Tag: Indy (Page 1 of 3)

TAFC – INDY

The U.S. Nationals, site of one of Jim Whiteley’s greatest victories ever (Top Alcohol Dragster in 2013) and three final-round appearances in four years for wife Annie (Top Alcohol Funny Car in 2012, 2013, and 2015) turned out to be an exercise in frustration this year. Husband and wife ran head-to-head in the first qualifying session, left almost simultaneously, and posted virtually identical E.T.s – 5.625 and 5.627, respectively – but from there it all went downhill.

“The car’s just not running right,” said Jim, who fell in the opening round to eventual winner Sean Bellemeur’s 5.48/266 (low E.T. of the meet to that point). “It won’t run on the other end. We thought we had it all figured out at Brainerd, but, obviously, we don’t.”

Annie got quicker as qualifying progressed but also found herself on the sidelines before round two. After the matching 5.62s on altogether dissimilar runs – Jim coasted across the finish line at just 245.90 mph and Annie charged through the traps going 20 mph faster (265.48) – her blue J&A Service/YNot racing Camaro improved to a 5.61/264 and then to a much quicker 5.54/265 Saturday afternoon. Over the same span, Jim’s matching white machine improved only marginally, to a 5.60-flat at 261 mph that left him in the slow half of the field, 14th overall.

Though they were only six-hundredths of a second apart, Annie qualified eight spots higher than Jim in the final order, a solid No. 6. Two pair behind him in a first-round rematch of the 2015 final against Andy Bohl, she blasted off the line first but was dead in the water 100 feet out while Bohl pedaled to a beatable 5.82. “After we saw what Jim’s car did, we made adjustments to mine,” she said. “I don’t know what happened, but whatever we did, it didn’t like it.”

One positive was that with a .058 reaction time, Annie had the edge at the Tree with one of many .050s and better this season, indicating that any past problems are now a thing of the past. “We poured a new seat, and I’m comfortable in the car,” she said. “I feel good now. That’s all I needed.”

PSM – INDY

After winning the first race of his career at Sonoma and backing up it with a second straight victory and fourth consecutive final at Topeka, Indy couldn’t possibly have gone any better for phenom Joey Gladstone Indy, and it didn’t. He qualified in the middle of the pack and got beat first round.

The U.S. Nationals was a struggle from the beginning for Gladstone and team owner Cory Reed, who had established low E.T. of all three qualifying sessions and all four rounds of eliminations in a storybook weekend at Topeka. At Indy, Gladstone, running in the final pair of Friday night qualifying as the incoming Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader, stumbled to an off-pace 7.01 before the team’s Diamond W/Fatheadz Hayabusa somewhat returned to form in the ensuring sessions.

Gladstone entered eliminations No. 8 with an aggregate best of 6.87 at 195 mph, the lowest he’s qualified since Richmond, his home track, where he was ninth – the only time all year he hasn’t made the fast half of the field. “We just need to get back to what we know,” said Gladstone after the team traced the problem to a faulty ignition coil. “We’ve struggled with things beyond our control, but I think we found it. I’m not in as good of a position as I was in at Sonoma or Topeka. We just need to overcome adversity.”

Opposite national record holder Karen Stoffer, a forgettable weekend came to a premature conclusion when the bike didn’t pick up as expected and Gladstone lost in the first round for the first time since Richmond, just six races but seemingly a lifetime ago. They were separated in the qualifying order by just one spot (8-9) and two-thousandths of a second (6.873-6.875), and when Gladstone let the clutch fly the instant the ambers flashed for a near-perfect .004 reaction time, things were looking up – for a second.

But for just the fifth rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle’s 40-year history to ever back up a first career win with a second win at the very next race, there would be no third straight. Stoffer’s bike slowed to a 6.91/194, but Gladstone’s did so even more to a 6.94/193 for as disappointing a loss as he’s suffered all year. “This weekend was hard on us,” he said. “We got behind and paid the price for it. But we’ll be back stronger – that’s a promise.”

PSM – INDY 2021

This year, the U.S. Nationals, the longest race of every NHRA season, turned out to be the shortest. For the first time in the 67-year history of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious event, qualifying for all pro classes consisted of exactly one run.

Instead of one attempt Friday, two Saturday, another two Sunday, and eliminations on Monday, it was one shot Friday and straight into eliminations on Sunday – if you qualified. Saturday was a complete washout, and, as a concession to the pandemic, eliminations this year were contested Sunday and not on Labor Day Monday as they have been since the ’60s.

“Not getting all five sessions really changed things up,” Cory Reed said Saturday afternoon, bored to tears in the gloomy Indy pits but secure in the knowledge that at least if the rain never let up he’d already locked himself into the Pro Stock Motorcycle field with a six-second run under the lights Friday night. “I think having just the one session really stressed out some people. Not me. It actually might just play into our favor.”

Paired against Kelly Clontz Friday night in the first of what should have been at least three qualifying sessions, Reed guided his sleek Suzuki Hayabusa to a respectable 6.99 at 187 mph that put him third at the time and ultimately landed him 10th in the final lineup. Sunday dawned bright and sunny, but the track was still suspect after a relentless 15-hour deluge, which made lane choice critical. The young rider, 10th in the field, didn’t have that advantage – his first-round opponent, former teammate Angelle Sampey, earned it by qualifying in the fast half of the program, No. 7.

Reed, who’d beaten her the last few times they’d raced, drilled the former world champ with a .014 reaction time and made his quickest and fastest run of the rain-shortened weekend, a 6.97/192, but she powered around him downtrack with a winning 6.83/194. It was a disappointing end to a strange race that marked the end of the regular season, but not one without promise. When the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin next weekend at Maple Grove Raceway, both Reed and teammate Joey Gladstone will be in title contention, and, thanks to the points reset, closer to the lead than they’ve been all year.

TAFC – INDY 2021

On the strength of two absolutely killer qualifying runs at the NHRA U.S. Nationals, Annie Whiteley, who’s always performed well there but had never quite gone all the way, surged into the quarterfinals again this year. The J&A Service/YNot Racing driver, who’s staged for the Indy Top Alcohol Funny Car final three times (2013-15-16), the semi’s six times, and has never failed to win at least one first round, again went rounds on drag racing’s grandest stage.

The lengthy weekend got off to a promising start Thursday afternoon when Whiteley’s team, led by veteran crew chief Mike Strasburg, posted back-to-back 5.48s, both at exactly 268.92 mph, which ended up standing, for the second year in a row, for top speed of the entire event, including Jegs Allstars competition. After an aborted 11.43 on a final attempt cut short by low-gear shake, Whiteley still clearly held the upper hand entering eliminations.

Her first-round opponent: surprise 2020 Winternationals winner Aryan Rochon, who, after spending a couple weeks with the Sean Bellemeur/Steve Boggs/Tony Bartone juggernaut learning the ins and outs of running a top-flight Alcohol Funny Car team, presented a far greater threat than he would have just a month ago. Qualified 13 spots behind Whiteley, Rochon, who refused to lift in the first round at Atlanta and slammed into the wall at half-track, backed off this time when his car made a move around half-track and slowed to a 6.39 at just 166 mph. Going exactly 100 mph faster, Whiteley crossed the finish line well ahead of him for a smooth 5.52/266 win.

Opposite Andy Bohl in the delayed quarterfinals, in a rematch of the 2015 final, Whiteley was undone by traction problems and ultimately had to click it off to a disappointing 8.69 at 105 mph. Bohl had ignition problems but still moved on with a 5.64/263, shooting ducks all the way through low gear.

“We were all set up to run that round at 9:30 in the morning – that’s when they told us it was going to be,” Whiteley said. “The conditions were a lot better then than when we finally ran, and we kind of hem-hawed around about changing the transmission but didn’t. We probably should have. Right after we ran, Mike said, ‘I knew we should’ve gone back to that other ratio.’ “

PRO MOD – INDY 2021

At the 67th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals, the seventh and by far the most prestigious event on the 11-race 2021 NHRA Pro Mod tour, versatile Jim Whiteley powered into the quarterfinals for the third race in a row. He made it into the field on just a single qualifying attempt – everybody did.

For the first time in the history of the sport’s biggest race, qualifying consisted of exactly one session – not just for Pro Mod, but also for Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Whiteley made the most of the rain-shortened format and did it under particularly difficult circumstances: not a single car ahead of him had made it downtrack under power, and one of them, supercharged door-car veteran Rick Hord, crashed hard into both walls right in front of him.

Putting it out of his mind, Whiteley cruised to a smooth 5.90 at 243 mph that propelled him straight to the top of the provisional grid and eventually settled him into the sixth spot on the ladder. That pitted him against perennial contender Khalid alBalooshi, the third third-ranked driver of 2020, whom he absolutely drilled on a first-round holeshot in Denver and who qualified 11th here with a 6.25/236 mph.

Whiteley, focused this year on the burgeoning Mid-West Drag Racing Series, where he’s led the Pro Mod standings for much of the season, was making just his fourth NHRA start of 2021, having skipped Atlanta, Charlotte, and Brainerd. Again, he overwhelmed Balooshi in a lopsided wire-to-wire first-round win. Balooshi was more or less on time with a respectable .068 light, but Whiteley had a decided edge with a .038 and moved on with his best run all weekend, 5.89/240, trailing smoke across the finish line.

Docked 5 points for an oildown infraction even though what little oil spilled was confined to the return road, Whiteley faced teammate and reigning series champ Steve Jackson, who seems to race him every other weekend, in the quarterfinals. There, a promising outing ended with a whimper when Whiteley’s beautiful Yenko/SC Camaro sat motionless as the Tree came down.

Handcuffed by mechanical problems before he ever staged, Whiteley rolled into the beams in the unlikely event that experienced “Stevie Fast,” the defending U.S. Nationals champ, red-lighted or crossed the centerline. He didn’t, of course, advancing uncontested with a 5.81 at 246 mph. “I knew we were done before we rolled up there,” Whiteley said. “The whole solenoid popped off, and there was no way I was going to try to make a run like that. It sucked – especially after everybody had worked their asses off all weekend.”

TAFC – INDY 2020

The worldwide Coronavirus pandemic that’s brought the sport and the whole country to its knees this year also served to make Indy, in a weird way, somehow bigger than ever. In addition to being drag racing’s most sought-after prize year after year, Indy also represented what many top sportsman drivers consider an honor equivalent to a national event title: victory in the prestigious the Jeg’s Allstars event. For Annie Whiteley’s J&A Racing/YNot Racing Top Alcohol Funny Car team, both races ended in disappointment; she was gone after a single round of eliminations in both, after qualifying high, as always, for both contests.

Limited to just two shots to qualify by the condensed schedule, Whiteley qualified seventh – good for most drivers, but not for her. She’s qualified in the slow half of a national event field only once in her entire career – and barely, 9th – and had lane choice once again at the U.S. Nationals, where she’s a three-time runner-up. A 5.54 at 269.78 mph (top speed of the event) in the team’s immaculate Yenko blue Camaro set up a first-round race early Sunday morning with veteran Dan Pomponio, who won four national events from early 2013 to early 2014 but none since.

Whiteley, who had won 80 percent of their previous matchups, pre-staged, revved it to the moon, rolled into the staged beam, and waited. And waited. And then waited a little more. Having the shortest clutch leg in Top Alcohol Funny Car has always been a competitive disadvantage, but never more so than this weekend. When the RPMs had been up there up for so long that the car was about to start creeping, she pushed her clutch foot in a little harder to keep from rolling through … and that’s right when Pomponio staged.

The former Super Gas racer, who’d been at high C for nowhere near as long as his diminutive opponent, let it fly a particle of a second after the light turned green, while Whiteley was hanging on for dear life, trying to keep from red-lighting more than she was trying to knock down the Tree. In the end, reaction times were immaterial; her car blew the tires off at the hit.

“I don’t know how long I sat there, but it was a long time – four or five seconds – which was weird because I don’t think Dan’s never done that to me before,” she said. “He usually rolls right in. Same thing with DJ [Cox, her opponent in the Jegs Allstars race a day earlier.] It didn’t matter – the car didn’t make it down the track anyway. The clutch wasn’t what we thought it was. [Crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] had it way more aggressive than he wanted it, and we never had a chance.”

PSM – INDY 2020

Last seen exactly a year ago at the 2019 U.S. Nationals, 2016 NHRA Rookie of the Year Cory Reed made his triumphant return to drag racing back at the motorsports capital of the world: Indy. Running all by himself Friday night to open pro qualifying for the one race every rider most wants to win, he skipped the 6.90s entirely and plunged into the .80s with an off-the-trailer 6.897 at 194.58 that kept him atop the entire Pro Stock Motorcycle field well into the opening session.

“It felt so good to know right away that we had a bike that could go rounds,” said Reed, the relief evident in his face. The next afternoon, appearing in the second-to-last pair because he had run so well in Q1, he laid down a quicker, faster 6.894/195.76 to maintain his grip on the fast half of the field, then wrapped up the preliminaries late that afternoon with an even better 6.881/195.51 that eventually slotted him 10th in the final order.

When qualifying was complete and eliminations commenced, Reed drove to an especially satisfying first-round victory over Hector Arana Jr. before narrowly disqualifying himself in the quarterfinals against many-time world champ Eddie Krawiec with a close -.013 red-light that just as easily could have been a holeshot win. “That time, I held nothing back,” Reed said. “I actually didn’t know I could react that quickly. That’s everything I had. I knew ‘everything I have’ is better than a .000 light, but I haven’t thrown it all out there looking for my best possible reaction time in I don’t know how long, basically forever.”

Slightly less than Reed’s best possible reaction time actually would have been better in this case – it would’ve earned him a win, and not just any old win but the best possible kind of win for any driver – a holeshot win – because his bike was right there with Krawiec’s vaunted Harley-Davidson machine in performance, 6.85 to 6.90. Anything .035 or better on the Tree – in other words, his average reaction time –  and Reed would’ve been a hero holeshot winner. “It was still a great weekend,” he said. “Haven’t raced in a long time, qualified, ran good all five runs, didn’t hurt a part, went rounds, beat Arana, could’ve beat Krawiec … I’ll take that. We’ll see when we run again. It’ll be whenever it’ll be, but I feel a whole lot better than I did when we got here.”

PRO MOD – INDY 2020

Without making a bad run all weekend, 2013 Indy winner Jim Whiteley still left the 2020 U.S. Nationals empty-handed. Despite turning in easily the most consistent qualifying performance of his seven-year Pro Mod career, leaving on time in the first round of eliminations, and pounding out a fourth straight competitive run, he left town stinging from a dispiriting first-round defeat.

The 2013 Indy Top Alcohol Dragster champ ran hard right off the trailer, laying down an excellent 5.806 in the first of three scheduled qualifying sessions, backing it up with a slightly quicker 5.802 in Q2 and a consistent 5.811 in last-shot qualifying Saturday afternoon, yet entered eliminations mired in the bottom half of the field, 11th on the final grid with an aggregate best of 5.802 at 246.75 mph.

Under threatening skies on a rare raceday Sunday at Indy (other than the rained-out 2003 U.S. Nationals, the race has been contested on Labor Day Mondays for half a century), Whiteley strapped in for the first round of eliminations three different times. He first climbed out when Kris Thorne, who had just upset No. 1 qualifier Jason Scruggs, crashed in the shutdown area, plowing into the wall on his side of the track, then sliding upside-down in a shower of sparks through the shutdown area until he hit the sand trap, flipped again, and softly landed right-side up in a cloud of dust.

Three pairs after the track was cleared and the sand trap swept, Steve Matusek destroyed his immaculate one-week-old Tequila Comisario Mustang, handing the win to 2019 championship runner-up Todd Tutterow. It soon began raining, the track was down for hours, and when racing resumed, Whiteley’s weekend came to an unceremonious end when his respectable 5.85 wasn’t enough against nemesis “Tricky Rickie” Smith’s 5.76.

TAFC – ALLSTARS 2020

Top Alcohol Funny Car star Annie Whiteley was out early at theoretically the toughest race of the season, the prestigious Jegs Allstars, held this year in conjunction with the granddaddy of them all, the U.S. Nationals.

Shifted to Indianapolis from its originally scheduled June date in Chicago, the invitation-only race-within-a-race attracted the biggest names in the country – just about everybody but the two biggest: 2018-19 NHRA world champion Sean Bellemeur and yearlong 2020 points leader Doug Gordon. Eliminations had to be wedged into an already jam-packed U.S. Nationals schedule, and Allstar drivers got just a single qualifying attempt because all eight were seeded into the starting lineup anyway.

Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team made the most of its one shot with a businesslike 5.56 at 267.22 mph, top speed of the event to that point and good for No. 3 on the grid and a first-round matchup with former East Region champ DJ Cox. Whiteley, the defending Central Region Top Alcohol Funny Car champion, had lane choice and seemingly had the upper hand, but when she rolled in to stage, Cox uncharacteristically took several seconds to follow her into the beams, which, with the engines screaming at 7,500 rpm and her red-hot clutch getting tighter and tighter, felt to her like several minutes.

“I sat there for a while – 4 or 5 seconds, according to the computer,” Whiteley said. “As high as we’re leaving now, it’s hard to hold it that long.” Right as she shoved down on the clutch pedal to keep the car from creeping through the beams for an automatic disqualification, Cox lit the fourth and final light and the Tree came down. She was caught off guard, and the Maryland driver opened a noticeable lead in low gear and advanced with low e.t. of the round, 5.51. Whiteley streaked to a 5.54 – quicker than anybody but Cox ran that round – at a speed of 269.78 mph (top speed of not just that round or of the Allstars competition, but of the entire weekend), but by then the race was lost.

PRO MOD – INDY III 2020

PRO MOD – INDY III

The inaugural Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals, a pseudo-national event staged at half-speed in the heart of the Coronavirus panic, didn’t quite feel like a national event, and Jim Whiteley didn’t quite feel like himself behind the wheel of his ’63 Corvette. Whiteley, who almost never loses on a holeshot – or even gets left on, for that matter – lost on a holeshot.

“I just lost focus that time,” said the two-time world champ of by far the worst light of his entire career, an unimaginable .313 in the second round against 2018 series champ Mike Janis. A reaction time half that bad (.157) would’ve been easily the worst light Whiteley ever had, Pro Mod or otherwise, but he got caught off guard that time and Janis had it the instant he launched with a .035 light, advancing with a passable 5.97 at 240 mph. “I don’t know what the hell I was looking at up there,” Whiteley said, laughing. “All of a sudden I was staged, the Tree came on, and I thought, ‘I should probably leave now.’ “

Until the Tree flashed, everything had been going just fine. Whiteley wheeled the J&A Service/YNot Racing ‘Vette to a competitive 5.85 in the first pair of the first session of Pro Mod qualifying and wasted Pro Mod/Funny Car driver Chad Green in the first round of eliminations, leaving first and leading wire to wire, 5.88/241 to 7.14/138. With fields this tight there really are no underdogs, but both he and Janis technically “upset” higher-qualified drivers in the first round, Whiteley over No. 5 qualifier Green with a 5.88 and Janis over No. 4 Jeff Jones with a 5.94.

With no better option than to flush the whole forgettable weekend in this utterly forgettable year, Whiteley is shifting his focus to the Midwest Drag Racing Series’ Summer Speed Spectacular next weekend in St. Louis. He’ll jump into “Stevie Fast’s” world-famous “Shadow 2.0” and Jackson will test the viability of a torque-converter/automatic-transmission setup in Annie Whiteley’s record-holding Top Alcohol Funny Car.

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