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TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL

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

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

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.

TAFC – LAS VEGAS 2021

Brandon Snider’s highly anticipated NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car debut didn’t end in a storybook victory, but this weekend, for once, that wasn’t really the point. At the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals – the first time alcohol cars have ever raced four at a time – the stated objective for Annie Whiteley’s J&A/YNot team was to further develop their torque-converter setup, a goal more than achieved.

Snider, the former PDRA champ who came within a round of the 2020 NHRA Pro Mod championship, just got his Funny Car license and had never driven one to the quarter-mile. “I’d already done the four-wide thing in Charlotte, so that was no big deal,” he said. “It’s everything else that’s completely different. A Funny Car is harder to drive than a Pro Mod, for one thing. It’s fast. Sitting behind the engine, having that body dropped down over you – it takes a little getting used to. In a Pro Mod, you make tiny little corrections going down the track. This thing, you really have to crank the wheel to get the car to go where you want it to go. To a door-car guy, everything about a Funny Car is just wrong.”

Despite that, Snider laid down one quick, consistent run after another at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, four in all, beginning with a 5.608 at 259.06 mph in the second session that qualified him firmly in the middle of the field. He followed with a 5.555/261.57 and a 5.583/260.11 for the No. 5 spot and appeared to enter eliminations with a clear advantage despite having less experience in a Funny Car than anyone in the lineup.

Snider was the only Top Alcohol Funny Car driver with any experience on a four-wide Tree, but when the Tree dropped, it was he who left too soon with a -.176 red-light, invalidating his quickest, fastest run of the weekend and low e.t. of the quad, 5.554/262.54. Nick Januik (5.555) and Aryan Rochon (5.623) advanced, and 2017 NHRA champion Shane Westerfield joined Snider on the sidelines with a third-best 5.66.

“Nobody wants to red-light, but we still learned a lot this weekend,” Snider said. “People think a converter just won’t work in a Funny Car, but how hard has anyone ever really tried? It’ll work. Clutches have been around forever. We’re just getting started with this thing, and I think we can be more consistent than the clutch cars when the weather gets hot. By the end of the year, we might just be running all the way to the quarter-mile like them.”

PSM – LAS VEGAS 2021

At the Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas, for the first time since his 2016 Rookie of the Year campaign, 28-year-old Cory Reed upset one name after another to reach an NHRA national event final. There, the former motocross star took out two of his three opponents – Scotty Pollacheck and Steve Johnson – but in a four-wide final, just as in any traditional one-on-one duel, only one driver ultimately emerges victorious.

In two preliminary rounds under this unique, divisive format, you don’t actually have to win – you can be second and still advance, which was perfect because in both the first and semifinals rounds, Reed finished second. He left a lofty list of accomplished riders in his wake: many-time national event winner Karen Stoffer in the first quad and former teammate Angelle Sampey and reigning national champion Matt Smith, who have seven championships between them, in the semi’s.

“I’m back,” Reed said after one of the finest outings of his still-young drag racing career. Powered by the vaunted Vance & Hines conglomerate, he muddled through three qualifying sessions with somewhat uneven results (7.07/191, 7.13/187, and a ninth-best 7.03/191) but came to life on race day. “I want to win. That’s the goal, that’s everything. And when I got to that final, I really felt like I was going to win.”

Smith had everybody covered in the first round with an outstanding 6.88 at 196.87 mph, but Reed left on him so badly he almost beat him to the stripe with a 6.98/192. (Stoffer’s strong 6.92/192 was voided by a foul start.) In the semi’s, Pollacheck got there first with a 6.93/193 but Reed was right on his wheelie bar with a 6.97/191, well ahead of highly favored Sampey’s 7.07/162 and Smith’s troubled 7.72/128.

More confident than ever, Reed let the clutch fly in the final round, but instead of a .017 light like he’d had in the opening round, his reaction time came up .049. “I didn’t cut as good of a light as I could have,” he said, “because the whole time I was thinking, ‘Don’t red-light, don’t red-light.’ “When I let go of the handle, the bike just didn’t get up and go. The clutch didn’t separate like it should – it didn’t flash. For whatever reason, it didn’t grab.”

Pollacheck red-lighted, Johnson broke, and suddenly there was just one rider between Reed and his first major NHRA title: his pal, Oehler, who outran him, 6.91/194 to by far Reed’s best run all weekend, a 6.94/193. Even with a perfect reaction time, there was nothing he could’ve done. “Losing sucks, but I can’t really complain,” Reed said. “This was a good weekend. “I totally thought I was going to win, 100 percent. I thought I had it.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2020

At The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the final race of a trying and largely unfulfilling season, Annie Whiteley wrapped up 2020 with a dispiriting first-round loss to outgoing Top Alcohol Funny Car world champ Sean Bellemeur.

The four-time TAFC Regional Champion (2013-14 in the West, and 2018-19 in the Central) never made a representative run all weekend. Whiteley, a many-time Vegas winner, posted an OK .974 60-foot time in Friday afternoon’s opening qualifying session but had to lift and slowed to a 12.47 at 66 mph, eighth in an eight-car field and the only one not to get to the finish line under power. Under the lights in Q2, she made it further downtrack but ultimately had to back off the throttle again and coasted to an 8.77 at 120 mph to enter eliminations on the bump for the first time in years.

Whiteley’s weekend came to an unceremonious, abrupt end not far off the line in the first round. Bellemeur, who had more than a tenth on the field going into last-shot qualifying with a 5.48/268 and ran in .40s in the only other qualifying session (combined .40s for all other teams: 0), claimed a lopsided victory. The 2019 series champ was long gone with a with a winning 5.50/269 in the left lane while over in the right, Whiteley’s suddenly stubborn, uncooperative machine refused to respond to crew chief Mike Strasburg’s between-rounds adjustments. Again she was forced to lift almost immediately, slowing to a 9.23 at 106 mph and winding up an up-and-down season on a decidedly down note.

“Too much wheel speed,” Whiteley said. “It’s been that kind of year.” She closes the door on 2020 second in the Central Region standings behind returning veteran Bob McCosh and sixth the national rankings. It wasn’t the best season the YNot/J&A Service team ever had, but in the end Whiteley qualified No. 1 four times (all in the first half of the year), racked up three final-round appearances and a win (at the 2020 opener in Belle Rose, where she’s still never lost), and finished with a 12-12 win-loss record, including a respectable 10-9 mark in NHRA competition.

PRO MOD – LAS VEGAS 2020

At the Dodge NHRA Finals, the end of the line for Pro Mod drivers every year but this year for all the pros, too, Jim Whiteley lined up against theoretically the toughest possible opponent and definitely the last one he wanted to see lose, YNot teammate Steve Jackson. But with absolutely everything on the line for defending NHRA Pro Mod champion “Stevie Fast,” locked in a down-to-the-wire battle with incoming points leader Brandon Snider for the 2020 championship, Jackson is exactly who Whiteley got first round.

To intensify what already would’ve been an epic showdown, Whiteley, the No. 8 qualifier (5.836) in a short but stout field, and Jackson, surprisingly just fifth in the order with a 5.788, had a couple friendly side bets going: $100 for the best reaction time head-to-head, and another $50 for supertuner “Philbilly” Shuler if Whiteley’s car got into the .70s. In the end, everybody won.

Whiteley and Jackson staged almost simultaneously, the Tree flashed, both were way more than on time, and “Stevie Fast,” who would have lost it all with anything slower than a 5.773, stayed alive with a 5.770. Staring down the most pressure imaginable, he came through with a clutch .011 reaction time, but Whiteley outdid him with a near-perfect .005 only to be edged out in the lights by four-thousandths of a second, 5.770 to 5.780. Anything less than a .015 reaction time, and “Stevie Fast” would have been done. “I wasn’t messing around up there,” he said.

“Neither was I,” joked Whiteley, who matched Jackson stride for stride and shift for shift the length of the quarter-mile: 2.53-2.53 to the 330-foot mark, 3.79 at 196 mph to 3.79 at 196 mph at the eighth-mile, and 4.86 to 4.86 to 1000 feet. At the top end, the superior aerodynamic characteristics of Jackson’s late-model Camaro trumped the early ’60s “aero package” of Whiteley’s split-window Corvette. With equal power under the hood, Whiteley could only look on helplessly as Jackson crept incrementally ahead in the final quarter of the course, 248.48 mph to 246.71.

From there, Jackson got the best of a winner-take-all second-round match with Snider and went on to the event win, his third this season, and a second consecutive NHRA championship. Whiteley locked up his first Top 10 finish as a Pro Mod driver and first since he retired from Top Alcohol Dragster with seven in a row, from 2007-13 – and not just Top 10s. All seven were Top 5s, including back-to-back championships in 2012-13. “Next year, that car’s gonna run better than ever,” Jackson said of Whiteley’s’ old-school hot rod. “You just wait.”

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