Tag: 2021 (Page 1 of 5)

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2021

Annie Whiteley wound up probably the most difficult year of her career right where it all began a decade ago, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, trending in a positive direction for maybe the first time since the first race of this long season. When qualifying was complete, she didn’t just have low e.t. of the meet, she had low e.t., the second-lowest e.t., and the fourth-lowest e.t. – two 5.50s and a 5.51.

Running as close to the .40s as possible without actually running one, Whiteley claimed the top spot with a time of exactly five and a half seconds – 5.500 at 266.27 mph. The speed ended up second behind only the 266.48-mph charge of eventual winner Sean Bellemeur and the Bartone Bros. team led by Steve Boggs.

“Doug Gordon’s team really helped us with the clutch,” Whiteley said, “and I mean really helped us. It’s pretty unbelievable for somebody like them, a team that won the championship last year and just about won it again this year, to do something like that for somebody else, but that’s exactly what they did.”

In the first round against Alaska’s Ray Martin, like her one of the very, very few ever to win their first Top Alcohol Funny Car start, Whiteley drilled him on the Tree. She was out first by more than half a tenth, .080 to .131, and, despite coasting across the finish line at barely 210 mph, emerged victorious. “The blower belt broke,” she explained after narrowly advancing with a 5.71/211 over Martin’s fast-closing 5.75/252.

Sunday afternoon in the first pair of the semi’s, Whiteley’s luck ran out. Gordon put away No. 2 qualifier Terry Ruckman, 5.56/265 to 5.68/252, in the other pair, and she outran both of them – but, unfortunately for her, not the only one that mattered. She and Bellemeur, who locked up the national championship here last weekend, pre-staged simultaneously and staged almost at the same time, but the now three-time champ pulled steadily ahead of her for a 5.51/265 to 5.54/264 victory.

Whiteley’s final scorecard for the 2021 season: a win (Belle Rose), a runner-up (Martin on the Mid-West Drag Racing Series tour), three semifinal finishes (this weekend in Las Vegas and the Ferris and Tulsa MWDRS events), 11th place in the NHRA standings, fourth in the MWDRS, and a positively un-Whiteleylike overall win-loss record of 10-14.

PRO MOD – LAS VEGAS 2021

Laser-focused on the burgeoning Mid-West Drag Racing Series all year, Jim Whiteley simultaneously pieced together a successful season in his infrequent appearances on the NHRA tour. Whiteley, who barely missed winning the 2021 MWDRS Pro Mod championship, finished just outside the NHRA Top 10 despite skipping nearly half the races (5 of 11).

On his first qualifying run at the 11th and final event of this year’s NHRA series, the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, Whiteley’s sleek ’69 Camaro shook hard and coasted silently across finish line at 100 mph. Saturday afternoon in the second and third sessions, he pounded out two runs as close to each other as any two runs have ever been: .968-.970 at the 60-foot mark, 2.574-2.574 at 330 feet, 3.857-3.855 to half-track at 192.11-192.30 mph, 4.957-4.954 at 1,000 feet, and 5.886-5.882 at 242.06-242.36 mph across the finish line.

The first one, recorded early Saturday afternoon, put him eighth in the order, and the follow-up, recorded in the gathering gloom of dusk that evening, was truly a thing of beauty. Wheels up, charging hard through the middle of the course, it was, barley, his quickest pass of the weekend, but it still didn’t improve his standing in the final lineup. He wound up ninth in the final order, matched against teammate Brandon Snider in the bright sunlight of Sunday morning’s first round of eliminations.

Once again, Whiteley made his quickest run of the entire event, but Snider did him one better at both ends of the dragstrip. Whiteley cut a .042 light, but Snider nipped him with a slightly quicker .031, and when Whiteley picked up considerably from his best qualifying time (four-hundredths of a second and 2 mph, from 5.88/242 to 5.84/244), Snider picked up even more (four-hundredths and 3 mph, from 5.83/244 to 5.79/247) to win by a car-length.

“We’ve got some big plans for next year,” Whiteley said. “All kinds of plans. With all kinds of people and all kinds of cars. That’s all I’m going to say right now. But trust me, it’s gonna be good.”

PSM – VEGAS 2021

Back on the line just an hour after teammate Cory Reed’s devastating crash, Joey Gladstone upset championship contender Steve Johnson in the Charlotte semi’s to reach the brink of his first major title. An hour or so later he had Angelle Sampey covered until a disastrous, once-in-a-lifetime mechanical glitch muzzled his bike and denied him his first NHRA victory.

Since then … nothing. It’s been one early exit after another. Dallas: out first round. Bristol: out first round. And, now, Las Vegas: out first round. None was more disheartening than this latest setback, at the Dodge Nationals in Vegas. This time Gladstone didn’t have a chance – he took himself out with a red-light start, and right when Reed was there to watch.

Confined to a wheelchair since September and probably into the first month or so of next year, minimum, Reed, bored to tears watching from the sidelines at home, found his way back to a racetrack for the first time since his catastrophic crash. “It sucks not being out here,” he said. “You’re stuck at home, you get all excited about finally having something to look forward to – watching the livestream of the race – and then it starts, and it’s not the same at all. You’re there, but you’re not racing. Your team is. Not you – you’re just watching.”

With his team leader and best bud looking on intently, Gladstone opened Dodge Nationals qualifying with a 7.09/193 that positioned him sixth at the time, followed with a much better 6.95/191 that got him right back up to sixth, and entered eliminations in the ninth spot after rolling through the beams on his third and final qualifying attempt.

In the first round, opposite returning veteran Chris Bostick, who qualified just ahead of him in the No. 8 spot, Gladstone narrowly fouled. It was a crusher – his best run of the entire event, a 6.939 that tied Bostick’s qualifying time right to the thousandth of a second, and right when Bostick stumbled to a 6.98 but won anyway.

“The bike’s not really running we think it should right now,” said Reed, bound to a wheelchair with pins sticking out of him but equally bound and determined to get back on the quarter-mile by early next year. “This was never going to be easy – I never expected it to be. We want to do better, and we will, but nothing really looks completely out of whack right now. Nothing’s screaming ‘fix me,’ so I don’t know why it’s not running better. If we find something in testing, we’ll be at Pomona for the Finals. If we don’t, we won’t.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2021

With a promising performance at the penultimate race of a largely forgettable 2021 season, Annie Whiteley might just have turned the corner heading into the 2022 campaign. Plagued by one thing after another from the time she left Belle Rose, La., with a victory in the season opener, 2021 was the very definition of a down year. This second-to-last weekend of the season was anything but.

From a decent 5.60 at 263 mph on her opening hit, Whiteley got only quicker every trip back under The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway arch. She posted a significantly better 5.54/264 Friday afternoon and an incrementally quicker and faster 5.53/265 in last-shot qualifying Saturday morning for the No. 6 spot in the 16-car Top Alcohol Funny Car field.

That afternoon in the first round of eliminations, as she had on almost every other run, Whiteley laid down her best pass all weekend, leaving on former national event winner Kris Hool and outrunning him to boot. Her right-down-the-groove 5.52/265 wasted his aborted 9.65 at 113 mph and improved her all-time head-to-head record against the Wyoming veteran to a tidy 6-3. It wasn’t just her quickest run of the event; it was all 16 drivers’ quickest run of the first round, including championship contenders Sean Bellemeur (5.58) and Doug Gordon (5.66).

That night, immediately after the nitro cars wrapped up qualifying for Sunday’s race, Whiteley faced quarterfinal opponent Chris Marshall, who, like her, split his time this year between the NHRA and MWDRS circuits. They left, and her car, as if pulled by some giant magnet buried under the centerline, strayed inexorably to the right until she finally relented somewhere in high gear.

“It pulled me over toward the centerline, and I had to pull it back,” Whiteley said. “Then it did it again, and I pulled it back again, but when it tried to pull me over there again in high gear I thought, ‘Nahhhh … that’s enough,’ and shut it off.” Marshall collected the round-win with a 5.56/264, while Whiteley, despite clicking it early and coasting across the stripe at only 222 mph, still recorded a 5.64.

PRO MOD – FERRIS 2021

Of all the lousy ways to lose a championship, having your car accidentally shut itself off halfway through an in-the-bag win is way up there. Jim Whiteley’s longshot bid for the 2021 Mid-West Drag Racing Series Pro Mod title officially disintegrated in the very first round of the last race of the year when his normally bulletproof Leahy safety system inadvertently silenced the car, handing the championship to young Joey Oksas.

Up to that point, everything was shaping up for a deep run into eliminations for Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team – he led all Xtreme Texas World Finals qualifiers with an outstanding 3.69 at nearly 203 mph (Oksas was No. 2) and thus drew the slowest driver in the field, Todd Moyer, in the first round. If he made it through that one – and there was absolutely no reason to think he wouldn’t – he’d have a second-round bye run straight into the semifinals.

Oksas had a commanding lead coming into the event, sure, but the opportunity for a last-ditch championship run was still on the table for Whiteley. He killed the Tree with a .020 reaction time, gaining a noticeable early lead Moyer’s sleepy .105 … and then looked on helplessly when his car quit on him. “It was perfect,” he said. “The front end was up, the car was hauling ass, and then it just went dead.” He slowed to a 6.26 at only 73 mph, dragging the chutes across the finish line long after Moyer had sailed past him to a winning 3.79/200.

It cost Whiteley the round and maybe the race – almost certainly the race – but, honestly, probably not the championship. Only some Hail Mary would have kept Oksas, safely ensconced on the far side of the ladder, from another late-round appearance, and nothing Whiteley could have done, including winning the event, would have been enough to overtake him.

Oksas, qualified No. 2, directly opposite Whiteley on the grid, drove his Jeff Pierce-tuned Mustang to another final, where he was upset by, of all people, Moyer, who’d never won a race until this weekend. But finishing the season with five straight final-round appearances left Whiteley, who wound up second in the final standings, no room for error. “It would’ve taken a miracle,” Whiteley said. “He was too far ahead of me. Good for him. He’s a good kid – he deserved it.”

TAFC – FERRIS 2021

The only good thing about Annie’s 2021 Mid-West Drag Racing Series season is that it’s over. A solid reaction time and a competitive run at the Xtreme Texas World Finals only got her another first-round loss, her third straight in what’s turned out to be the most disappointing year of her long, successful 10-year driving career.

Things got off to a promising enough start at Xtreme Raceway Park in tiny Ferris, Texas, just outside Dallas, when Whiteley clocked a 3.71 at 210.58 mph in the second Funny Car session and a steady 3.72/209.89 in the third. Both speeds held up as the fastest of the entire session, but her 3.71 E.T. was good for only the No. 6 spot overall – not bad, usually, but, in this case, not that great: there were just six Funny Cars in attendance.

Instead of No. 1 vs No. 6, 2 vs. 5 and 3 vs. 4 in the first round as with a traditional six-car NHRA ladder, No. 1 qualifier Sean Bellemeur and No. 2 qualifier Chris Marshall soloed in the first round under the MWDRS’ unconventional format, and the semifinals featured a full complement of four cars. Unfortunately for Whiteley, her J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro wasn’t one of them.

She charged off the line with her best reaction time of the race, a more than respectable .070, and dipped into the 3.60s with her quickest run all weekend, a 3.69, but Bill Bernard, clinging to an outside shot at the championship, nipped her in the lights in a rematch of last month’s U.S. 131 Nationals final. He clocked a 3.67 to win, then lost in the semifinals to Sean Bellemeur, who clinched the title and subsequently topped second-place Marshall in the final to win a second crown going away.

PSM – BRISTOL 2021

This year, for the first time since Cory Reed and Joey Gladstone were elementary school kids, the premier Pro Stock Motorcycle teams in the country descended upon Bristol Dragway in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. Until now, the two-wheel set had never been part of an NHRA national event here, so no one really had any idea what to expect from the legendary but, to them, completely unfamiliar track.

They just knew it was going to be bumpy. Really bumpy. Knock-your-hands-right-off-the-handlebars bumpy. Everyone was anxious about exactly what was going to happen when they let the clutch handle fly, unleashing their 200-mph missiles on Bristol’s notoriously uneven surface, but Gladstone, more than most, seemed unfazed. “You just have to be ready for it,” he said. “At a place like this, you just need to make sure you’re ahead of the bike the whole time.”

He was. After rolling off the trailer with a 6.98 at 193 mph Friday evening, Gladstone hung within hundredths of a second of that time all weekend, with a 6.96/190 Saturday afternoon and a 7.01/192 later that evening that positioned him ninth in the final lineup, locked into theoretically the closest race of the first round. It couldn’t have been closer than No. 8 vs. No. 9 anyway, but this one figured to be even tighter than ever because both Gladstone and Eddie Krawiec qualified with the same E.T., right down to the thousandth of a second – not just matching 6.96s, but identical 6.966s.

Krawiec, the 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2017 Pro Stock Motorcycle champ, had his choice of lanes because of his faster qualifying speed (196.36 mph to 190.75) and appeared to have the upper hand, but it was Gladstone who actually had the better head-to-head record coming in. “All we have to do is get down the back half of the track as good as we’ve been getting down the front half,” he said, “and this thing should run in the mid-.80s.”

It didn’t. With Reed convalescing and watching the nhra.tv livestream from home, Gladstone got the drop on Krawiec at the Tree, .030 to .040, but it was the last time he’d hold the lead. Instead of them both running the same e.t. they had in qualifying and Gladstone winning on a slight holeshot, he slowed from 6.96 to a 6.99 while Krawiec capitalized on the cool air and tight, tacky track to advance with by far his best run all weekend, a 6.89.

TAFC – DALLAS 2021

Annie Whiteley was doing fine at the NHRA Fall Nationals, right up until she wasn’t. Half of the quickest side-by-side race in history at the Texas Motorplex in 2017, still the fastest Top Alcohol Funny Car driver of all time (276.18 mph) in 2018, and survivor of a nasty sand-trap crash here later that year, she was gone early this time.

Heading into final qualifying, Whiteley was No. 2 on the provisional grid with a 5.51, second only to the 5.47 of eventual winner Doug Gordon. But one good run gets you only so far, and when she failed to improve in the pivotal third and final qualifying session, other teams did step up – way up.

With invaluable assistance from Sean Bellemeur’s crew chief, mechanical genius Steve Boggs, Aryan Rochon ran a career-best 5.47 for the No. 2 spot; 2017 world champ Shane Westerfield made his best run all season, another 5.47, for No. 3; and Matt Gill, who joined the ranks of national event champions earlier this year in Atlanta, slipped ahead of the J&A Service/YNot Racing team’s 5.516 and into the No. 4 position with a 5.510.

It just served to push Whiteley from No. 2 down to No. 5 and made surviving the first round of eliminations that much more unlikely a proposition. There wasn’t a single pushover in the entire field (every team in attendance ran at least a 5.50-something), but drawing perennial top-three driver Brian Hough first round called to mind what happened here two years ago: Whiteley qualified in the top half of the field, got stuck running Hough first round, and lost.

This was different – neither one of them ran any good. Hough’s crew chief, multi-talented Jonnie Lindberg, acutely aware of just how fast Whiteley’s car might run, had his car way too hopped up, and Hough stumbled downtrack to a backpedaling, off-pace 5.88. Problem was, Whiteley’s car leaped off the ground the instant she swapped feet and swung a hard left, leaving her no choice but to lift. With plenty of time to think about what might have been, she was left to idle downtrack to a 12-second time with “5.88” and the win-light shining on the scoreboard in the other lane.

PRO MOD – DALLAS 2021

At the NHRA Fall Nationals, site of some of the most unforgettable days of Jim Whiteley’s long, prolific Top Alcohol Dragster career, he qualified the highest he has all season in Pro Mod – sixth, the same spot he landed at Indy but with a run a tenth of a second quicker. Only this time, he didn’t parlay that performance into success on race day, instead being upset in the first round by No. 11 seed Chad Green.

Whiteley, who shut off to a 9.40 on his initial attempt, lowered the boom Friday night with a 5.80 at 246.39 mph that catapulted him straight to the top of the order at the time. Crew chief “Stevie Fast” Jackson kept Whiteley’s immaculate ’69 Camaro in range for the duration of the event, but the car trended in the wrong direction, slowing ever so slightly each time down the Motorplex quarter-mile. Following a competitive 5.81/245 Saturday (coincidentally against Khalid alBalooshi, who tied Whiteley’s 5.806 right to the thousandth of a second but nipped him for the No. 5 spot with a better speed), Whiteley remained consistent on his next and last attempt with a steady 5.83/246.

In the first round against Green, a former national event champ who’d never beaten the YNot/J&A Service team, Whiteley fell backward another hundredth of a second and dropped a couple mph in speed. That’s all it took. He was two-hundredths of a second quicker than Green to the 60-foot mark (.958-.979) and four-hundredths quicker to 330 (2.553-2.595), but by half-track any edge he had was long gone.

Green had him by a thousandth of a second at that point, 3.830-3.831, and his nitrous-powered 900 cubic-inch behemoth drove away from Whiteley’s blown-alcohol setup with a significant half-track speed advantage, 198 mph to 192. Whiteley’s slowest full run of the weekend, a solid but unspectacular 5.84/243, would have won all kinds of rounds this year, but Green took a huge leap forward with by far his best run of the entire weekend, 5.79/247, to win going away.

PSM – DALLAS 2021

It’s all up to Joey Gladstone now. With team leader Cory Reed sidelined indefinitely by the incapacitating injuries from his horrifying Charlotte crash, Gladstone will have to be the one to do it if Reed Motorsports is to lock down its first-ever Top 5 finish in the final NHRA standings.

Robbed of what would’ve been his first career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory in the Charlotte final when the kill switch somehow became unplugged (“I can’t stop thinking about it – I still think about it every day,” he said), Gladstone now leads the charge with three races to go and the Top 5 just outside their collective grasp. Sixth in the standings coming into this race, he set the tone with an off-the-trailer 6.90 – the same number that would flash on the Texas Motorplex scoreboards after every run he made all weekend but one.

Following that pass, a forgettable 6.99/194 under the lights Friday night amid the track’s tacky Spectacle of Speed fiasco, Gladstone pounded out identical 6.90s Saturday afternoon – a 6.908 at 194 mph in the left lane and a subsequent 6.905 at 195 in the right, his quickest lap of the race. Another 6.90 in the first round of eliminations and he’d have been right back in the middle rounds because he absolutely drilled longtime nemesis Jerry Savoie on the starting line.

But at Dallas, Savoie is the last rider anyone wants to face – especially Gladstone, now 0-7 lifetime against the 2016 world champ. Savoie, who’s appeared in the final round here six years in a row and won the past two, was way, way behind Gladstone coming off the line with a .104 reaction time, but even a .023 light wasn’t enough to hold him off.

Gladstone’s Vance & Hines-powered Hayabusa had him at half-track, but at the finish line the 6.90 on the scoreboard was not in his lane but rather in Savoie’s. “I’m still a little banged up [from a crash earlier this year at a non-NHRA event in Darlington, S.C.], my friend’s all banged up, and we’re just out here doing the best we can out here,” said Gladstone, who slipped to a 7.01 in the dispiriting loss. “Cory’s a warrior. His leg’s still beat up pretty bad and it’s gonna be a long road to recovery for him, but he’ll be back out here, trust me. And after Charlotte I know I can win one of these things.”

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