Tag: ferris

TAFC – FERRIS

Instead of opening yet another season utterly dominating the NHRA Belle Rose Central Regional, where she’s never been beaten (five wins in a row – 2017-21), Top Alcohol Funny Car star Annie Whiteley kicked off 2022 with a final-round finish at the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ Xtreme Texas Nationals.

Coming off a down year beset with traction problems, inconsistency, and, as ever, bad luck, Whiteley wheeled her Yenko-blue J&A Service/YNot Camaro to the No. 2 qualifying spot at the revamped Ferris, Texas facility. With a 3.60-flat at nearly 215 mph on the eighth-mile Xtreme Raceway Park course, she had everybody covered except incoming favorite Sean Bellemeur, the reigning NHRA and MWDRS series champion. Bellemeur was No. 1 with a 3.578/216.08, followed closely by Whiteley, 2021 series runner-up Chris Marshall (3.647/211.57), the up-and-coming family team of Steve Macklyn (3.759/205.48), second-generation driver Bryan Brown (3.815/203.25), and Florida transplant Mark Billington (4.331/193.80).

When eliminations commenced, Whiteley had even Bellemeur under her thumb, laying down low e.t. of the entire opening round, a 3.613 at 214.59 mph, to oust Brown, who put up a competitive 3.701 at 207.18 mph in the loss, just missing the 3.60s. Without running quite that quick (3.702/208.72), Marshall advanced into the semifinals over Macklyn, and Bellemeur was the next-quickest (and fastest) of the round with a 3.626/213.78 single when Billington was unable to appear.

In the semi’s, Bellemeur got another single and Whiteley moved into her first final of the new season with a wire-to-wire decision over Marshall’s Oregon-based team. She had the quicker reaction time, .061 to .072, and pulled away from there for a 3.594/215, her quickest, fastest run all weekend, to take out his 3.649/209.59. Another solid reaction time in the under-the-lights final, a clutch .040, did Whiteley little good when she ran into trouble downtrack and slowed to a 5.29 at 93 mph while Bellemeur disappeared into the distance with a winning 3.560/216.66.

PRO MOD – FERRIS

With a .008 reaction time on his first hit in years, Steven Whiteley made a triumphant return to Pro Mod at the Mid-West Drag Series’ Xtreme Raceway Park season opener. “It felt like I was in the car last week,” he said. “Not this car. This thing is an animal – it carries the front end 400 feet every time. This is gonnatake a little getting used to.”

The former NHRA national event champion, who will compete exclusively on the MWDRS tour from now on, qualified high and went rounds in his first outing since the final race of the 2019 NHRA campaign, the Dodge Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he locked down a Top 10 finish in the NHRA standings. “There was no ‘a-ha’ moment where I knew I was coming back,” Whiteley said. “I just knew I was never going back to NHRA. This Mid-West deal just fits. I can race with my whole family, and I love running the eighth-mile. Always have. I’ve done PDRA stuff, the Snowbirds, the Street Car Super Nationals, and the Bradenton season opener, and I’ve always loved this style of racing.”

After a few laps to “knock the cobwebs off,” as he termed it, Whiteley wheeled father Jim Whiteley’s Brandon Snider-tuned ’69 Camaro to three remarkably consistent qualifying times: 3.62, 3.61, and 3.61, all at from 207 to 209 mph. He qualified fifth for a record field that attracted 29 entries and dispatched Jerry Hunt’s fine 3.69/203 in the first round with a superior 3.66/206, then had to step off the throttle in the quarterfinals, nullifying what would have been a sure win over Taylor Lastor.

“The car was moving to the right,” Whiteley said. “It’s going, going, going, and the front end’s in the air, so there’s nothing you can do about it. There comes a point when you have to lift. It’s not my car – it’s my dad’s. That’s always in the back of your mind.” With two choices – lift and lose or plow into the wall, be disqualified, and lose – Whiteley took his foot out of the throttle, coasting to a 5.05 at 95 mph, while Lastor gratefully scooped up the round-win with just a 3.90, then broke on the burnout next round.

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.

TAFC – FERRIS 2021

Annie Whiteley may have driven 270+ mph Funny Car for 10 years now, but with no clutch pedal to occupy her left foot and 12 things to do right before the Tree comes down, she’s starting all over. The YNot/J&A Racing team’s new torque-converter setup makes her feel, as the decal across her rear window attests, like a “STUDENT DRIVER” – at least on eighth-mile tracks like Xtreme Raceway Park.

“It’s bizarre,” Whiteley said of leaving off a trans-brake button. “With this converter, you realize right away that if you’re not staged first, you’re screwed. The whole time you’re up there, you know in the back of your mind how important it is to get in there first, and then after you roll in, there’s always three more things you have to do before you can leave: push the button, rev the motor, and let go on time. And it seems like right before you’re ready, the light’s coming on.”

Despite her unfamiliarity with the awkward new driving technique, Whiteley had what can only be termed a successful debut at the Xtreme Texas Nationals, the first race of the 2021 Mid-West Drag Racing Series. After just a handful of test laps to master the procedure, Whiteley drove to the No. 2 position behind eventual winner Sean Bellemeur with a 3.62 at 213.78 mph and advanced to the semifinals.

The routine isn’t just something Whiteley has to get used to – every run is harder for her than for everybody else because she’s the only one using a hand brake. Her left foot, the single most important part of cutting a good light for any clutch-car driver, now hangs idle, never called upon to do anything at any point of a run. “I know everybody else does it the other way, but no way am I using a foot brake,” she insisted. “I’d just jam on the brakes at the end of a run because when I get down there I’m so used to shoving in the clutch.”

Back at the line, instead of simply mashing a brake pedal with her left foot like everybody has to to stage, Whiteley’s right hand has to feel for the trans-brake button after she lets go of the brake handle – right when the Tree’s about to come on. Everything worked fine in qualifying and in the first round, where she cut a fine .047 reaction time in her first official race driving a converter car. Opponent Bryan Brown narrowly red-lighted, but she was long gone anyway with a consistent 3.64/212 that to back up her qualifying performance.

In the semi’s, Whiteley raced nemesis Chris Marshall, who, blinded by smoke when a driveline explosion filled the cockpit with smoke, banged Bob Miner’s car off both walls in qualifying. Nothing went right for Whiteley, starting when her visor fogging up before the race even started. “It wasn’t some little haze,” she said. “My mask was totally fogged up. At the last second, I flipped it up so I could see.”

Marshall got the jump, and Whiteley never did run him down. “The car was so hopped up, I had to pedal it,” she said. “Everything’s still new and I kind of got behind on my shifts. I hit the [shift] button, waited, and shifted again because the shift light wasn’t going out. It never did go out and I rolled out of the throttle a little before the finish line and still went faster than him. With this converter, you almost don’t even feel it shift. This converter is going to take some getting used to – I still don’t know if I like it or not.”

PRO MOD – FERRIS 2021

By just six-thousandths of a second, Jim Whiteley was denied his third major Pro Mod victory and first in Mid-West Drag Racing Series competition. The long-established leaver was a little too quick for his own good in the final round of the Xtreme Texas Nationals, barely red-lighting and handing the title to young Tommy Cunningham, who scored with a career-best 3.66/200.

Fully aware of just how easy it would be to red-light in the upcoming after-dark final, Whiteley still did just that, bringing an abrupt, unceremonious end to what had been his best weekend since his last Houston win. With a slight adjustment to the trans-brake throw, instead of being six-thousandths of a second too quick, his -.006 red-light would’ve been a heroic .006 or a .016 holeshot leave and a 3.67/205 win – not a runner-up, an indignity he’s suffered in comparatively few of his career finals.

Back in the familiar confines of his ’63 Corvette (the ’69 Camaro he ran at Gainesville will sit idle until the next quarter-mile NHRA event), Whiteley qualified No. 2, ahead of 19 other Pro Mod entrants and behind only Todd Martin. He then plowed through one formidable foe after another on race day, staring with former Pro Stock and Pro Stuck star Taylor Lastor, whom he dispatched with a better leave and a better run in a one-sided 3.67/204 to 3.74/202 decision.

Past MWDRS series champion Aaron Wells was the next to go, carrying the front end, drifting right, and sliding across the center line on what could have been a competitive run had he kept it on his own side. Oblivious to Wells’ difficulties in the left lane, Whiteley sped down the right with metronomic consistency, recording another 3.67 at 204 mph. Semifinal opponent Mike Labbate, who probably had the best shot at taking him out, red-lighted, advancing Whiteley, who got loose well downtrack and had to lift beyond the 330-foot mark, coasting to a winning 3.91 at just 148 mph – his only non-3.67 of eliminations.

Next up for Whiteley’s vaunted ‘Vette is the rescheduled MWDRS event at newly refurbished I-30 Dragway in Caddo Mills, Texas, and the Camaro’s next outing should be Apr. 30-May 2 at the final NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta.

TAFC – FERRIS 2020

Drawn by a potential $20,000 payday – the biggest winner’s purse in the 40-year-history of Top Alcohol Funny Car racing – Annie Whiteley and name drivers from around the country headed to increasingly popular Xtreme Raceway Park for the Xtreme Texas Nationals, the first time Alcohol Funny Cars have ever been part of Keith Haney’s fast-rising Midwest Drag Racing Series.

Whiteley, whose YNot team has reached at least the semifinals at every stop all season, absorbed a dispiriting, uncharacteristic first-round defeat in their first appearance in Ferris, Texas. With $20,000 on the line, it wasn’t a bunch of patsies filling the Xtreme Raceway Park pits. The toughest teams in the country made their way to the underrated eighth-mile facility just north of the Texas Motorplex: besides Whiteley, red-hot 2020 NHRA points leader Doug Gordon and two-time reigning world champ Sean Bellemeur, there was veteran Mark Billington, Texas talents Bryan Brown and Jonathan Johnson, and emerging contender Bob McCosh from Missouri.

Racing under the lights before a packed house, with fans closing in around both cars as they inched toward the beams in the finest match-race tradition, Whiteley lined up opposite Gordon, one of the two toughest possible opponents today (Bellemeur being the other). Whiteley’s beautiful Yenko blue Camaro Funny Car laid down one of the strongest runs of the entire event, a 3.72 at a booming 210.77 mph that would’ve beaten almost just about anyone else. But, just a few feet ahead on her right, Gordon produced an even quicker 3.68 208.72 in his new red Beta Motorcycles colors to advance.

Earlier in the day, way down at the end of the shutdown area, Johnson plowed into the guardrail in Gordon’s lane, destroying one of the best-looking Funny Cars of all time. Gordon managed to avoid him and went on make to the final, where he lost, earning $5,000 – exactly what NHRA national events pay to win – for runner-up honors, while Bellemeur collected the 20 grand, the richest prize in class history, for the Bartone Bros./Hussey team led by all-time-great crew chief Steve Boggs.

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