Tag: gatornationals


Just days after a frustrating outing at the same track that resulted in only the second DNQ of her career, Annie Whiteley and the J&A Service/ YNot Racing Top Alcohol Funny Car team charged back with a solid outing at the Gatornationals, which both she and son Steven won in 2017. She qualified 4th with a blistering 5.44 at 272 mph and advanced to the quarterfinals only to come out on the wrong end of an instant classic opposite career-long nemesis Doug Gordon, the eventual runner-up.

With a safe but competitive 5.56 at nearly 270 mph off the trailer that positioned her in the top half of the show, Whiteley made sure there’d be no repeat of the embarrassing DNQ she suffered a week earlier at the same facility. No. 4 with the 5.44 entering eliminations, she easily moved on to the quarterfinals when opponent Bryan Brown was unable to make it to the lanes for round one. He qualified in the bottom quarter of the field with a 5.63, and would’ve have had a tough time advancing anyway when she laid down 5.45 at 273 mph on the bye.

In the quarterfinals, crew chief Mike Strasburg dialed up a usually unbeatable 5.45, but Gordon got her again with an even better 5.42. “You run a .45, you think you’d win, but I guess that time it wasn’t enough,” Whiteley said. “We still don’t have this new car figured out. What the old car liked, this one doesn’t. Tire pressure, transmission ratio, all these different things – I don’t know what it is, but this is a different car, and it seems to want something different.”


A disappointing 28th and 29th in the order entering second-day qualifying for the 2019 J&A Service/Pro Mod season opener with respective bests of 8.63 and 10.98, Jim and Steven Whiteley veered in opposite directions. Jim continued on the same trajectory, getting loose and clicking it early for the third time in a row, but son Steven stepped up dramatically to a 5.76 at more than 252 mph that catapulted him all the way to the No. 4 spot on the provisional grid.

Jim’s killer ’69 Chevelle finally made a representative run in last-shot qualifying, an early-shutoff 5.92 that still wasn’t quick enough to make the cut. The two-time world champion and two-time event winner in Pro Mod ended up 26th of 29 in the final order, ahead of friend Clint Satterfield, veteran Chip King, and Mike Castellana, who led the standings for much of the 2017 but crashed this weekend in his first appearance without many-time TAFC world champion Frank Manzo as his crew chief.

Steven made another quantum leap forward in that session, to a blistering 5.71 at 252.28 mph that surprisingly was good for only the No. 9 spot in the quickest field ever (bump: 5.753). “Stevie Fast” Jackson set the pace with the best NHRA Pro Mod run of all time (5.665), Jose Gonzalez set the national speed record (259.31 mph), and six drivers (Steve Matusek, Sidnei Frigo, Pete Farber, Doug Winters, Alex Laughlin, and Erica Enders) ran in the 5.70s and still didn’t qualify.

Steven, who picked up the first national event title of his career at this race in 2017, won the first round over former Top 5 driver Bob Rahaim, who qualified a few thousandths of a second of him with a nearly identical 5.713. The YNot driver coasted across the finish line with a 6.17 at just 157 mph but still advanced easily when Rahaim went into violent shake early in the run and had to lift. He was unable to appear for the second round against “Stevie Fast,” who would go on to lose the final on a holeshot by mentor Todd Tutterow despite resetting his own national record with an unbelievable 5.643.


In his first outing with all-time Pro Stock greats Larry Morgan and Jim Yates in the fold, 2016 NHRA Rookie of the Year Cory Reed went rounds at the season-opening Gatornationals, sidelining new national record holder Hector Arana Jr. with a clutch holeshot in the first round. Arana, who became the first Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to eclipse 200 mph in Friday qualifying and upped the all-time mark to 201.01 mph Saturday, got left in the dust by Reed’s near-perfect .007 reaction time, falling to a 6.95/191 despite his quicker 6.94/198.

“I didn’t think we’d outrun him, but I knew we’d be close enough to beat him,” said Reed, who, in his brief time in drag racing, has already established himself as a leaver. “My mindset was that I absolutely could win, and when I left it felt like a good light – I even did a double-take as I went by the Tree to make sure it wasn’t red. Halfway down the track, I still didn’t hear him, and when I glanced over a couple times at about half-track, he wasn’t there. In high gear, it hit me: I’m going to win.’ ”

Reed qualified 13th in the field, well behind Arana’s 6.80/201 record run with a 6.91 at 191.67 mph – not bad for the first outing with an all-new setup. “We tested in Orlando before the race,” he said. “We were still down there Thursday, the day before qualifying started for this race, and didn’t pull into Gainesville until late Thursday night.”

The results of the team’s focused, intense testing were obvious when Gainesville qualifying began and everybody was playing for keeps. “First race of the year, and we already have a round-win,” said Reed, currently eighth in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle standings. “Last year, it took us more than half a season to get this far. Larry had the motors running great, redid pretty much everything, worked his magic. Jim’s smart. He’ll be helping us for a few more races, at least. He has all these crazy formulas and spreadsheets. He set up his own office in the trailer – even brought his own printer – and when it comes to the transmission, gear ratios, clutch tuning, he really knows his stuff. After this, my goal is to at least go a few rounds like we did here at every race for the rest of the year.”


Defending Gatornationals champion Annie Whiteley just missed her first repeat win in national competition, losing one of the quickest races in Top Alcohol Funny Car history in this year’s final against Sean Bellemeur, the only driver ahead of her in the NHRA national standings, 5.46 to 5.48. “I’m getting a little tired of runner-up,” said Whiteley, who has four national event titles in 15 career finals. “One more round-win makes a big difference.”

Whiteley’s YNot team qualified No. 1, as it has at all three races so far this season, with an outstanding 5.404 at 273.16 mph, missing top speed of the meet by just 0.16 mph. Bellemeur was just a few thousandths of a second behind her in the No. 2 spot, and both plowed through eliminations, overwhelming the competition in two of the preliminary rounds and getting a break in the other.

For Whiteley, the break came in the semifinals, when both she and D.J. Cox lost traction almost immediately. Whiteley recovered first, tromping back on the throttle for a 6.33 at 260 mph to hold off his 7-flat at 194. “You add up the runs at Belle Rose, here last weekend at the regional event, and in testing in Orlando, and that was just the second time the car has smoked the tires in 20-25 runs all year,” she said. Her first- and second-round passes were flawless – a 5.406/273.11 in Saturday’s first round that came within .002-second and 0.05-mph of her qualifying numbers, and a 5.437/270.70 in hotter conditions Sunday in the second round that stood as the quickest and fastest of that round by a mile.

After the near-miss in the semi’s, YNot crew chief Mike Strasburg backed the car down for the final – maybe a hair too much, in his estimation. “It probably could have taken a little more, but you really don’t know that before you go up there, do you?” he asked. “Sean’s one of the best drivers out there and that’s one of the best teams, and you don’t want to just give it away.”


In cool, fast conditions in Gainesville, Fla., in the first round of the first race of the season, 2016 Houston Pro Mod winner Jim Whiteley met, of all people, his son, defending Gatornationals champ Steven Whiteley. Both drivers overcame a gargantuan 35-car field to qualify for one of the quickest races in class history (5.83 bump), Steve in the No. 5 spot with a 5.78 and Jim at No. 12 with a 5.80-flat.

As dictated by the NHRA eliminator ladder, No. 5 drew No. 12 in the first round – the last thing either ever would have wanted. Forced to square off in an all-YNot showdown, father and son shot off the starting line with identical .063 reaction times and charged side-by-side to the end of the quarter-mile, where Jim emerged victorious by the smallest possible margin: one-thousandth of a second, 5.868 to 5.869. Steven’s clutch-equipped Cadillac was traveling 6 mph faster than Jim’s Yenko Camaro when they got there, 250.88 mph to Jim’s 244.16, and the cars were separated by literally inches as they sped across the finish line in one of the closest races in Pro Mod history – if not the closest.

“It’s about time I beat that little SOB,” Jim joked. Both were acutely aware of their all-time head-to-head record: Steven 4, Jim 0. “People kept telling me, ‘Well, if you had to lose, there couldn’t be anybody better to lose to,’ ” Steven said. “Yeah, I guess, but I don’t want to lose to anyone. I can’t really say that losing to my dad made it any easier to take.”

Jim then lost in the quarterfinals to eventual winner Rickie Smith, long known for doing anything to win. Seeing that Jim was having trouble getting his car to hold on the line, Smith double-bulbed him, and when Jim revved the engine for the launch, he lurched off the line for an aggravating red-light loss. “He can do that,” Jim said “Lighting both lights like that isn’t illegal. But it won’t happen again.”


With the quickest, fastest, most consistent runs of his Pro Mod career – a barrage of 5.70s and low 5.80s at more than 250 mph – Steven Whiteley stopped many-time winner Mike Castellana and crew chief Frank Manzo in the Gatornationals final for his biggest victory to date. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” said Whiteley, who watched his mom, Annie Whiteley, win Top Alcohol Funny Car one pair ahead of him. “When she won, it really sent the pressure on me through the roof. I thought, ‘Now, I have to win this thing.’ ”

With his best reaction time and best E.T. of the weekend and the fastest speed of his career, he did. For father Jim Whiteley, who also qualified for the Pro Mod field in Gainesville, the dual wins surpassed anything he ever personally accomplished on the quarter-mile. “I’m overwhelmed,” said Jim, who won dozens of races and multiple NHRA championships as a Top Alcohol Dragster driver. “This means more than any race I ever won. If none of us ever wins again, this weekend makes my whole drag racing career worthwhile.”

Steven, a two-time No. 1 qualifier in NHRA competition (in Charlotte in 2014 and in St. Louis last year), started at the top, leading a giant field of qualifiers after the first session with a 5.80-flat. He eventually dipped to the No. 5 spot with that e.t., but when others faltered in eliminations, Whiteley got only stronger, cutting better lights as the day wore on and never losing his consistency.

“The car was perfect all weekend, and I owe it all to my team,” Whiteley said of the J&A Service/YNot team, led by crew chief Jeff Perley. “I could not be more appreciative of what they do, day after day, week after week. Testing at Bradenton went really well, the whole team has been working well together, and I just had a good feeling coming into this race.”

Whiteley topped one major event winner after another in eliminations, starting with door-car legend Todd Tutterow in the opening round, 5.79/252 to 5.86/247. Former series champion Mike Janis slipped into Whiteley’s lane in the quarterfinals, but the second-generation driver was long gone for a 5.80/251 win that set up a titanic semifinal clash with two-time NHRA Pro Mod champ Troy Coughlin, who had beaten Brazilian Sidnei Frigo in the semifinals in the quickest race in Pro Mod history, 5.75 to 5.72.

“Now, that was nerve-wracking,” Whiteley said of the Coughlin matchup. “It’s not just that he was coming off a 5.75 – he was coming off a .00 light, too.” Coughlin, runner-up for the 2016 championship, just missed another .00 reaction time with a telepathic .012, but Whiteley had him covered by several car lengths at the finish line, 5.82/251 to Coughlin’s 6.21/197.

The final was over early. Castellana blew the tires off early, and Whiteley was home free. Anything would have done, but he punctuated the victory with his quickest and fastest run ever in NHRA trim, a 5.791 at 253.52 mph. “The best part of it was the way Castellana was to me,” Whiteley said of the many-time NHRA winner. “He could not have been any cooler, and that’s something I’ll always remember.”


Coming off a career-best stretch to close the 2015 NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod season and fresh off a big win at the RPM (Real Pro Mod) event earlier this month in West Palm Beach, Fla., Steven Whiteley was riding an all-time high entering the NHRA Gatornationals.

Driving the supercharged YNot Racing Cadillac, Whiteley was as high as 8th in the field at world-famous Gainesville Raceway but had the misfortune in the first round to line up opposite his nemesis, eventual winner Rickie Smith, who laid down low e.t. of the meet at the time, a 5.78 – the seventh-quickest run in Pro Mod history. “With a low-5.90 two years ago, when I debuted here, you’d be in the top three,” said Whiteley, who lost despite an otherwise excellent 5.90. “Now, that puts you in the slow half of the field. It’s not enough when guys are running .80s and even .70s. Everybody just keeps getting faster and faster and that’s cool, that’s how it should be. We should be running that too, and in certain conditions, we do.”

Whiteley shook and shut off on his opening qualifying attempt and stormed to a 5.92 at 246 mph in the second session, and it’s a good thing he did: He was pushed off the starting line in the final session. “The bolts on the back side of the ring gear came lose,” he explained. “I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it would roll freely and then lock up, roll freely and then lock up, so I knew it had to be something in the rear end. If that had been eliminations, I would’ve parked it in the beams and hoped the other guy made a mistake, but on a qualifying run there was nothing to do but shut it off.”

Whiteley made his best run of the weekend when it counted most, in the first round, but his 5.90 wasn’t enough against Smith’s 5.78 – even though the J&A driver drilled him on the Tree with a .053 reaction time. “I don’t know where Rickie came up with that, but we didn’t go for it and he did,” Whiteley said. “We’re better than that. Right now, what we struggle with is high-humidity conditions. It just kills the power and makes it shake the tires. When it does get down, it’s dead slow. When we have ‘Disneyland’ conditions, we’re tough, and we’re going to see those conditions again soon.”


In the first race of his first full season in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle, Cory Reed just missed the cut at the prestigious Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. Qualified 14th with one session to go, he ran 6.90s in three of four qualifying sessions only to get bumped in the final session by the guy in the other lane, perennial championship contender Hector Arana Jr.

“It was still a solid weekend, a great learning experience,” Reed said. “I like racing way better than just testing. It actually makes it a little easier, especially on the line – they put their first bulb on, you put yours on, you stage, they stage. It’s good just to get into the whole rhythm of having someone in the other lane.”

Astride the YNot Racing/Star Racing Buell EBR, Reed, who made his official debut last November at Las Vegas, took the early qualifying lead Friday afternoon with a career-best 6.933 at 191 mph only to have his time wiped off the board in the Friday evening session, when he spun off the line and slipped from 10th to 15th in the qualifying order – just below the crucial Top 12 line. In an NHRA rule enacted in 2008, all but the top 12 times are dropped heading into Saturday qualifying and everybody from 13 down starts all over. The final bump was 6.938, so if not for the controversial rule, Reed would have made an NHRA national event field in just his second attempt.

“It was hard not to think about that, but I’m more focused on getting used to the acceleration off the line and watching the shift light,” Reed said. “That first shift comes up fast – just past the 60-foot clocks – and you really have to be patient and wait on it. I short-shifted 1-2 and 2-3 really bad or that first run absolutely would’ve been in the .80s.”

Reed made two more strong runs Saturday – a 6.95 that got him back into the show in the third session and a 6.97 in last shot qualifying – but ended up 18th on the final qualifying grid, right between former world champ Matt Smith and many time national event winner Shawn Gann.

“It was awesome being right in there with all the big guys, especially Jerry [Savoie, who was in contention for the 2015 NHRA championship right down to the final day of the season],” Reed said. “Just rolling up next to Jerry was pretty sweet. It made me feel good to be a part of this team. [Star Racing teammate] Angelle [Sampey] qualified fifth [with a career-best 6.84], which just gives you even more confidence. These fields are tight, tight, tight every time, but we’re gonna figure everything out and I’m going to get this shift light figured out. We’ve definitely got the power, that’s for sure.”

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