Tag: Houston (Page 1 of 2)

PSM – HOUSTON

Rolling into the Lone Star State for the last NHRA national event ever at Houston Raceway Park, Cory Reed, rider Joey Gladstone, and their nascent Reed Motorsports team stood a career-high third in the NHRA standings. The race didn’t end in a second consecutive semifinal showing, but a quarterfinal finish kept the young team in early title contention and solidified its status as next the next breakthrough first-time winner on the Pro Stock Motorcycle tour.

“We’re learning how to go rounds,” Reed said. “It takes time. Running good in qualifying is one thing; it’s another thing to do it on Sunday. We’re gonna get there and we’re not gonna quit until we do.”

Gladstone, who reached the semifinals at the rain-plagued Gainesville season opener despite (like everyone) never getting a qualifying run, made the most of the three Spring Nationals sessions. Each was a full pull at nearly 200 mph, starting Friday evening with the best one, an off-the-trailer 6.83 at 198 mph, good for No. 2 at the time and No. 4 by the end of the session.

Back-to-back strong runs Saturday set Gladstone up perfectly for Sunday’s eliminations. He wheeled the team’s Suzuki Hayabusa to a pair of respectable runs that weren’t reflected in the final qualifying order but boded well for Sunday – 6.91/199 and 6.84/198. At that point, he was still fifth on the grid, but reigning world champion Matt Smith knocked him back one pair later with a 6.81/199.

As at the only previous NHRA bike race this season, the Gatornationals, Gladstone met Marc Ingwersen in the first round of eliminations, and again he had it from start to finish. Ingwersen threw away any chance he had of winning with an untimely -.147 foul start, but the Reed Motorsports rider was untouchable anyway with a near-perfect .006 reaction time and his quickest run all weekend, 6.82/198.

Opposite career-long nemesis Eddie Krawiec in the quarterfinals, Gladstone was out first again with another great reaction time (.020), but the four-time world champ ran him down before half-track and advanced with one of the quickest runs of the entire round, 6.77/199 to 6.91/197. “It spun,” Gladstone said. “Just obliterated the tire. It was all over right there, but I stayed in it in case something happened to him.”

“It’s not that we tuned it up too much,” Reed said. “It’s that we didn’t tune it down enough [for the conditions]. That’s something you have to learn. And we are.”

TAFC – HOUSTON 2020

For Annie Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Racing Top Alcohol Funny Car team, the rescheduled “Spring” Nationals started poorly and only went downhill from there. Contested a week after the Fall Nationals because 2020, the first qualifying session was a disaster. A shelled rear end ignited a chain-reaction of mechanical chaos, starting with a dropped valve and ending when the freewheeling, over-revved engine eventually couldn’t take any more.

“I don’t know about this place,” Whiteley said of Houston Raceway, which has always been kind to husband Jim Whiteley but never to her. “We’ve never had any luck here. I blew a tire one year and it just about ripped the whole back end off the car. I ran the final round in the rain one time, and it wasn’t the first time that weekend I’d gone down the track in the rain on the windshield.”

The already abbreviated 2020 COVID-19 two-shot qualifying format was compromised further by biblical rains Friday afternoon that shut everything down for five hours, and, with half the drivetrain from the fuel pump to the wheelie bar trashed in the opening session, Saturday morning represented Whiteley’s only other opportunity to get a spot in the top half of the field.

The conditions were ideal: 59 degrees with a track temp of 78 degrees. All four cars in front of her ran 5.40s, and Whiteley managed a safe but still fast 5.52 at nearly 269 mph for the No. 6 position in the 10-car field. Then, right when everything already wasn’t going right, the car wouldn’t start first round. “Things happen to us at Houston that don’t happen anywhere else,” she said. “We’ve had a switch go bad and shut the car off. We blew the transmission up here one time, and that’s the only time that’s ever happened anywhere. Whenever we get here, it’s always something.”

Just as first-round foe Jay Payne was halfway back from the burnout, Whiteley’s engine came to life and she rushed through an abbreviated burnout to keep from interrupting his notoriously fast routine. In Payne’s 900th round of national event competition – the most in alcohol racing history and 22% more than the second-most experienced driver, Frank Manzo – what could have been a classic battle of seasoned veterans was over almost immediately. Whiteley’s car practically jumped off the ground, leaving her no choice but to click it and granting Payne safe passage to the quarterfinals with an ordinary 5.57/265. “I don’t know what it is about Houston,” she said. “Sometimes I think God just doesn’t want us to come back here anymore.”

PRO MOD – ST. LOUIS/HOUSTON 2020

As the carnage piled up from crashed and blown-up Top Fuel dragsters, Funny Cars, and Pro Stockers at St. Louis, the Pro Mod contingent ultimately decided that it wasn’t safe to complete the NHRA Midwest Nationals – or, really, to even start. Rain-shortened qualifying was finalized Saturday solely on the basis of the Friday night session, and despite cars being called to the lanes for first round twice Sunday, eliminations never happened.

The lone session Friday went off in mineshaft conditions, but after a completely washed out Saturday slate, the air was downright crisp and the track so cold Sunday that most Pro Mod teams deemed it unsafe, especially after Pro Stock veteran Kenny Delco crashed in the first round of Pro Stock and retiring former champ Jeg Coughlin nearly did in the second round before deftly regaining control. Rather than tempt fate, Jim Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service team came to the same conclusion the other Pro Mod teams ultimately did: punt.

“If it came right down to it, I would’ve run,” Whiteley said. “If it was, ‘Run now, or you’re out of the race,’ I would have run, but I didn’t want to. Nobody did. All we would’ve done is torn up a bunch more cars.” Based off just that one session, top cars were in the 5.60s and Whiteley was right in the middle of it all, ninth with a 5.78, set to race No. 8 qualifier Kris Thorne (5.77) first round Sunday morning.

Then people started running into things, and, after heading to the staging lanes intending to run first round a couple times only to be turned back or pull out of their own accord, the whole event was pushed back Houston, where the Pro Mods always used to run but weren’t scheduled to this year. Every run from St. Louis counted, teams that didn’t make the trip to Texas were wiped off the qualifying sheets as if they’d never been there, and everybody got two shots. Whiteley was in the .70s on all three qualifying runs and ended up in the No. 7 spot for the second race in a row, with a 5.735, almost identical to the 5.737 he ran to qualify seventh last week at Dallas.

Under cloudy skies in the first round, Whiteley, whose two career Pro Mod victories (in 2016 and 2018) both came at Houston, leapt off the line with a killer .018 light and had opponent Jeff Jones covered all the way in a lopsided 5.77/247 to 6.20/228 win. Another nice light and a steady 5.75/247 left him just short of the wheelstanding 5.72/249 by underrated Brandon Snider, who a week earlier had never won an NHRA race but found himself in the points lead, riding a six-round winning streak with one race, Las Vegas, to go.

TAFC – HOUSTON 2019

Picking up right where she left off in a dominant victory four days earlier at the rain-soaked Dallas regional, Annie Whiteley stormed to a 5.52 under overcast skies in the opening session of SpringNationals qualifying to claim the provisional pole by a mile. An even better 5.50-flat Friday afternoon set her up in the No. 2 position on the final grid behind eventual final-round opponent Brian Hough, who took the top spot with a 5.48 and held it for good when last-shot qualifying Saturday afternoon was washed out.

Whiteley’s J&A Service YNot team, led by crew chief Mike Strasburg, stepped up even more in the first round of eliminations to a 5.45 at 272.17 mph (top speed of the meet) to dispatch overmatched Aryan Rochon. A similar 5.48 at more than 271 mph in the semi’s was enough to wipe out many-time divisional and regional champ Kirk Williams, who trailed her across the finish line by about a car length with a competitive 5.55/259 after upsetting Jay Payne, one of the most prolific drivers of all time in both Top Alcohol Funny Car and Top Alcohol Dragster.

In the final against Hough, who had only beaten her once in four previous encounters, Whiteley blew the tires off right when anything close to either of her qualifying times or either of her winning eliminations runs would have been enough to win. “I was in trouble by 60 feet,” she said. “I tried to pedal, but it wasn’t having it. If he would’ve blown our doors off with another 5.40-something, that’d be one thing. But a 5.70 in the final? That’s a little tough to take. I mean, even a 5.60-anything would’ve been enough. We hopped it up a little because it looked like the track could hold more than a 5.48, and the way he’d been running, we thought we were going to need it. Maybe we just got a little greedy.”

PRO MOD – HOUSTON 2019

At Houston Raceway Park, defending SpringNationals champion Jim Whiteley missed the cut and and son Steven Whiteley reached the quarterfinals before being ousted by Gatornationals winner Todd Tutterow, who took his sixth of seven consecutive round-wins to open the season. Jim, who also won Pro Mod at Houston in 2016 (and scored in Top Alcohol Dragster in 2011 and 2012), was in the 5s on three of four attempts but not far enough under the six-second threshold to crack the 5.790 bump.

Steven went rounds for the second race in a row and left his dad’s favorite track on the J&A Service Pro Mod tour tied for fifth in the standings. Jim opened with a 5.94 at 244 mph that had him well in the field, 11th of 26. Steven shut off early in that session, coasting across the finish line at just 209 mph and still running in the 5s with a 5.98. Both stepped way up Friday evening, Jim to a season-best 5.83/245 to bump his way back into the show for the time being and Steven to a 5.78/249 that got him in the fast half at the time, and both shook hard, got out of the groove, and had to lift Saturday morning.

Saturday afternoon in last-shot qualifying, Steven shut off to a 9-second time, but all was not lost – he was already safely in the field. For Jim it was all over, despite making yet another competitive run, a 5.86/244, because the bump, for the second race in a row, was in the 5.70s. The entire 16-car field crammed itself in the unbelievably tight spread of less than six-hundredths of a second, from leader Jose Gonzalez’s 5.731 to former world champion Rickie Smith’s 5.790.

Though he qualified 13th and first-round opponent Rick Hord was fourth, Steven was down only three-hundredths going into their first-round matchup. With a clutch .037 reaction time, he shot of the line in the lead, as he has all year, and when problems set in downtrack he still coasted home a winner with a 6.93 at just 148 mph. Hord, last year’s Carolina Nationals winner, went into brutal shake early and was never in the race. Steven then gained an imperceptible starting-line lead on Tutterow in the quarterfinals, .053 to .054, but his nemesis outran him, 5.76/251 to 5.82/250, en route to his second final of the season.

PRO MOD – HOUSTON 2018

Two-time Top Alcohol Dragster world champion Jim Whiteley nailed down the second victory of his Pro Mod career at the same place he claimed his first – Houston – but this one was a world apart from his wild 2016 Spring Nationals win. Instead of going the distance despite never qualifying for the field and shutting off early in the final but winning anyway because his opponent plowed into the wall, Whiteley made one strong run after another to bring home easily his most satisfying triumph to date.

Crew chief Chuck Ford had the J&A Service Yenko Camaro on a rail in all four qualifying sessions and all four rounds of eliminations, starting with an off-the-trailer 5.78 at 247 mph Friday afternoon. While others struggled with the green, slippery surface, Whiteley backed up that opening 5.78 with a 5.800-flat and back-to-back 5.82s. “Everybody was complaining about the track conditions, but you’ll never hear a bad word about this place from me,” said Whiteley, who drove to back-to-back Top Alcohol Dragster titles at Houston in 2011 and 2012. “I always loved racing here with the dragster, and I still do now. This place has always been good to me.”

Whiteley ended up just 14th on the final qualifying chart – one position and one-thousandth of a second behind son Steven’s 5.787 – but he placed among the top six of 30-plus entrants in all four qualifying sessions. When conditions improved Sunday for the first round of eliminations, Ford was ready, and the car responded with an outstanding 5.74 that easily covered 2017 championship runner-up Mike Castellana’s out-of-the-groove 8.55.

Whiteley, long established as one of the premier leavers in any kind of car, cut a season-best .022 reaction time in the quarterfinals to easily handle former Top Fuel racer Khalid alBalooshi with a consistent 5.77 and used those reflexes in the pressure-packed late rounds to go distance again on the tricky Houston surface. He drilled perennial title contender “Stevie Fast” Jackson for a holeshot semifinal win, 5.77 to 5.75, and did likewise to Rick Hord in a 5.83-5.81 final when both drivers’ engines expired with the finish line in sight.

“Now that was a good race,” Whiteley said of a classic final decided by less than a hundredth of a second. “When you’re in the right lane, you can’t see the win light on the wall [because the massive blower and injector sticking up through the hood totally blocks the driver’s view], but I knew it was close because I could hear him the whole way down.”

TAFC – HOUSTON 2017

Perennial championship contender Annie Whiteley, who had won half the races she entered this year as she pulled through the gates of Royal Purple Raceway, suffered a frustrating and frustratingly close first-round loss at the NHRA SpringNationals.

At the same Houston track where she just short of victory with a runner-up at the 2014 race, Whiteley qualified No. 6 this year with a 5.585 and was paired against Top Alcohol Funny Car rookie Ray Martin in the first round. Whiteley picked up half a tenth in the first round, wheeling the J&A Service/YNot Camaro to an outstanding 5.53 at nearly 270 mph.

Unfortunately for her, Martin, who was 7th on the grid with an almost identical 5.587, chose that round to run an even better 5.49/264 and won by about a car-length. “That was a tough draw,” Whiteley said of Martin, whose car is owned and tuned by 2014 Top Alcohol Funny Car world champ Steve Harker.

“We were in the No. 2 spot until the last qualifying session,” Whiteley said. “The car took the tires off in that session and it was, ‘See ya later.’ By the time the session was over, we were all the way down in the middle of the pack, and whenever that happens at a national event, you know you’re going to have somebody tough in the first round.”

PRO MOD – HOUSTON 2017

Jim Whiteley entered the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston as the defending event champ and son Steven did so as top-ranked driver on the J&A Service Pro Mod tour, winner of the season-opening Gatornationals. It ended in disappointment for both drivers, Jim in qualifying when he surprisingly failed to make the cut and Steven in the first round of eliminations.

“This was a big letdown after everything that happened in Gainesville,” said Steven, who fell in the first round to eventual winner Steve Matusek. “Winning Gainesville took a little bit of pressure off, just getting that first win, but it added some too because now everybody wants to take you out.”

Steven, twice a No. 1 qualifier already in his young career, entered last-shot qualifying just 25th in the field with a shutoff best of 6.35. Under immense pressure, he pounded out a 5.85 at 247 mph to make the program in the No. 12 position. Jim, whose earlier 5.93 had him comfortably in the field at the time, slipped to 21st by the time he staged in the final session and missed the race with a tire-shaking shutoff run.

In the first round, after lengthy delays for oildowns and the cleanup from Bob Rahaim’s scary double-wallbanger crash, Steven bolted off the line with a .053 reaction and was well on his way to a run well into the fives when the car got loose beyond half-track. He stayed with it until the very end, getting right on the edge of disaster without crossing it before finally relenting and reluctantly stepping off the gas. Matusek charged ahead and took the win with a 5.81, matching his qualifying time.

“This was the last thing I wanted after how well everything went in Gainesville,” Steven said. “These cars are so hard to keep consistent and you don’t want to let yourself fall into ‘Here we go again’ after a weekend like this, so we’ll just pick up from here and move on. I know what this team is capable of doing – we just did it in Gainesville.”

PRO MOD – HOUSTON 2016

Former Top Alcohol Dragster world champion Jim Whiteley earned his biggest Pro Mod victory to date at the NHRA Springnationals in easily the wildest final in J&A Service Pro Mod Series history. While favored Rickie Smith was bouncing off both walls at Houston’s Royal Purple Raceway, Whiteley dodged Smith’s careening, out-of-control nitrous Camaro to win a race he didn’t even qualify for.

After getting into the field as an alternate for former Top Fuel driver Sidnei Frigo, Whiteley parlayed the opportunity into his first career Pro Mod final and first win, leaving on all four drivers he faced – usually by a lot. With his best reaction time of the event, .023, Whiteley opened a huge lead on Smith, the runaway early points leader who won the only other race this season, qualified No. 1 at this one, and hadn’t lost a round all year.

“It felt like a good light when I left, but I barely made it to the Tree,” Whiteley said. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s it – I lost,’ but now I’m glad it took the tire off. If I’d still been on the throttle, Rickie would have been into the side of me for sure.”

Smith’s car got up on two wheels, careened across the centerline into Whiteley’s lane, just missed clipping Whiteley’s car, then slammed into the wall in Whiteley’s lane while Whiteley, for the first time in his career, jammed on the brakes in the middle of a run. “I saw Rickie coming into my lane and realized I’d just won the race,” he said. “But I couldn’t really focus on that yet because I was still trying not to run into the back of him.”

The final was a fitting conclusion to a crazy, rain-plagued, crash-marred event – and the cars that crashed weren’t just any old cars. Of all the drivers in the massive 29-car field, the three who crashed were the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 qualifiers after the opening session – Smith, Frigo, and former Pro Stock racer Jonathan Gray.

Gray began the carnage when he banged into the wall beyond the finish line after his left rear tire exploded right as he completed a 257-mph that held up all weekend as top speed of the meet. Frigo suffered by far the worst crash, catapulting over the left wall and barrel-rolling through the grass and mud in the second qualifying session after nailing down the No. 2 spot on his only previous attempt.

Seeded into Frigo’s spot on the ladder and pitted against Pete Farber in the opening round, Whiteley took a huge early lead – .044 to .122 – and held on for a narrow holeshot win, 6.02 to 5.95. The margin of victory was an invisible 8-thousandths of a second. Another massive holeshot in the quarterfinals against Shane Molinari, .026 to .170, left Whiteley well ahead at the finish line despite their similar E.T.s, 5.92 to 5.96. In the semifinals against reigning series champ Troy Coughlin, Whiteley again was off the mark first, .031 to .044, and needed it for a close 5.92 to 5.93 win that set up the unforgettable final.

“We still need to get this thing running a little better,” Whiteley said of his flawless J&A Service/YNot Racing ’69 Chevelle, “and I really think we will. If I can stay this sharp on the starting line and we get the car running a little quicker, we can really do some damage this year.”

TAFC – HOUSTON 2016

With one low 5.50 after another at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston, Annie Whiteley turned in her finest performance since she dominated Top Alcohol Funny Car racing last summer with four final-round appearances and two wins in a five-race stretch.

The J&A Service/YNot racing team opened qualifying at Houston’s Royal Purple Raceway with a 5.51 for the provisional pole, improved to a 5.50-flat to lock down the No. 1 qualifying spot for good, and breezed into the semifinals with another 5.50 that held for low e.t. of the entire event and another 5.51 that stood as low e.t. of the second round. “We tested at Dallas before this race and the car was perfect, and it was the same thing when we got to Houston,” said Whiteley, whose suffered back spasms all weekend and had to be lifted gently into the cockpit before each run. “It’s great to have the car running like this again – it just gives you a lot more confidence.”

A nearly identical 5.52 in the semifinals wasn’t quite enough against veteran Steve Gasparrelli, who rebounded from .100+ reaction times in the first two rounds to post a .042 line and got to the finish line first with a slightly slower 5.54. It was the only reaction time and the only run Gasparrelli had all weekend quick enough to hold off Whiteley’s hard-charging Camaro on the top end.

For the YNot team, it was a doubly painful loss because, due to a bizarre set of circumstances, that semifinal match against Gasparrelli turned out to be the de facto final. With an odd number of cars in the field, the other semifinalist, Brian Hough, had a bye into the final, but a crank-trigger problem on the burnout silenced his engine and knocked him out of the race even though there wasn’t a car in the other lane. “I saw them pushing him off the line and thought, ‘OK, this is the final. Let’s get it done,’ but I didn’t quite get it done,” said Whiteley, who refused to use back pain as an excuse.

Despite that disappointment, crew chief Mike Strasburg and the YNot team have a car that can contend with the only two drivers who topped them in the 2015 national standings, Winternationals winner Jonnie Lindberg and Gatornationals champion John Lombardo. “We’re back where we belong,” said Whiteley, whose next race is the Denver regional in June. “We’re going to test between now and then, so we should be ready for anything when we come back.”

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