Tag: Indy (Page 1 of 3)

TAFC – INDY

With a final-four finish at the biggest race of the year, former U.S. Nationals Top Alcohol Dragster champ Jim Whiteley turned in his finest showing to date as an NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car racer, taking out, of all people, wife Annie Whiteley along the way. Jim, who won the 2013 U.S. Nationals en route to his second straight TA/D championship, made his best run of the year right off the trailer and delivered a steady, consistent performance not unlike his glory days in dragsters with six full pulls in six trips to the line.

Fresh off a St. Louis victory in the eighth-mile Mid-West Drag Racing Series, Jim made his quickest quarter-mile run of 2023, a 5.52 at 262.08 mph, and Annie was right behind him a couple pairs later with a 5.54 at nearly 265 mph in her clutch car. They ran side by side in each of two ensuing qualifying sessions with only Jim making it to 2nd gear under power, but Annie’s Mike Strasburg-tuned “Shattered Glass” machine came back to life when it mattered most, in eliminations.

Annie advanced with a smooth 5.59/262 against the A/Fuel Funny Car of Mick Steele, who made his first start in this class in 25 years, but Jim really had to work for it to get around many-time national event winner DJ Cox. He deftly worked the throttle to maintain control early and moved on with a backpedaling 5.64/256 that cost him lane choice for his highly anticipated quarterfinal matchup with Annie.

She shot off the line with an excellent .045 reaction time in that one, but Jim was already ahead of her with the first of consecutive .00 lights, a perfect .000. “I always do better against him,” said Annie, who developed ignition troubles downtrack. “But a triple-0 light? That’s just mean.” Her clutch light was irrelevant when the ignition cut out at 9,400 rpm in every gear.

“It felt like I hit the rev-limiter,” she said. “I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I didn’t want to hurt anything and there was no way I was going to catch him, so I shut it off.” She coasted to a not-bad 5.68/236 but was well short of Jim’s 5.59/258.

In the semifinals opposite world champ Doug Gordon, Jim’s second straight .00 came up on the wrong side of perfection, a -.004 red-light that denied him a potential upset win. His Brandon Snider-tuned J&A Service Camaro was within striking distance of Gordon’s vaunted Beta Motorcycles entry, 5.50/266 to 5.57/259, and with anything from .001 to .003 green he’d have won on a holeshot.

PSM – INDY

Cory Reed qualified on the bump at the NHRA U.S. Nationals and was out after a single round in his first start in nearly two years, but this time that wasn’t really the point. The only thing that mattered at the most prestigious event in drag racing was that he was back on a bike, back out where he belongs – both he and his teammate, 2022 championship runner-up Joey Gladstone.

The last time NHRA fans saw Reed, he was careening into Gladstone in the shutdown area in the second round of the 2021 Carolina Nationals in easily the most horrifying crash in the 40-year history of Pro Stock Motorcycle racing. “I had to make some 7.50 passes at 175 mph just to get my license back,” he said. “It was a little strange, but I guess it’s all part of the process of coming back. You’d think 175 mph might feel slow, but it didn’t – until we left Indy, everything up to 180 felt fast.”

Still hobbling but dead-set on returning to the quarter-mile, Reed accepted teammate Michael Phillips’ out-of-nowhere offer to run Indy on a two-valve bike. “We saw what Karen [Stoffer] did with the two-valve weight break [at Sonoma, where she ran a 6.79], and we were curious,” he said. “Michael called me one night and said, ‘What do you think? You ready to get back on a bike?’ and I thought, ‘What the hell? Why not?’ “

With the exception of the third session, the Reed/Phillips team showed steady improvement every time down the track, with times of 7.22/187, 7.21/181, 7.36/186, 7.19/185, and a 7.16/188 in last-shot qualifying, Reed’s quickest and fastest run of the long Labor Day weekend. A full four-tenths of a second behind Mr. Everything 2023, Gaige Herrera, who has taken the sport by storm since taking over for Angelle Sampey on the Vance & Hines flagship Suzuki, Reed didn’t expect to beat him in the first round, and he didn’t.

Nobody else would have either. Reed picked up considerably to a 7.09 at 189 mph but was no match for the runaway points leader’s 6.79/198 in a lopsided but ultimately unimportant loss. “I’m just happy to be out here and lucky to be riding Mike’s bike,” he said. “I had zero expectations coming into this weekend – I’m just here to have fun. For Joey and me, it’s just great to be back out here with our racing family.”

TAFC – INDY 2022

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 2022

After winning his first NHRA race 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 Pro Stock Motorcycle phenom Joey Gladstone.

It didn’t. He qualified in the middle of the pack and got beat first round.

The U.S. Nationals was a struggle from beginning to end 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 points leader, stumbled to an off-pace 7.01 before the team’s Diamond W/Fatheadz Hayabusa somewhat returned to form in 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,” Gladstone said 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, but we just need to overcome a little adversity.”

Opposite national record holder Karen Stoffer, a long, forgettable weekend came to a premature conclusion when Gladstone’s bike didn’t pick up as expected and he 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 an instant.

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 at the very next race, there would be no third straight. Stoffer slowed to a 6.91/194, but Gladstone did so even more to a 6.94/193 for as disappointing a loss as he’s suffered all season. “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.

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