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.”


In her first appearance ever at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Ky., host of the first all-sportsman national event in drag racing history in 1974, Annie Whiteley obliterated the Top Alcohol Funny Car track record with a speed almost 100 mph faster than alcohol cars were running in the ’70s: 272.72 mph.

Whiteley made one flawless run after another in testing, struggled in the first qualifying session, then, facing an unthinkable DNQ with just one attempt remaining, ran a blistering 5.51 that put her in the No. 1 spot at the time. She settled for No. 2 when another driver racing for the first time in Bowling Green, perennial title contender Doug Gordon, hit a 5.49.

The track was completely different by the time eliminations kicked off Sunday afternoon, and Gordon was upset by the slowest qualifier in the field, Phil Esz. Whiteley nearly was, too, but, facing Chris Foster, whom she had beaten a week earlier in Brainerd, Minn., in a wild, all-over-the-track first-round match, came out on top in another weird first-rounder she easily could have lost.

“I have no idea what happened to the track between Saturday and Sunday – neither do a lot of other people, based on what they ran – but it was nothing like the track we thought we had,” she said. She left on Foster and survived with a backpedaling 6.26 at 243 mph but wasn’t as lucky opposite eventual winner Ray Drew in the semifinals, pedaling to a 6.03/233 that was no match for his consistent 5.61/260.

“[Crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] and the guys aren’t sure why the car wouldn’t go down the track in eliminations, but we know it’s making a lot of power,” Whiteley said. “These cars are hard to figure out sometimes, but if we can run as hard next week as we did on that one qualifying run here, maybe we’ll win the big one next week at Indy.”

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