Tag: Finals


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.”


With three straight runs in the mid-to-low 5.40s, Annie Whiteley wrapped up her seventh season as a Top Alcohol Funny Car driver with a another solid showing at the NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. Whiteley, who ran .40s in all four rounds of eliminations last year, put together three runs from 5.45 to 5.43 for a semifinal finish to complete a four-win campaign third in the final standings, tying the career-high she established in 2015.

“It was a really good year,” said Whiteley, who scored in Belle Rose, Charlotte, Denver, and Brainerd and also made it to the final in Gainesville and Dallas. She qualified No. 1 six times, including five in a row to open the season, had an average qualifying position of 2.9 with an average e.t. and speed of 5.522 at 269.10 mph, and made the fast half of the field in 15 of 16 starts – all but the race before this one, the Las Vegas regional.

The electronic gremlins that hamstrung the YNot team in Vegas persisted in the first qualifying session at Pomona, where the car shut itself off and had to be pushed off the line. Whiteley roared back with a 5.45 at 272 mph for the No. 2 spot and wiped out Northamptonshire, England’s Robert Turner in the first round with a better 5.44/268 and Wyoming’s Kris Hool in the second round with an even better 5.43/272.56 (top speed of the meet). Banished to the left lane for the semifinals, she came out on the wrong end of a pedalfest with Sweden’s Ulf Leanders, who earned lane choice with a career-best 5.38 (low e.t.) in the previous round.

Neither driver cracked the six-second mark in the semi’s – Whiteley shook hard off the line, pedaled, recovered, and charged for the top end until it was clear that there was no overtaking Leanders, who had made it farther downtrack before tire-shake set it. “That was a one-lane race track,” Whiteley said. “If I was in my car, I’d have tried a little harder to pedal it earlier, but when it’s somebody else’s stuff, there’s always one thing in the back of your mind: Don’t tear up their car. The steering box was going bad. It felt loose, like the front end wasn’t planted, and it kept getting worse. You’d just barely touch the wheel and the car would be turning and I didn’t want to push it. It’s OK, though. Four wins, third place in the points – that’s a pretty good year.”


Annie Whiteley’s 2017 season didn’t turn out to be the one she’s always dreamed of, but in the end it was one that almost any driver in the ultra-competitive world of Top Alcohol Funny Car racing would be glad to have: multiple finals, multiple wins, and yet another Top 5 finish in the national standings.

At the season-ending AAA Finals in Pomona, Whiteley, who won two of her first three starts of 2017 and obliterated the national record with the fastest run in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (275.00 mph) along the way, finished second to John Lombardo, who was the championship runner-up again. Whiteley, who came out on the wrong end of a 5.37-5.38 showdown with Doug Gordon in the Dallas final, had the misfortune to do so again in the Pomona finale opposite Lombardo in another all-time matchup. Lombardo’s NAPA Camaro edged her J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro in by far the best race of the entire weekend, 5.42 to her slightly quicker 5.41.

“I’ve just got to get a little better on the lights,” she said. “I worked on my practice tree all weekend, had it all set up, but it didn’t help. It’s just not the same as being in the car, on the starting line, with somebody in the other lane. On Sunday, I just forgot all about it and did a lot better.”

Whiteley was No. 1 after the first of three qualifying sessions with a tremendous 5.439 at 272.61 and again after the second session with an even better 5.414 at 273.27 mph that held up all weekend for top speed of the meet. Bumped to No. 2 by Lombardo’s 5.409 in the second-to-last pair of the final session, she mowed down one veteran after another in eliminations, beginning with Bret Williamson in the first round.

Whiteley’s 5.410/273.05 (one-thousandth of a second from low e.t.) took out Williamson’s 5.669/255.43. A 5.453/271.13 covered Jegs Allstars runner-up Chris Marshall in the quarterfinals, and a similar 5.478/270.70 in the semi’s dispatched two-time 2016 national event winner Terry Ruckman and set up the titanic final-round clash with Lombardo. “It sucked to lose the final, but you can’t feel too bad about a weekend like this,” she said. “This is the best we’ve ever done at Pomona. I don’t know what it is about this place, but it’s never liked us, but this time the car ran good all weekend.”


It wasn’t epic like 2015, when she led the national standings for months and remained in championship contention right down to the last day of the season, but 2016 ended up another solid season for Annie Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team.

At the NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., Whiteley wrapped up a half-decade of Alcohol Funny Car competition with a winning record for the fourth time in five years and a fourth Top 10 finish in the national standings.

Whiteley qualified ninth in the fastest field in history with an outstanding 5.52 at more than 270 mph – a time that would have been good for the fast half of the field at any other race, ever – but got a tough first-round draw, nemesis Shane Westerfield, who was even quicker with a 5.50. Both passes came in the opening qualifying session, putting them 1-2 on the provisional grid before both were knocked down seven spots to the exact middle of the field in subsequent qualifying sessions.

Racing in the first pair of the first round as Nos. 8 and 9 qualifiers often do, Westerfield won by matching his qualifying time with another 5.50-flat. Whiteley left hard but slowed on the top end, coasting across the finish line with a smoky 5.88 at just 190 mph.

Whiteley and the J&A Service/YNot team head into the offseason with yet another Top 10 finish (8th), another winning record, 16-15 (.516), and three final-round appearances – one at a divisional event (Woodburn) and the other two at back-to-back national events, Brainerd and Indy.


Cory Reed may have been knocked out early in his final race for the PSE/Star Racing team, but it did little to detract from a wildly successful rookie season that ended with him as a prohibitive favorite to capture the prestigious 2016 Road to the Future NHRA Rookie of the Year award.

At the NHRA Finals at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, Reed, the only rookie to make the Top 10 in any professional category this year, came out on the wrong end of a first-round matchup with the toughest possible opponent, reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ and two-time Finals winner Andrew Hines.

After beating his first-round opponent exactly two-thirds of the time in 2016 – an almost unprecedented feat for a first-year rider – Reed slipped to a 7.15 at 188.10 mph, well short of his qualifying time and far short of the unbeatable 6.88/194.52 put up by Hines, who had to defeat Reed to stay in contention for another championship.

Reed’s first qualifying run turned out to be his best all weekend, a 6.911/192.80 that had him way up in the No. 5 qualifying spot at the time. Subsequent runs of 7.017/191.43, 7.212/188.94, and 6.987/192.03 didn’t improve his position, and he settled in the No. 13 spot for eliminations, his third-worst starting position all year.

Teammate Angelle Sampey, who will join Reed’s all-new Team Liberty Racing operation as team manager and a fellow rider for 2017, still had a mathematical shot late in the season at what would have been her fourth career NHRA championship. She reached the final in her last ride for Star Racing, falling to Matt Smith, who scored for the first time in more than three years.


If only she could’ve maintained the performance from her off-the-trailer qualifying pass at the NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., Annie Whiteley likely would’ve won the 2015 Top Alcohol Funny Car championship she seemed destined to win all year.

Whiteley, who won four races in seven final-round appearances this season and stood atop the national standings longer than any other driver, battled tire shake the rest of the way and eventually fell to Clint Thompson in the quarterfinals, allowing Sweden’s Jonnie Lindberg to slip past her by 12 points to win the title.

“That run probably hurt us more than it helped us,” Whiteley’s husband, two-time Top Alcohol Dragster world champ Jim Whiteley, said of her off-the-trailer 5.46 at nearly 267 mph. “I think it fooled us into thinking the track was different than it was. There was a whole lot of track out there this weekend.”

The run qualified Whiteley solidly in the No. 4 position and seemed to set her up for even better things in the remaining qualifying sessions and especially in eliminations, but her J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro refused to cooperate on subsequent runs.

“It is what it is,” said Whiteley, who reclaimed the lead she lost to Lindberg two weeks earlier at the Toyota Nationals by winning the first round over veteran Steve Gasparrelli with a tire-shaking, backpedaling 6.07. “We never got hold of the track after that first run. No complaints, though. Look how the season started – not getting down the track run after run, barely qualifying at the first race (Phoenix). I’d say it turned out pretty good overall.”


Annie Whiteley closed out a frustrating season with a frustrating DNQ at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. Experimenting with a completely different style of clutch – the Leanders model that’s sweeping the class – the Grand Junction, Colo., driver had to shut off early on all three qualifying attempts and missed the cut for just the third time in her career. The only other times were at this event in 2012 and last week at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It was just a bad year,” said Whiteley, who endured a winless season for the first time in her Top Alcohol Funny Car career. “It happens to everybody, and this year, it happened to us.”

Though the forgettable second half of the season was plagued with freak parts failures and occasional traction problems, the first half was a typical J&A/YNot Racing season. Whiteley was the No. 1 qualifier at four races in a row (Houston, Topeka, Denver, and Tulsa) and advanced to the final round at three of them – Houston, Denver, and Tulsa.

She set low e.t. of the meet four times – at Houston, Topeka, Denver, and Brainerd, where she also qualified in the top spot – and set top speed in Denver (249.58 mph). Whiteley, who had yet to finish outside the Top 5 in her alcohol career until 2014, wound up this season 14th in the national standings and fifth in the Central region with a decent 9-13 win-loss record and three final-round appearances.


With a second straight national championship already in the bag, Jim Whiteley wrapped up his Top Alcohol Dragster career at the AAA Finals at Pomona with his 12th final-round appearance of the season but was upset by veteran Johnny Ahten, who claimed his first NHRA win with a 5.42.

With three national event victories – Indy, Dallas, and Las Vegas – and four wins in a row overall, including last week’s Las Vegas regional, Whiteley had a 19-round winning streak snapped when shook the tires and broke a blower belt in the final after running 5.20s at more than 275 mph almost all weekend. “He’s a true champion,” Ahten said. “He’s set the bar really high for years now, and that was my last chance to finally beat him. I kept waiting for him to blow past me the whole time and couldn’t believe he didn’t.”

Whiteley, who won the championship, his second in a row, by 116 points, qualified No. 1 with a 5.21 and also had the next-best run of qualifying, 5.22. His YNot/J&A Service Dragster dominated the early rounds of eliminations just as convincingly with a 5.24 over Bill Litton in round one, a 5.27 opposite fourth-ranked Ray Martin in the quarterfinals, and another 5.22 against Garrett Bateman in the semifinals in a rematch of last week’s Vegas final.

For the year, Whiteley won more than half his events and reached 12 finals in 15 starts for 787 points and a 41-7 overall win-loss record – 27-6 at national events and 14-1 in regional competition. He was the only driver to win more than one national event in 2013. In his career, he won 77 percent of the time he pulled to the line, averaging better than a runner-up over eight long years.

With a semifinal finish at Pomona, wife Annie finished fourth in the nation in Top Alcohol Funny Car for the second straight year, scoring one more point than she did in her rookie season, 583 to 582. She was a single point behind Dallas winner Shane Westerfield and one point ahead of Gainesville and Charlotte winner Dan Pomponio.

In a performance that ranks right up there with Chicago, where she broke through for her first national event victory this summer, and Indy, where she reached the final round of the biggest race of the year and barely lost to eventual world champ Frank Manzo, she advanced to the semifinals with one great run after another.

“It’s a good, consistent car, and that’s all you can ask for,” said Annie, who qualified No. 2 – ahead of Manzo and right behind John Lombardo – with a 5.53, and ran 5.53 or better in every round of eliminations. Anything less wouldn’t have been enough at this race, which was anchored by the fastest bump in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (5.63).

Former national event winner Brian Hough, who qualified second-to-last with a 5.62, stepped up to a 5.56 in the opening round that fell just short of Whiteley’s 5.53. Another 5.56 in round two by Sean Bellemeur, his career-best, made for another close one opposite Whiteley’s 5.51. She left slightly ahead of Manzo in the semi’s, .043 to .044, and could have pulled off the upset with another 5.51 but lost an even closer race than the first two, 5.52 to 5.53. Manzo’s margin of victory was just a quarter of a car-length, 15-thousandths of a second. “That’s probably the best car out here,” he said of Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service Ford Mustang. “She’s my pick to win the championship next year.”

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