Tag: Annie (Page 1 of 15)

TAFC – DALLAS

A semifinalist, at least, at every race this year coming into the Central Regional at Dallas, Annie Whiteley kept the streak alive with yet another final-four performance. At the original supertrack, the world-famous Texas Motorplex, she just missed low E.T. in qualifying and just missed her second final-round appearance of the season, which, had she made it that far, without question would have resulted in a second straight win.

There was no final-round opponent, and, thus, no chance of a runner-up finish – Whiteley was either going to lose in the semifinals or win the event. Unfortunately for her, she lost in the semifinals to Kyle Smith, whose reaction time just missed costing him the race.

Three-thousandths of a second quicker than his near-perfect .002, and Smith would’ve red-lighted, handing Whiteley a final-round berth and, ultimately, a final-round win because Bryan Brown, who needed only to stage in the other semi to secure a berth in the title round, was sidelined by a broken crank. “It was double-bad,” said Whiteley, who blew the tires off immediately and coasted silently across the finish line at 96 mph while Smith advanced with a beatable 5.57.

“We knew Bryan wasn’t going to make the final,” Whiteley said. “He’d already come by and told us all. People offered to help him put something together, but he just said, ‘We’re done,’ so the semifinal was really the final.”

Whiteley had driven the “Shattered Glass” Camaro to the No. 2 spot in qualifying, behind only Bob McCosh (5.52 to 5.53), and had strapped a huge holeshot on returning veteran Mark Billington in the first round, .014 to .102, for a lopsided 5.55/264 win while Billington coasted through the traps with an E.T. and speed both in the 20s.

“The two-step really helps,” Whiteley said of her telepathic .014 light. “The funny part is, I really don’t know why. I never wanted it in the first place. They put it on the car right after two-steps were made legal, and I didn’t want it. I postponed it and postponed it and postponed it. I just don’t like it – to me, it takes away from the integrity of the class. But Jim said, ‘Just try it. I know you see the light and leave better than what your reaction times say. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else … let’s just see if it helps.’ And it does. I still don’t really know why. If I can react like this with a two-step, why couldn’t I cut decent lights the old way?”

In the semifinal/final, Whiteley was on time with a solid .064 light, but reaction times proved immaterial when she went up into smoke at the hit. “It spun the tires instantly [60-foot time: 1.16], which also hurt the reaction a little bit, and when it blows the tires off that early, there’s nothing you’re going to do. The car kicked sideways a little, and I saw Smith out the window and thought, ‘Damn, he’s really hauling ass, isn’t he? This is over.’ “

TAFC – TULSA

Annie Whiteley’s first victory of 2024 was just her latest at Tulsa Raceway Park, where she’s been winning since she first started racing Funny Cars back in 2012. Her final-round victim this time: husband Jim Whiteley, who just missed a perfect light with a -.002 red-light that handed the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ Throwdown in T-Town title to his all-time favorite driver.

“I was late going down on the pedal, which usually means you’re going to be late, and I had my worst light of the whole weekend,” she said. It was, but that worst all weekend was a not-bad .060. “I was excited to win, but it still sucked because I don’t want Jim to lose – especially like that.”

Annie, who’d qualified second, third, and fourth in her previous starts this season – all on the quarter-mile in NHRA competition – reigned supreme at Tulsa, where she locked down her first No. 1 qualifying spot of 2024 with an outstanding 3.62 at just short of 212 mph, top speed by more than three and a half miles per hour. Driving a matching J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro dressed in white, Jim tied friend Steve Macklyn right down to the thousandth of a second for No. 2 with identical 3.632 E.T.s but got the higher position on the basis of his faster speed, 208.30 mph to Macklyn’s 207.59.

In the first round, Annie ripped off a 3.63/211, nearly matching her Low E.T./Top Speed marks from qualifying, to erase veteran Lance Van Hauen, then breezed through the semifinals to meet Jim. He had a much tougher road to the final, topping Bryan Brown in the opening round, 3.64/206 to 3.87/200, and surviving a memorable matchup with Macklyn in the semifinals. Both cut near-perfect .00 lights and both ran 3.66s, but Jim was a little better on both ends of the track, .003 to .006 and 3.664 to 3.669, for a narrow win.

“You get down to the final in these Mid-West races and you’d better bring everything you’ve got,” Annie said. “The track’s kind of iffy for testing on Thursday, then it’s getting pretty good on Friday, and by Saturday it’s a lot better. I don’t know what they do or how they do it, but they just keep working on it all weekend and it’s perfect by Saturday night.”

Annie produced a 3.63 in the final and Jim a 3.65, but their times meant nothing when he went red by 1/500th of a second. “I don’t know why, but I always seem to do my best against Jim,” said Annie, who had a perfect .000 reaction time earlier in the weekend. Topping off a memorable weekend, Annie’s grandson Breccan won the Jr. Dragster title and shared a toast with dad Steven – a Dr. Pepper for him and a beer for Dad.

TAFC – LAS VEGAS

Quietly putting together a solid season with one late-round finish after another, Annie Whiteley kept the ball rolling at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, long one of her favorite tracks. Fourth in the standings and third in final qualifying coming into eliminations, she moved first with a .052 light and charged ahead of bucks-down upstart Charles McLaws and second-generation driver Will Martin in the first round, winning easily with a 5.49/267 over McLaws’ 5.62/257 and Martin’s 5.60/260.

With three or four cars on the track at the same time, it isn’t necessary to actually “win” – to get to the finish line before the other two or three cars – to advance in the preliminary rounds. You just have to finish in the top two, but Whiteley had the best reaction time and the best E.T., leaving first and easily outdistancing the others despite her unfamiliarity with (and barely disguised disdain for) her new two-step.

“When I’m pre-staged, I still have to tell myself not to go up on the throttle,” she said. “You’ve just done it so many times, your muscle memory still tells you to rev it up to 7,000 rpm, and you really have to go out of your way stop yourself from doing it.”

The new setup did Whiteley in in the semifinals, when she lost to eventual winner Sean Bellemeur and Hunter Jones in a race not nearly as close as the E.T.s alone would indicate. Bellemeur ran a 5.50, Jones a 5.51, and Whiteley a 5.52, but Bellemeur and Jones hit the Tree while she, clearly distracted, did not. (McLaws was a distant fourth with a 5.72.)

“I was late going down on the throttle,” Whiteley explained. “When you’re still learning, you have to get in there [stage the car] fast,” Whiteley said. “You really want to be in there first so you’re set. I used to just barely have to let go of the brake and the car would roll in [to the staged beam]. With this two-step, I have to move the clutch to get the car to roll. Now, I have to think …and up there on the starting line, thinking is the absolute last thing you want to do.”

TAFC – POMONA

At the prestigious Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Raceway, one of the few tracks at which she hasn’t already won at least once, Annie Whiteley came through with one of her best reaction times ever to trounce one of biggest names in the business, feared leaver Shane Westerfield.

With a near-perfect .007 light, Whiteley drilled Westerfield on the Tree and drove away with low E.T. of the meet to that point. Westerfield, driving for the RJM superteam owned by Kathy Jackson, wife of the late Rick Jackson, was more than on time with a respectable .059 reaction time, but Whiteley was noticeably ahead and opened the lead from there with an outstanding 5.49 at 265.80 mph to cover Westerfield’s otherwise fine 5.54/264 by more than a car length.

“They handed me the ticket and I saw that .007 and thought, ‘Oh, that can’t be mine. That has to be Shane’s, ” Whiteley said. “I mean, he’s the one who’s always cutting .00 lights – not me. But he said, ‘That’s not mine, Annie. That’s all you.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Whiteley’s “Shattered Glass” Camaro came off the trailer with a decent 5.56 at 263.46 mph (just shy of top speed of the meet to that point) that left her No. 2 on the provisional grid behind only the surprising Hunter Jones, who enjoyed the finest outing of his young career. After an aborted 7.52 on what turned out to be their only other attempt, the J&A Service/YNot Racing team entered eliminations fourth on the grid, set to face Westerfield, the 2017 national champion who almost never qualifies in the bottom half of the field.

In the lanes, readying for a crucial semifinal match with Jones, Whiteley dove for cover when the skies opened, pummeling cars and drivers with golf-ball-sized hail, and the race was postponed. When it resumed three weeks later at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in conjunction with Four-Wide Nationals qualifying, Whiteley was upset, 5.59/262 to a shutoff 7.97/117, by the upstart Jones, who would go on to lose a close final to Brian Hough.

TAFC – PHOENIX

Long established veteran handler Annie Whiteley kicked off her 13th season of Top Alcohol Funny Car competition with a semifinal finish at the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series’ Western Region opener. “Not bad,” she assessed. “Things got a little stressful at times, changing the ignition to something we’ve never run before, but, all in all, I’d say it turned out all right.”

Frustrated by an erratic MSD command module that single-handedly cost the J&A Service/YNot Racing team three races last year, crew chief Mike Strasburg made the switch to a FuelTech setup for 2024. “From inside the car, the motor just sounds different now,” Whiteley said. “The idle is deeper. Throatier. We’re up there for the first test run and I look out the window at Jeff [Strasburg], like, ‘This thing sounds like a mud truck – you sure it’s OK?’ “

After a couple of test runs – one too soft and one a little too hard – the team got down to business Friday when qualifying officially got under way. Strasburg split the difference, and the car charged to the 1,000-foot mark, where, as planned, Whiteley clicked it off, coasting to a 5.71. On her second and final attempt, the “Shattered Glass” Camaro produced a fine 5.47 at 263.82 mph, good for No. 2 behind rookie Maddi Gordon, who went low with a 5.43 in her first start since taking over for her dad, outgoing world champion Doug Gordon.

Saturday afternoon in the first round of eliminations, Whiteley summarily dispatched the decent 5.60/262 of second-generation driver Will Martin, son of former nitro Funny Car racer John A. Martin, with a quicker and faster 5.46/265. In the semi’s, she narrowly lost to eventual winner Brian Hough, 5.47/265 to a right-there 5.48/267, just missing what would have been an all-female final round opposite Ms. Gordon.

Still, it was a decent start to the season and confirmation that the potentially perilous switch to an altogether different ignition system will pay dividends down the road. “That old command module cost us too many runs,” Whiteley said. “We didn’t even qualify at [the West Regional finale at] Vegas last year because of it. Nine cars, and who’s the one car that doesn’t qualify? Us. We kept sending it to them and they kept sending it back, saying, ‘It’s fine – run it.’ “

That won’t be the only major change to Whiteley’s machine for the season ahead. “We’re gonna try that thing Hough uses [the recently legalized two-step],” Whiteley said. “We’ve been struggling with this clutch-pedal extension and I’ve been struggling to cut a light for 12 years now. If I don’t roll in deep, I can’t get a light. I can tell you one thing, though: this car will still have a clutch pedal, no matter what. I’ll quit before I run a car without one.”

TAFC – POMONA 2023

At the season-ending NHRA Finals, for the first time all year, Jim Whiteley ran an NHRA national event without making it to at least the semifinals. He was stopped in a one-sided quarterfinal match against three-time Top Alcohol Funny Car world champ Sean Bellemeur, who closed out 2023 with his third straight victory.

In a way, Whiteley was fortunate just to be in the second round after careening through the shutdown area with no brakes following a first-round win over the last driver he’d ever want to race (but races absolutely all the time), wife Annie. “It’s not like I can’t get a car stopped with one parachute,” he said. “I’d like to think I could do it with no parachutes, but you can’t get it to a complete stop if you don’t have any brakes at all, and I had no brakes at all.”

Jim, who, just for fun, also ran his B/AA Cobalt in Comp Eliminator (and cut a near-perfect .002 light first round), ran just a thousandth of a second quicker than Annie in qualifying with a 5.447 for the No. 6 spot. Her seventh-best 5.448 is by far the quickest run ever to fall into the slow half of a TA/FC field, as a record eight drivers delved into the 5.40s.

In the last pair of the first round, Jim and Annie, like virtually every previous driver in the 12-car field, slowed from their qualifying times, but Jim managed to hold off her fast-closing 5.46 at 268 mph with a 5.49/258. That’s when the fun started.

While Annie’s Yenko blue “Shattered Glass” Camaro slowed to a safe, uneventful stop, Jim’s matching white machine rocketed ahead toward potential disaster. One of two chutes blossomed, but with no brakes he was destined to land in the sand trap. The packed sand slowed the car significantly, but not enough to keep him from nosing into the safety net. “A heim broke on the linkage to the master cylinder,” he explained, “and at that point there’s not much you can do.”

With minimal damage and all day to get the car back in shape for the under-the-lights quarterfinal round, Whiteley was more than ready for Bellemeur, but that race didn’t last long when he ran into trouble right off the line. Bellemeur, who had barely beaten him two weeks ago in the Las Vegas final, was long gone this time with a tremendous 5.39, duplicating his Low E.T. of the Meet qualifying time. “The blower belt broke,” Whiteley said. “I was never going to catch him anyway, so that just got two losses out of the way in one round.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2023

It’s hard not to qualify for an eight-car show when only nine cars show up, and it’s really hard when you were No. 1 at the last two national events, including one just days earlier at the same track. But that’s the fate that befell Annie Whiteley’s luckless team at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of some of the truly great days of her 12-year Top Alcohol Funny Car career.

It wasn’t the tune-up – the car just ran mid-5.40s three times in a row here last week at the Nevada Nationals. And it was nothing mechanical, nothing that could be easily diagnosed through a routine parts inspection. It was the ignition, that invisible, delicate system whose complexities can be understood only through a piece-by-piece replacement of every component from the magneto to the coil to the spark plugs to every last connection.

“We never really did figure it out,” said Whiteley, who blew the tires off at the hit Friday afternoon in the first qualifying session. Three hours later in Q2, it was all systems go … until it wasn’t. Charging downtrack on an otherwise fine run until about half-track, the power suddenly cut out and she coasted to a harmless 5.87 at just 195 mph that kept her in the field (barely, in the No. 8 spot) until the next driver down the left lane three minutes behind her, Ray Martin, recorded a 5.73 and knocked her out of the field.

Martin blew the engine on that run and never returned, which gave Whiteley and crew chief Mike Strasburg one last chance. An aborted 6.31 at 164 mph left the “Shattered Glass”/YNot Racing/J&A Service entry on the outside looking in, but when Martin was unable to return for eliminations, Whiteley got a much-needed reprieve. It wasn’t a clear path to victory because she’d be paired with the No. 1 qualifier in the first round, but it at least it was one more chance to track down the mysterious electrical gremlin before Pomona.

It didn’t matter. Hamstrung by the same ignition problems that plagued the team all weekend, Whiteley was out of it early against Marshall, who, with a 5.47, would have been hard to get around anyway. “What the hell?” she said. “Sometimes, it just doesn’t go your way.”

TAFC – FERRIS 2023

For the second year in a row, Jim and Annie Whiteley met in the Top Alcohol Funny Car final at the Mid-West Drag Racing Series World Finals, where last year Jim secured his first win as a Funny Car driver. Annie lost traction, just like last year, but this time it didn’t cost her the race – Jim had even bigger problems in the other lane.

“I haven’t smoked the tires like that in probably five years,” Annie said. “I came completely off the throttle and thought, ‘What the hell was that?’ But then it was like, ‘Wait a minute … Why isn’t he driving away from me?’ and I got back on it.”

The snout on Jim’s converter gave up, knocking him out of the race. “It was charging hard,” he said, “but it gave up right before the gear change, just went ‘bam-bam-bam.’ I got on the brakes when it let go because at first I wasn’t sure what was going on. They got down there to tow me off and the car wouldn’t move; it was locked up. We had to put the car on dollies to get it off the track.”

Jim qualified No. 1, and Annie was No. 2, which set her up with a semifinal match against No. 3 qualifier and former NHRA Division 2 champion Mark Billington in his first race back from a big crash earlier this season. Billington put up a good fight with a solid 3.72 at 206 mph, but Annie left on him, .075 to .084, and put him away with a superior 3.69/213 to advance to another final.

With nearly identical .015 and .018 reaction times, husband and wife both were more than ready when the Tree flashed green. “For some reason – it’s not like I’m not trying just as hard against everybody else – I always do well against Jim,” Annie said. “It blew the tires off and I thought I was out of it, but out of the corner of my I realized I was catching him so I got back on it and ran it to the end. If was funny, actually. The first shift light didn’t come on until I was at the eighth-mile – right where the second one usually comes on.”

TAFC – TULSA 2023

Annie Whiteley’s latest Tulsa triumph only added to her legacy of success at the venerable old track in a town she once called home. “I’ve always liked racing here,” said Whiteley, who’s been winning races at Osage Tulsa Raceway Park since NHRA held Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional and regional events here early in her Top Alcohol Funny Car career.

Today, Tulsa is the hub of the Mid-West Drag Racing Series, home to two major MWDRS events every year, including the latest Throwdown in T-Town. After dominating the first Throwdown and scoring at the U.S. 131 Nationals in Martin, Mich., last month, she claimed her third MWDRS victory of 2023 with a final-round decision over veteran Mark Billington, the retired Pepsi/Frito-Lay executive who’s been competitive since the day he bought a used Bob Newberry car more than 20 years ago and became an NHRA Division 2 champion.

“Tulsa is the first place Jim and I and I ever won the same race [in 2012, her rookie season in Top Alcohol Funny Car], and it was just a great weekend for the whole team because we had a lot of family here,” Whiteley said. “We had seven cars here altogether – Jim’s, mine, [son] Steven [Whiteley’s] Pro Mod, the Jrs., and [sister], Anita’s Top Dragster.”

Whiteley qualified No. 2 with an outstanding 3.56 at the ridiculous speed of 215.79 mph, one of her best eighth-mile speeds ever, and trailed only Jim’s 3.54 in the final qualifying order. After taking out Canadian Ryan Stack, driver of veteran Larry Dobbs’ bucks-down machine, in the opening round, Whiteley took on Billington, who was in the midst of a spirited comeback from a nasty crash earlier this year, in the final.

“That had to be one of the smoothest runs this car made all year,” Whiteley said. “It was a clean run, a great side-by-side race. This was Mark’s first race back after the crash and he really ran good. It was great to have him back out here for the first time in a long time and great to win, especially since our whole team was here.”

TAFC – INDY 2023

With a final-four finish at the biggest race of the year, former U.S. Nationals Top Alcohol Dragster champ Jim Whiteley turned in his finest showing to date as an NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car racer, taking out, of all people, wife Annie Whiteley along the way. Jim, who won the 2013 U.S. Nationals en route to his second straight TA/D championship, made his best run of the year right off the trailer and delivered a steady, consistent performance not unlike his glory days in dragsters with six full pulls in six trips to the line.

Fresh off a St. Louis victory in the eighth-mile Mid-West Drag Racing Series, Jim made his quickest quarter-mile run of 2023, a 5.52 at 262.08 mph, and Annie was right behind him a couple pairs later with a 5.54 at nearly 265 mph in her clutch car. They ran side by side in each of two ensuing qualifying sessions with only Jim making it to 2nd gear under power, but Annie’s Mike Strasburg-tuned “Shattered Glass” machine came back to life when it mattered most, in eliminations.

Annie advanced with a smooth 5.59/262 against the A/Fuel Funny Car of Mick Steele, who made his first start in this class in 25 years, but Jim really had to work for it to get around many-time national event winner DJ Cox. He deftly worked the throttle to maintain control early and moved on with a backpedaling 5.64/256 that cost him lane choice for his highly anticipated quarterfinal matchup with Annie.

She shot off the line with an excellent .045 reaction time in that one, but Jim was already ahead of her with the first of consecutive .00 lights, a perfect .000. “I always do better against him,” said Annie, who developed ignition troubles downtrack. “But a triple-0 light? That’s just mean.” Her clutch light was irrelevant when the ignition cut out at 9,400 rpm in every gear.

“It felt like I hit the rev-limiter,” she said. “I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I didn’t want to hurt anything and there was no way I was going to catch him, so I shut it off.” She coasted to a not-bad 5.68/236 but was well short of Jim’s 5.59/258.

In the semifinals opposite world champ Doug Gordon, Jim’s second straight .00 came up on the wrong side of perfection, a -.004 red-light that denied him a potential upset win. His Brandon Snider-tuned J&A Service Camaro was within striking distance of Gordon’s vaunted Beta Motorcycles entry, 5.50/266 to 5.57/259, and with anything from .001 to .003 green he’d have won on a holeshot.

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