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.”