiteley, who established top speed here for the third time in the past four years, trounced surprise Winternationals winner Aryan Rochon in the opening round, 5.52/269 to the Florida driver’s distant 5.89/247.

The wheels came off in the quarterfinals when Whiteley, who won the Central Regional here last year with low e.t. and top speed of the meet, was nipped by two-time NHRA national event winner Kris Hool despite running slightly quicker, 5.50/270.27 (top speed of the round) to 5.54/260.91. In the lights the cars were separated by just 14-thousandths of a second, about five feet.

“I think this is the first time I’ve ever pouted after losing a race,” Whiteley said with a laugh. “It sucks. I just didn’t feel right up there. I’ve been holding my foot differently to get a better light, and that time I just didn’t have a good one.”

PRO MOD – DALLAS 2020

Two-time world champion Jim Whiteley, who claimed both of his Pro Mod victories in the Lone Star State and also scored here four times in his Alcohol Dragsters, rolled off the trailer at the NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex with a 5.73 at 248 mph for the No. 6 spot on the provisional grid. He followed with a 5.80-flat and a consistent 5.82 and went into race day solidly in the top half of the field for the second race in a row. He got stuck racing Rickie Smith anyway.

“Trickie Rickie,” winner of multiple NHRA Pro Mod championships and 11 series titles overall, managed to knock out Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service Corvette again, this time by a closer margin than ever. In a replay of their second-round clash in Gainesville, where Whitely got off the line first, .030 to .060, he drilled Smith’s otherwise respectable .060 reaction time with a clutch .029. He led almost the entire quarter-mile, but Smith inched ahead at the end to prevail by the invisible margin of 1/500th of a second.

“I thought I had him,” Whiteley said. So did everybody not wearing Rickie Smith colors. Factoring in their reaction times, the grizzled old vet got there first by less than a foot, 5.79 to 5.82. Both cars blew through the speed traps at well over 240 mph, but Smith’s sleek 2020 Camaro had every advantage downtrack and steadily, incrementally stretched the lead over the last few hundred feet, 250 mph to 244. “It seems like I run him every weekend,” said Whiteley, who fell to Smith for the third race in a row, including the U.S. Nationals, where he went down in the first round, and Gainesville, where he lost in the quarterfinals.

Without question, Smith’s superior top end speed – 250.78 mph to Whiteley’s 244.74 in his unaerodynamic ’63 Vette – was the deciding factor in an otherwise dead-even contest. “Rickie’s Rickie,” Whiteley said. “He does what he does. He’s tough. He’ll even tell you, ‘Don’t start your car till I do my burnout,’ but it doesn’t matter. Running this car probably costs me 2 miles per hour and 2-3 hundredths every time I go down the track, but no way am I getting rid of it. Hot rods like this are what Pro Mod’s all about to me.”

PSM – DALLAS 2020

Fresh off a quarterfinal finish at the U.S. Nationals in his first start in exactly a year, Cory Reed kept going rounds at the Fall Nationals in Dallas, and that didn’t end up being the high point of the weekend for Team Liberty – far from it, actually. Teammate Joey Gladstone, racing for the first time all year, went all the way to the final for the first time in his career.

Reed came off the trailer Saturday morning with a competitive 6.92 at 194 mph and backed it up with an almost identical 6.92/195 in the only other qualifying session, eventually settling into the No. 11 spot on the eliminator ladder. Gladstone was even better, anchoring the fast half of the 16-bike field with a 6.89/195 on his only attempt.

Both drivers sailed through the first round of eliminations against heavily favored opponents, Gladstone with a winning 6.98/190 when Hector Arana Jr. red-lighted by eight-thousandths of a second and Reed with a 6.96/193 over U.S. Nationals winner and national championship contender Scotty Pollacheck’s bogging 7.00/197 in a race decided by 1/500th of a second.

In the quarterfinals, Gladstone stopped cagey veteran Michael Phillips, who had upset incoming points leader Matt Smith in the first round, with a steady 6.97/191 opposite Phillips’ slowing 9.77. One pair later, Reed, who long ago established himself as one of the better leavers in Pro Stock Motorcycle, lost on a holeshot to eventual winner Jerry Savoie, 6.97/189 to his slightly quicker 6.96/193. After a semifinal upset of 2000-01-02 world champ Angelle Sampey, who threw away what would have been a winning 6.89/195 on a red-light start, Gladstone, with nothing to lose, lined up against former world champ Jerry Savoie in the final.

The Team Liberty bike made its worst run all weekend, a 7-flat at 192 mph, and Savoie, in a Dallas final for the sixth straight year, scored with a 6.91/191, bringing to an end the finest day of Gladstone’s career. “This is pretty unbelievable,” the young rider said of his first final-round appearance in NHRA competition. “[Engine builder/crew chief] Cecil [Towner] did a great job tuning. Everybody on the team did a good job, and we’re all having a good time. I really think that’s what’s led to this success. I’m still in disbelief – we weren’t even sure we were going to come here – but in drag racing, I guess when it’s your day, it’s your day.”

TAFC – TULSA 2020

Back in her childhood hometown of Tulsa, Okla., where she now has a career win-loss record of 10-2, Annie Whiteley, one day removed from a final-round showing at the rain-delayed, Martin, Mich., event, entered eliminations for the Throwdown in T-Town qualified just fifth – good for most drivers but not for her. “Tulsa’s just a track we’ve always liked,” she said. “We’ve always done pretty well there.”

That’s putting it mildly: the YNot/J&A Service team a had lost but a single round at Tulsa Raceway Park, the 2014 NHRA regional final, after winning in 2012 and 2013, the first two years of Whiteley’s career. (Husband Jim made it a clean sweep both times, double-doubling with her in his last two years in and Alcohol Dragster, both of which culminated in national championships.)

With some of the biggest names in Top Alcohol Funny Car in attendance, including the drivers who’ve combined to win the past five NHRA championships – Jonnie Lindberg (2015-16), Shane Westerfield (2017), and Sean Bellemeur (2018-19) – Bryan Brown didn’t seem like the worst first-round draw anybody ever got. But Brown, son of veteran Texas driver Burl Brown, is who Whiteley faced, and he went on to claim his first major victory.

Whiteley was more than on time with a .047 reaction time but didn’t make it to the 60-foot line before all hell broke loose. A troubled 1.06 60-foot time spiraled into an aborted 6.07 at 81 mph, while Brown advanced with low e.t. and top speed of the round, a 3.65 at 209 mph, and ran right with the top contenders all night.

The bump was an unbelievable 3.72, and everybody ran at least a 3.74 except Top Fuel pro Scott Palmer, who returned to Top Alcohol Funny Car for the first time in 18 years just for the hell of it and managed an early-shutoff best of 3.94. “These Midwest Drag Racing Series races are great,” Whiteley said. “You race at night, you might not run first round till 10 o’clock and run the final at 2 o’clock in the morning. But there’s people everywhere. The whole world’s shut down and they have to turn people away because they’re already at capacity.”

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