Tag: brainerd (Page 1 of 2)

TAFC – BRAINERD

Jim and Annie Whiteley, perpetually in lockstep in their personal and professional lives, have become, in a particularly exasperating development for both, just as inseparable on the quarter-mile.

In his short tenure as a Top Alcohol Funny Car driver, Jim somehow has faced off against wife Annie more than he has all other drivers combined. On a 10-car eliminator ladder, No. 4 runs No. 7 first round, and when Annie ended Lucas Oil Nationals qualifying 4th with a 5.52/266, guess where Jim’s 5.56/261 put him? Right: 7th.

“If it was a final round, that’d be fine – one of us would win the race,” Jim said of their latest head-to-head clash. “This? No thanks. But what are we going to do about it?” They’ve already faced each other at Mid-West Drag Racing Series events and in Lucas Oil regional competition, so in Jim’s first official TAFC round at an NHRA national event, why not here too?

One pair before Doug Gordon’s violent top-end crash opposite eventual winner Shane Westerfield in a titanic showdown between the first- and second-ranked drivers in the national standings, Jim and Annie left within thousandths of a second of each other, with Annie out first, .059 to .063. It was over soon after when her car blew the tires off while his motored to a smooth 5.57.

“I’ve still only made only 16 or 17 runs in a Funny Car – definitely under 20,” Jim said, “and I’m getting more comfortable every time. I love driving it, always have. You just have to stay after this thing right to the end instead of locking your left arm in low gear like you do in a Pro Mod.

“I think it needed a little more timing in the back half – that’s why we were down several mph at the top end,” said Jim, who won back-to-back Top Alcohol Dragster titles here in 2011 and 2012. “We thought we had it figured out before the second round, and that probably should have been the best run I’ve ever made – 5.51 or .52.”

To compound his frustration, opponent Bob McCosh blew the engine on his single, so Jim almost certainly would’ve made his first Funny Car semifinal appearance in NHRA competition, if not his first final. “It’s OK,” he said. “It’s fixed now. That’s not happening again.”

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 – BRAINERD 2018

Even a cursory glance at the box score would indicate that Annie Whiteley dominated Top Alcohol Funny Car at the Lucas Oil Nationals – winner, No. 1 qualifier, low E.T., and top speed of the meet. A deeper dive into the round-by-round results shows otherwise: just two representative runs – a 5.56 in last-shot qualifying for the pole position and an identical 5.56 in the final round to overwhelm Jay Payne, who lost the blower belt in low gear.

“We go down the track time after time and don’t win,” Whiteley said. “Here, we only make two good runs all weekend and win the race.” A rare trip over the centerline in the second qualifying session left the YNot team seventh of seven in attendance because she had to shut off early in the opening session. In the final session, a dead ignition on fire-up, a broken blower belt on the burnout, or a broken reverser would’ve been disastrous, but she steamed to a 5.562 that held up all weekend for low e.t.

Because of the odd number of entries, qualifying No. 1 at this race meant a bye run first round, but trouble set in again when massive shake in low gear ended in a shut-off 12-second cruise. Whiteley coasted silently across the finish line at 70 mph and advanced straight to the semifinals, where her car veered for the centerline again, this time with opponent Scott McVey well behind her with a blown-up engine.

“We were a little light on the front end, and when I hit that bump the front end bounced and moved me way over by the centerline,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I crossed it or not, and if he hadn’t blown up he might’ve gotten around me.” (Ironically, one of the few times she’s ever crossed the centerline came against McVey at this same event in 2015.)

“This had to be the strangest, most stressful win ever, other than maybe Louisiana earlier this year [where the first round essentially was the final because only one other car was in attendance],” Whiteley said. “The whole time, you’re just thinking, ‘Don’t screw this up.’ It was bizarre, but I guess it doesn’t matter. We won.”

PSM – BRAINERD 2018

There’s no getting around it – the Lucas Oil Nationals was a major disappointment for Cory Reed, probably the low point of the former NHRA Rookie of the Year’s young career. Seventeenth is nowhere to be in a 16-bike field – especially when only 18 teams show up.

“I think our motors were hurt when we got here,” Reed said. “Every run, it felt like the bike wasn’t going anywhere.” It wasn’t. Reed, who has run well down into the 6.80s and was getting used to going rounds in eliminations against even the biggest stars of Pro Stock Motorcycle, fell flat with a 7.14 at just 185 mph Friday afternoon, skipped the Friday night session, and missed the all-6-second field Saturday afternoon with back-to-back 7.0s at 191 mph.

With an aggregate best of 7.040/191.35, Team Liberty fell short of the 6.99 bump spot by a half-tenth. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” Reed insisted. “We’ve made progress. We’ve learned things. Ever since Charlotte or Atlanta, it’s looked like we’ve been moving backwards and I guess to a lot of people we have, but a lot of the moves we’ve made have taught us what not to do. And they won’t happen again. I’m OK with everything. It’s not showing up on the race track, I know, but we’re making progress.”

TAFC – BRAINERD 2017

In the picturesque resort country of Brainerd, Minn., where she runner-upped last year and reached the first national final of her career in 2012, Annie Whiteley came up just short of another final-round appearance.

With a bye to the final round of the Lucas Oil Nationals on the line, Whiteley came out on the wrong end of a tight quarterfinal match against touring pro Kris Hool, 5.50 to 5.53. “The car ran great – exactly what we thought it would,” she said. “We didn’t know he was going to run a .50-flat. That’s kind of how things have been going all year.” The winner of that round earned a bye into the final, and, as has been the case far too often this year, the luckless YNot team came up a few hundredths of a second short at just the wrong time.

Whiteley qualified a solid fifth with a 5.566 at 269.13 mph in the first qualifying session, then followed with broken runs in the remaining two sessions and another in the first round. She lost traction early in that one but, for once, got a break – opponent Chris Foster, fresh off back-to-back regional wins on the same weekend in Indianapolis, broke a rear end and could only coast helplessly toward the far end.

Granted a rare reprieve, Whiteley tromped on back on the throttle for the easy win. Only from her perspective, it didn’t seem easy at all. “I kept wondering when he was going to come back around me,” she said. “I automatically shifted when the car shook, but that didn’t get rid of the shake, so I lifted. When I got back on it, I was already in 2nd gear. It took a loooooong time for that shift light to come on for high gear –  almost to the 1,000-foot mark. Right when I was starting to think that I missed it, it came on.”

Whiteley hit high gear and scooped up the win with just a 6.48 e.t. but a speed that indicated what was to come in the following round and, hopefully, for the rest of the year. Despite lifting early and losing momentum in the most important part of the run, she charged across the finish line at more than 258 mph. On the losing 5.53 run in the quarterfinals, she obliterated the track record with top speed by a mile, running a track-record 273.33-mph speed on a weekend when no one else ever got out of the 260s.

PSM – BRAINERD 2017

With their backs to the wall after blowing up an engine on the first qualifying run and skipping the second one, Cory Reed and Team Liberty rebounded Saturday morning with a 6.97 to move into the Lucas Oil Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle field for good.

At Brainerd International Raceway, where the quickest runs in Top Fuel and Funny Car history were recorded Friday night, Reed wheeled his Team Liberty machine to a decent 6.97 at 187 mph Saturday morning and a consistent 6.98 at 186 that afternoon to solidify his position in the final lineup.

Pitted against Top 10 rider and No. 4 qualifier Scotty Pollacheck in the first round, Reed left Pollacheck at the line and sped away for his first round-win of the season and the first ever for Team Liberty, 6.94 to 6.96. “I looked over somewhere in high gear and nobody was there,” he said. “I had to look behind me to find him. That was the best feeling ever: we’re going to win. Actually, I felt that way even before I ran him, when I woke up Sunday morning. That’s the first time I can say I honestly felt that way all year.”

Reed fell in the next round to year-long nemesis and eventual runner-up L.E. Tonglet, the runaway points leader, who has won as many races this year as all other riders combined – but not before getting another holeshot head start. Reed opened up a huge early advantage, but Tonglet drove around him with, naturally, his strongest run of the weekend, a 6.85. Reed trailed with a 6.96, but at that point, it almost didn’t matter.

“I felt like I won the whole race when we won the first round,” Reed said. “I didn’t even need to make another run after that. It’s tough, starting a new team like this. We knew it was going to be, and it has been. But after a weekend like this, I can finally see what’s ahead of us down the road.”

TAFC – BRAINERD 2016

With her third straight trip to the semifinals and a second final-round appearance in a row, Annie Whiteley solidified her hold on seventh place in the NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car standings. Glad just to be in the final here in 2013, Whiteley had a much better shot at the title this time than she did the first time around, in 2013, when she lost the first national event final of her career to the unstoppable Frank Manzo by a couple car-lengths.

The 2016 Lucas Oil Nationals final was closer – much closer. Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro came out on the wrong end of a 5.44-5.45 classic with second-ranked Jonnie Lindberg, the defending NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car champ. “At least I didn’t lose on a holeshot,” joked Whiteley, who got off the mark with a better-than-average .078 reaction time, which ended up being actually her slowest of four solid lights, including a pair of .050s.

In one of the quickest and fastest TA/FC races of all time, Whiteley became one of few drivers ever to lose with a 5.45 e.t. – though for her it was the second time in a row, including the Seattle semifinals. “Now that would have been a nice time for the other guy to screw up,” Whiteley said. “Both of us were on good runs – he was going 214 mph at half-track, and we were going 211.”

In the semifinals, Whiteley put away the driver she and Lindberg battled for the 2015 championship down to the last day of the season, John Lombardo. As in the final, both cars were locked side by side to the half-track mark, but Lombardo’s NAPA car suffered a blower explosion and Whiteley pulled away to win convincingly with another 5.4 run, a 5.47.

“Everybody asked me if I heard him blow up because it was so loud, but I didn’t,” she said. “I barely saw his front fender, just a little bit of blue out of the corner of my eye, and I thought, ‘Oh no,’ because at that point you know you’re usually not gonna get around him, but then he just disappeared.” After qualifying No. 1 in each of her last two starts, Woodburn and Seattle, Whiteley began eliminations from the No. 4 spot with a 5.52 and, as in Seattle, knocked out three 5.40s in eliminations. She stopped upstart Topeka winner Jeff Jones in a great first-round race, 5.52 to 5.55, and outran 1996 world champ Tony Bartone in an even faster second-round matchup, 5.45 to 5.50.

Two more mid-.40s in the late rounds left her just short of victory. “It was another good weekend,” said Whiteley, who now has three final-round appearances this season, “but it’s not as good as a win. No more runner-ups. Time to start winning.”

PSM – BRAINERD 2016

At the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., for the fifth time in the last six races, Cory Reed advanced to the quarterfinals. It has him on the brink of the Top 10 with one more race before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin, but Reed was more frustrated at the way he lost than pleased to have advanced that deep in eliminations again.

“I was ahead of him the whole way until the bike didn’t shift,” said Reed of his opponent, reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle national champ Andrew Hines, the most prolific rider in bike history with 45 career event titles. “It made the 1-2 and 2-3 shifts just fine, but it wouldn’t go into 4th gear.”

Reed, who left on Michael Ray in the first round of eliminations with a near-perfect .007 reaction time and pulled away with a career-best 6.83, was out on Hines, too, with a .011. Hines, the eventual winner, got the win with just a 6.89 – almost certainly slower than what Reed would’ve run had his bike just gone into gear.

“This is the first loss all year where I’ve been genuinely pissed off,” Reed said. “I mean, I’m still mad. It sucks that it played out the way it did because I knew I was ahead of him. I knew I got a good light – I could just tell – and it was weird because I could hear him over there and knew he was behind me. I probably hit the button five or six times and just rode it out on the chip for a while, then laid my head down on the tank. The one good thing that came out of all of this is that the bike keeps getting faster and faster.”

Reed opened qualifying with a 6.98 and got only quicker from there, with a 6.92 Friday night in the second qualifying session, a 6.89 Saturday morning, and a 6.88 in last-shot qualifying that slotted him in the No. 7 position on the eliminator ladder, tying the career high he established earlier this season at Norwalk. The 6.83 in the first round was the quickest official run of his career by a full five-hundredths of a second. “We picked up points on some people,” Reed said. “I’m just one round out of the Countdown now, so we have real chance at this with one race left.”

TAFC – BRAINERD 2015

At Brainerd Int’l Raceway, where three years ago Annie Whiteley faced off against The Man himself, Frank Manzo, in the first national event final of her career, her YNot/J&A Service team had its first off weekend after months and months of one great outing after another.

Hot off back-to-back victories in Woodburn, where she annihilated both ends of the track record, and Seattle, where a dominant performance ended in the third national event title of her career, Whiteley qualified fifth in the Top Alcohol Funny Car field. The weekend began with promise when she ran a 5.68 at 261.17 mph Friday followed by a strong 5.61/261.62 later that afternoon that slotted her third in the field at the time. “We were behind on the track all weekend,” she said. “It just kept sticking the tire every time we went up there.”

Whiteley, who qualified No. 1 in five of her last seven starts (including the Jegs Allstars race), shook on her final attempt and qualified outside the top three for the first time since the West Region season opener at Phoenix way back in February. That that was no problem, though – she still landed in the fast half of the field and has won races already this year from three different rungs on the eliminator ladder.

The problem came when Whiteley’s jet-black Camaro fought for traction again in the first round of eliminations against a much tougher opponent than the No. 5 qualifier usually gets: many-time national event champ Jay Payne. In that round, which was postponed by rain from late Saturday afternoon until Sunday, Whiteley, who arrived in Minnesota ranked number 1 in the national standings, left on the eventual runner-up but slowed to an 8.59 while Payne advanced with a 5.55.

“That was a bummer, definitely,” Whiteley said. “On the first qualifier, it shook the tires almost right at the hit – I don’t know how it made it – and every time we went up there after that the car made it a little further, but we never did catch up to the track.”

Despite the unexpected early exit, Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service team enters the U.S. Nationals, the biggest race of the season, still solidly atop the Top Alcohol Funny Car standings, with almost a full-race lead (82 points) on second-place Doug Gordon.

TAFC – BRAINERD 2014

After running not just low e.t. of the meet but low e.t. of all three qualifying sessions at the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Annie Whiteley was upset in the second round of eliminations when her car got loose and drifted over the centerline. It was the fifth time in her career that she’s qualified No. 1 at a national event and the third time already this season.

“Somewhere before half-track, the car decided to make a left turn,” said Whiteley, who reached the first national final event of her career at this event in 2012, her rookie season in Top Alcohol Funny Car. “I have no idea why – it left hard and until that point was running just like it had all weekend.”

Whiteley wheeled her J&A Service/YNot Racing Mustang to a 5.61 at 257.63 mph to pace the field and clocked a 5.67 and a 5.64 in the other two qualifying sessions. She earned a first-round bye for being No. 1 in the short field, but following a solid 5.67 on a single that was within .01-second of low e.t. of the round, the car veered toward the centerline in round two not long after she swapped feet.

“Shane Westerfield’s car broke the rear end in the pair ahead of us,” Whiteley said. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or if it was because it was misting when I staged – the conditions weren’t ideal for any of us – but the car turned left right where his rear end broke. When [crew chief Roger Bateman] looked at the computer, he saw right on the G meter where something upset the tires.”

The Brainerd event was the first of back-to-back-to-back events for the busy YNot team. This weekend is the Central Regional at Heartland Park Topeka, and next weekend is the most prestigious event of every season, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, where last year Whiteley fell just short of victory in a close final-round match with Frank Manzo.

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