Filling in for perennial title contender Annie Whiteley for the second time this season, Greg Hunter, whose only previous start in the J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro, four months ago in Phoenix, yielded personal best E.T.s and speeds, went the distance this time, topping one of the quickest Top Alcohol Funny Car fields in history (5.58 bump) for his third career victory and biggest ever.

“It was an honor to drive Annie’s car,” Hunter said. “The whole thing just came out of nowhere Wednesday. I got a call from [crew chief] Mike [Strasburg.] Did I want to drive her car this weekend? Hell yes I did. I got there, and an hour later I was in the car. I was a little rusty at first, a little behind the car, but by the time we ran eliminations, I felt good in there.”

Starting from the No. 2 position behind surprise No. 1 qualifier Chip Beverett, Hunter drilled opponent Nick Januik on the Tree with a .027 reaction time and obliterated the Woodburn Dragstrip speed record with a 5.52 at 272.47 mph in the first round. Another 5.52 in the semifinals took out many-time Woodburn winner Steve Gasparrelli, who had just run a career-best 5.49 at 268 mph in the previous round.

“The car doesn’t fit me quite right,” Hunter said. “You’re all twisted up in there. You’re a little tight, your foot’s not quite where you want it, and you’re like, ‘Was it like this last time?’ Then they tell you that you ran 271 mph right out of the box for a new track record, and you’re like, ‘Maybe this isn’t too bad…’ Then you go 272.3 in qualifying and 272.4 in the first round, and the next thing you know, you’re in the final.”

Waiting for him was the second-ranked driver in the nation, Doug Gordon, who uncharacteristically qualified on the bump but picked up in eliminations, including a 5.521 in the first round that matched Hunter’s time right down to the thousandth. Gordon ran just a 5.59 in the semifinals, which forced Strasburg and the YNot crew to make a decision for the final: stay with the same tuneup or go for broke.

“They’d left it alone all day,” Hunter said. “That’s the thing – when you’re running like that, running those numbers in the heat all weekend, it puts pressure on the other team, so they didn’t touch a thing. We knew Doug would step up, but how much – .56? .55?”

Gordon actually ran a 5.53, so did Hunter, and he edged Gordon’s respectable .065 reaction time with a .055 to win on a slight holeshot. “I’ve never driven any car close to as fast as this,” Hunter said. “It just hauls ass. When I put it in high gear, I thought I left him in the dust, but you look at the numbers and it was close all the way. It was just a fantastic drag race, and I hope it helps Annie win the championship.”