Tag: las vegas (Page 1 of 3)

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL

It’s hard not to qualify for an eight-car show when only nine cars show up, and it’s really hard when you were No. 1 at the last two national events, including one just days earlier at the same track. But that’s the fate that befell Annie Whiteley’s luckless team at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of some of the truly great days of her 12-year Top Alcohol Funny Car career.

It wasn’t the tune-up – the car just ran mid-5.40s three times in a row here last week at the Nevada Nationals. And it was nothing mechanical, nothing that could be easily diagnosed through a routine parts inspection. It was the ignition, that invisible, delicate system whose complexities can be understood only through a piece-by-piece replacement of every component from the magneto to the coil to the spark plugs to every last connection.

“We never really did figure it out,” said Whiteley, who blew the tires off at the hit Friday afternoon in the first qualifying session. Three hours later in Q2, it was all systems go … until it wasn’t. Charging downtrack on an otherwise fine run until about half-track, the power suddenly cut out and she coasted to a harmless 5.87 at just 195 mph that kept her in the field (barely, in the No. 8 spot) until the next driver down the left lane three minutes behind her, Ray Martin, recorded a 5.73 and knocked her out of the field.

Martin blew the engine on that run and never returned, which gave Whiteley and crew chief Mike Strasburg one last chance. An aborted 6.31 at 164 mph left the “Shattered Glass”/YNot Racing/J&A Service entry on the outside looking in, but when Martin was unable to return for eliminations, Whiteley got a much-needed reprieve. It wasn’t a clear path to victory because she’d be paired with the No. 1 qualifier in the first round, but it at least it was one more chance to track down the mysterious electrical gremlin before Pomona.

It didn’t matter. Hamstrung by the same ignition problems that plagued the team all weekend, Whiteley was out of it early against Marshall, who, with a 5.47, would have been hard to get around anyway. “What the hell?” she said. “Sometimes, it just doesn’t go your way.”

PSM – LAS VEGAS

Joey Gladstone was never going to win the Nevada Nationals. He wasn’t there to win.

As a replacement rider for veteran Angie Smith, who crashed Sept. 30 at St. Louis, Gladstone was in Las Vegas solely to block for her husband, reigning world champion Matt Smith, who still has a microscopic chance to overtake unbeatable Gaige Herrera for the 2023 Pro Stock Motorcycle championship.

So when Gladstone had to roll out of the throttle and watch his opponent pull around him and drive away to victory, it was nothing he wasn’t prepared for. “Does it suck knowing you have to lose if you race a teammate?” he asked. “It would if you didn’t know what you were signing up for, but I knew. When someone like Matt Smith calls and asks you to drive a V-Twin for him, you say yes. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you say yes.”

With far more torque and far less rpm than the Reed Motorsports Suzuki he rode to second place in the 2022 NHRA standings, Gladstone had an altogether different experience than what he’s become accustomed to. “Riding this Buell is taming an angry bull,” he said. “You’re really busy for that first eighth-mile, shifting five times in four and half seconds, and then you’re in high gear forever. It’s a rowdy beast, like a Pro Stocker with an extra shift.”

Gladstone was absolutely “on one” in Friday’s first qualifying session but had to click it and coast to a 7.19 at just 152 mph, and it more of the same later that afternoon when he put up an identical 7.18/151. After skipping the early Saturday session, he intentionally lifted early and then got back on it for an incongruous, ridiculous E.T. and speed of 9.05 at 194 mph.

“It’s impossible to know exactly where you’re supposed to shut off and where you should get back on it to get good data but not qualify too high,” Gladstone said. “One thing I do know: qualifying that bad on purpose pisses off everybody else. Who’s to say what I could have run all out? I probably could’ve been the No. 2 or 3 qualifier.”

Instead, the shutoff 7.18 from back in Q1 placed him 14th on the grid and set up a first-round match that couldn’t have worked out any better: perennial threat Hector Arana Jr, who qualified No. 3 with a 6.84. Arana cut a .010 light and nearly duplicated his qualifying time with a 6.85 but Gladstone left right with him and, like No. 14 qualifiers never, ever do, outran him with a 6.84.

In the quarterfinals, Gladstone faced Matt Smith Racing team rider Jianna Evaristo, who had never beat him, which, for him, meant just one thing: the end of the line. He produced another .011 light and was well ahead at half-track and still perilously close to beating her at the 1,000-foot mark when politely lifted and fell back with a 7.24 at just 146 mph while she scooted ahead for a winning 6.95/192.

“It’s all good,” Gladstone said. “Qualifying where I did kept Hector away from Matt, and losing to Jianna might help her make the Top 5. I did what I was here to do.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL

Jim Whiteley took out one of the top two Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers of the past half-decade at the Nevada Nationals … but, by mere hundredths of a second, not both of them. Paired against 2020-22-23 world champion Doug Gordon in the semifinals, he left first and ran quicker but fell just short of toppling 2018-19-21 champ Sean Bellemeur in the final.

“Almost got ’em both,” said Whiteley, who was side by side with Gordon in the Texas FallNationals final two weeks ago until a shaft in the driveline snapped near the half-track mark. This time, he was right in lockstep with Gordon for the length of the quarter-mile and emerged victorious, 5.45 to 5.45. Gordon was right there with a .040 light, but Whiteley came up with one of his best reaction times yet in a Funny Car, a telepathic .012, to win by three-hundredths of a second. It wasn’t even a holeshot – he ran quicker, too, 5.453 to 5.457.

The former Top Alcohol Dragster champion qualified just eighth with a 5.54 but roared to life in eliminations, whipping Ulf Leanders, who scored here six years ago, in the first round with an outstanding 5.47. In the second round, Whiteley faced wife Annie, who qualified No. 1 for the second race in a row, in the first of three straight rounds in which both he and his opponent were well down into the 5.40s.

Annie, who usually does great against her husband on the Tree, and Jim, who usually does great against everybody, laid down nearly identical runs – an event-best 5.45 for her and an event-best 5.44 for him. Following the 5.45-5.45 semifinal classic against Gordon, Jim set up for the final against Bellemeur, whose team, led by crew chief Steve Boggs, singled in the other semifinal after a member of opponent Bob McCosh’s crew was injured in a freak between-rounds pit accident and he didn’t show.

Bellemeur carried the front end, smoked the tires, and bounced all over the lane on his semifinal freebie but was back in championship form in the final with a 5.44 that nipped Whiteley’s right-there 5.45. “I thought that was another teen or at least a .020,” said Whiteley, who reacted with an otherwise excellent .034. “It was close but I could tell he got me. That’s two runner-ups in a row now. I used to do all right in finals [23-7 in Top Alcohol Dragster and 2-0 in Pro Mod], but we’re running better all the time and this car should run even better next year. There’s probably five more numbers [hundredths of a second] in it right now.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL

The once-friendly confines of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were anything but this year for Annie Whiteley, who lost the absolute last way she or any driver would ever want to: on a holeshot. This one was particularly frustrating – the dreaded “double holeshot.”

Either of her Saturday qualifying runs would have been more than enough to run down Randy Parker and Jake Guadagnolo in the first round of eliminations, and any other light she had all weekend would have eliminated the need for any come-from-behind heroics in the first place. It wasn’t that the sometimes-confusing four-at-a-time format at NHRA’s Four-Wide Las Vegas Nationals confounded Whiteley, nor were there any staging shenanigans on the part of her opponents.

“I don’t know what the hell it was,” Whiteley said. “Nobody really did anything to mess me up, and it wasn’t a long Tree or a short Tree or anything like that. My light really didn’t feel that bad – definitely not a .180-something. I knew it wasn’t a .020 or .030, but I damn sure didn’t think it was over .100.” But a .180 came up on the reaction timers nonetheless, leaving Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro – recently redubbed “Shattered Glass” in honor of her late father Don, who loved the Brad Paisley hit song of that name – third in a three-car race.

She blew the tires off Friday morning on her first of four qualifying attempts – one in each lane. Sneaking up on the combination from the back side after that, crew chief Mike Strasburg delivered a decent 5.60-flat at 263 mph Friday afternoon and picked up from there, to a 5.56/262 and a 5.53/264 on Saturday that left the team a solid fourth in the final order.

In the first round, Whiteley shook the tires off the line, short-shifted to get out of it, and set sail after Parker, who hadn’t gotten down the track all weekend, and Guadagnolo, who was on the same track as her, just out the side window to her right the whole way down. “I knew I wasn’t going to catch him,” she said, “but I hoped maybe Parker was somewhere behind me on the other track. What a crappy end to a crappy weekend. Losing on a holeshot is even worse than red-lighting. When you red-light, it’s almost like, ‘Well, at least I tried.’ “

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2022

Though she fell short of the ultimate goal – another event title – Annie Whiteley turned in yet another rock-solid performance at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a semifinal appearance at the final NHRA regional event of the year. Whiteley, who’s reached at least the semi’s in six of her past seven starts, came out on the wrong end of a tight semifinal match with Chris Marshall after beating him on a holeshot in the same round at the same facility last week at the Nevada Nationals.

The Whiteleys’ Mike Strasburg-tuned J&A Service/YNot Racing machine came off the trailer with a blistering 5.47 at more than 270 mph in the opening qualifying session to set the tone for another successful weekend, a trend long established as 2022 winds to a close. The whole top half of the Top Alcohol Funny Car field, which year after year is the toughest to make in any region in the country, was locked in the 5.40s, with Whiteley in the No. 3 slot, behind the matching 5.42s of Marshall and national championship contender Doug Gordon.

Pitted against No. 6 qualifier Kris Hool in the first round of eliminations, Whiteley, who swept both Vegas regionals in her rookie season of 2012, advanced easily when he red-lighted and smoked the tires just off the line in what might have been his last launch ever in a Funny Car. She got off the line cleanly, and with a steady 5.52/267 powered to an easy win to move into yet another semifinal.

There, Whiteley’s weekend came to a close when, despite the best reaction time of the entire round and despite an even quicker run than she put up in her first-round win (5.528 to 5.523), she still fell to Marshall, who made just one run out of the 5.40s all weekend. Marshall got back in the .40s with a 5.49/266 to run down her early lead and second straight 5.52 to win by a scant 14-thousandths of a second.

PSM – LAS VEGAS 2022

No matter what happens, 2022 has been, unequivocally, the best year of Joey Gladstone’s drag racing career. Which is nice, because the points lead that began to evaporate a couple races ago is gone.

Gladstone, who won the first three races of his career over a span of just four events late this summer, has been eliminated in the quarterfinals of the past two races while the rider heavily favored to beat him for the championship, Matt Smith, won Dallas and made the final here.

Gladstone qualified sixth for the Nevada Nationals field and drew, for the third time in the past five events, national record holder Karen Stoffer in the first round. He put her away, 6.91/194 to 6.98/192, but not with a performance likely to carry him much further. “It was making too much wheel speed at the top of low,” he said. “We just don’t have enough data for these conditions – we’ve never run this track with this program. We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I knew she’d go .00 on me, and she did [with a .008 reaction time], but I couldn’t just take it easy up there. I couldn’t lay up, but I couldn’t go red, either.” With a .016 light, he absolutely didn’t.

Then the Diamond W/Fatheadz Hayabusa team pulled off a massive between-rounds thrash or Gladstone wouldn’t even have made it to line for the quarterfinals. “There was no time for [team owner and co-crew chief] Cory [Reed] and I to deliberate on the tune-up,” he said. “It all comes down to priorities. You can’t fine-tune something until you have an engine in the bike.”

They made it but didn’t make the kind of run that’s catapulted them to the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle world this season. Facing points leader Matt Smith’s wife, former national event winner Angie Smith, Gladstone came up with a 6.92 but fell short of her 6.91 by 12-thousandths of a second. Matt Smith beat pseudo-teammate Chip Ellis three pairs later and Jerry Savoie in the semifinals but was upset in the final by Hector Arana Jr., who has come out of nowhere to win two races in a row.

Down 104 points with one race to go, the NHRA finals in Pomona, Calif., Gladstone knows the championship is a long shot. “It probably took an hour and a half until I was over losing,” he said. “I’d much rather win the championship – who wouldn’t? – but if I finish second to someone who had a dominant second half like Matt’s had, I can’t feel too bad, can I? He’s a Smith – he knows how to play the game.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2022

In her first final-round appearance opposite Doug Gordon since their historic Dallas duel in 2017, Annie Whiteley fell just short in the NHRA Nevada Nationals final, 5.47/265 to 5.51/265. “This is one time I’m actually fine with a runner-up,” said Whiteley, who’s achieved massive success this year in MWDRS competition but not much in her infrequent appearances on the NHRA tour. “This is the first time we’ve gotten out of the second round at a national event all year.”

Husband Jim Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro continues to struggle in the back half, but Annie’s car was strong all weekend, from an off-the-trailer 5.49 at 268 mph in the first qualifying session right through the final. She stormed to a 5.52/267 mph in the opening round against veteran Nick Januik, whose lone national event victory came early in his career right here at his hometown track, blatantly red-lighted away any shot at a second Vegas title.

In the middle rounds of eliminations, Annie mowed down a pair of longtime nemeses, past national event winners Brian Hough and Chris Marshall, to move into her first NHRA final since she fell to Hough at the 2019 SpringNationals in Houston. She and Hough left almost simultaneously, and she powered away from him with every shift for a convincing 5.48/268 to 5.57/264 win. Returning the favor from their first-round match here in 2015, she then trounced Marshall on a huge holeshot in the semi’s, 5.55/264 to 5.45/266, before dropping the tight final-round decision to Gordon, who kept himself alive for the 2022 championship with a crucial win.

“So many crappy things have happened to us at NHRA races this year,” Whiteley said, “it’s nice to have something go our way for once. It’s just been one gremlin after another – smoking the tires when the tune-up should’ve been fine, blower studs breaking and letting out all the boost for no reason, and the command module quitting first round at Dallas, when I was way ahead. Hopefully, that bad luck is gone for good now.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2021

Annie Whiteley wound up probably the most difficult year of her career right where it all began a decade ago, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, trending in a positive direction for maybe the first time since the first race of this long season. When qualifying was complete, she didn’t just have low e.t. of the meet, she had low e.t., the second-lowest e.t., and the fourth-lowest e.t. – two 5.50s and a 5.51.

Running as close to the .40s as possible without actually running one, Whiteley claimed the top spot with a time of exactly five and a half seconds – 5.500 at 266.27 mph. The speed ended up second behind only the 266.48-mph charge of eventual winner Sean Bellemeur and the Bartone Bros. team led by Steve Boggs.

“Doug Gordon’s team really helped us with the clutch,” Whiteley said, “and I mean really helped us. It’s pretty unbelievable for somebody like them, a team that won the championship last year and just about won it again this year, to do something like that for somebody else, but that’s exactly what they did.”

In the first round against Alaska’s Ray Martin, like her one of the very, very few ever to win their first Top Alcohol Funny Car start, Whiteley drilled him on the Tree. She was out first by more than half a tenth, .080 to .131, and, despite coasting across the finish line at barely 210 mph, emerged victorious. “The blower belt broke,” she explained after narrowly advancing with a 5.71/211 over Martin’s fast-closing 5.75/252.

Sunday afternoon in the first pair of the semi’s, Whiteley’s luck ran out. Gordon put away No. 2 qualifier Terry Ruckman, 5.56/265 to 5.68/252, in the other pair, and she outran both of them – but, unfortunately for her, not the only one that mattered. She and Bellemeur, who locked up the national championship here last weekend, pre-staged simultaneously and staged almost at the same time, but the now three-time champ pulled steadily ahead of her for a 5.51/265 to 5.54/264 victory.

Whiteley’s final scorecard for the 2021 season: a win (Belle Rose), a runner-up (Martin on the Mid-West Drag Racing Series tour), three semifinal finishes (this weekend in Las Vegas and the Ferris and Tulsa MWDRS events), 11th place in the NHRA standings, fourth in the MWDRS, and a positively un-Whiteleylike overall win-loss record of 10-14.

PRO MOD – LAS VEGAS 2021

Laser-focused on the burgeoning Mid-West Drag Racing Series all year, Jim Whiteley simultaneously pieced together a successful season in his infrequent appearances on the NHRA tour. Whiteley, who barely missed winning the 2021 MWDRS Pro Mod championship, finished just outside the NHRA Top 10 despite skipping nearly half the races (5 of 11).

On his first qualifying run at the 11th and final event of this year’s NHRA series, the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, Whiteley’s sleek ’69 Camaro shook hard and coasted silently across finish line at 100 mph. Saturday afternoon in the second and third sessions, he pounded out two runs as close to each other as any two runs have ever been: .968-.970 at the 60-foot mark, 2.574-2.574 at 330 feet, 3.857-3.855 to half-track at 192.11-192.30 mph, 4.957-4.954 at 1,000 feet, and 5.886-5.882 at 242.06-242.36 mph across the finish line.

The first one, recorded early Saturday afternoon, put him eighth in the order, and the follow-up, recorded in the gathering gloom of dusk that evening, was truly a thing of beauty. Wheels up, charging hard through the middle of the course, it was, barley, his quickest pass of the weekend, but it still didn’t improve his standing in the final lineup. He wound up ninth in the final order, matched against teammate Brandon Snider in the bright sunlight of Sunday morning’s first round of eliminations.

Once again, Whiteley made his quickest run of the entire event, but Snider did him one better at both ends of the dragstrip. Whiteley cut a .042 light, but Snider nipped him with a slightly quicker .031, and when Whiteley picked up considerably from his best qualifying time (four-hundredths of a second and 2 mph, from 5.88/242 to 5.84/244), Snider picked up even more (four-hundredths and 3 mph, from 5.83/244 to 5.79/247) to win by a car-length.

“We’ve got some big plans for next year,” Whiteley said. “All kinds of plans. With all kinds of people and all kinds of cars. That’s all I’m going to say right now. But trust me, it’s gonna be good.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2021

With a promising performance at the penultimate race of a largely forgettable 2021 season, Annie Whiteley might just have turned the corner heading into the 2022 campaign. Plagued by one thing after another from the time she left Belle Rose, La., with a victory in the season opener, 2021 was the very definition of a down year. This second-to-last weekend of the season was anything but.

From a decent 5.60 at 263 mph on her opening hit, Whiteley got only quicker every trip back under The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway arch. She posted a significantly better 5.54/264 Friday afternoon and an incrementally quicker and faster 5.53/265 in last-shot qualifying Saturday morning for the No. 6 spot in the 16-car Top Alcohol Funny Car field.

That afternoon in the first round of eliminations, as she had on almost every other run, Whiteley laid down her best pass all weekend, leaving on former national event winner Kris Hool and outrunning him to boot. Her right-down-the-groove 5.52/265 wasted his aborted 9.65 at 113 mph and improved her all-time head-to-head record against the Wyoming veteran to a tidy 6-3. It wasn’t just her quickest run of the event; it was all 16 drivers’ quickest run of the first round, including championship contenders Sean Bellemeur (5.58) and Doug Gordon (5.66).

That night, immediately after the nitro cars wrapped up qualifying for Sunday’s race, Whiteley faced quarterfinal opponent Chris Marshall, who, like her, split his time this year between the NHRA and MWDRS circuits. They left, and her car, as if pulled by some giant magnet buried under the centerline, strayed inexorably to the right until she finally relented somewhere in high gear.

“It pulled me over toward the centerline, and I had to pull it back,” Whiteley said. “Then it did it again, and I pulled it back again, but when it tried to pull me over there again in high gear I thought, ‘Nahhhh … that’s enough,’ and shut it off.” Marshall collected the round-win with a 5.56/264, while Whiteley, despite clicking it early and coasting across the stripe at only 222 mph, still recorded a 5.64.

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