Tag: Phoenix

TAFC – PHOENIX

Annie Whiteley opened the 2023 season not at Louisiana’s No Problem Raceway, where she’s run roughshod over outmatched Top Alcohol Funny Car teams for half a decade now, but rather in the Valley of the Sun. At Wild Horse Pass Raceway in suburban Phoenix, her weekend didn’t end in victory as it had five years in a row on the Louisiana bayou, but it didn’t turn out badly either, with lots of low 5.50s at nearly 270 mph and a late-round finish.

At Wild Horse, the latest track to be strong-armed out of existence by an ever-encroaching surrounding community, Whiteley just missed another final-round appearance, falling to Alaska’s Ray Martin in the semifinals by the invisible margin of seven-thousandths of a second.

The J&A Service team’s weekend got off to a promising start when Whiteley matched reigning world champion Doug Gordon stride for stride to half-track in Q1 before being forced to shut off to a 5.78 at 188 mph. She was actually faster than he was at the half-track mark – 211 mph to 210 – and he recorded a fine 5.48, so she clearly was on one.

Fifth in a six-car field going into last-shot qualifying opposite newcomer Hunter Jones, Whiteley delivered an excellent 5.54 at 263.26 mph to catapult the team to the No. 2 spot. Jones ended up fifth with a career-best 5.57/263 and nearly duplicated that in the first round with a similar 5.58/261, but she had him all the way with her best run of the weekend, a superior 5.50/265 mph, the quickest and fastest non-Gordon run of the race.

Whiteley’s brand-new YNot Racing Camaro approximated that performance in the semifinals, but still she narrowly lost to Martin. Hardly late with a .081 reaction time, she flew across the finish line with a 5.51 that left her just behind Martin’s 5.56. Naturally, no other run Martin made all weekend would’ve been enough to beat her, and, needless to say, any other light he had all weekend wouldn’t have been enough.

“Why does that always have to happen?” asked Whiteley, exasperated. “It never fails. Just about any other run we made would have been enough to win – or any other light I had or any other light he had, but it just had to happen, didn’t it?”

Even a killer .031 light would have left Martin a few feet shy of Whiteley’s quicker, faster car in the lights, but he pulled off a telepathic .023 light at just the right time, nudging her out at the stripe by a scant three feet to advance to the final, where he upset Gordon for his first win in years.

TAFC – PHOENIX 2017

Filling in for Annie Whiteley, who was kept away from the track this weekend by business commitments, veteran driver Greg Hunter wheeled Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro to a career-best 5.47 at the 2017 season opener in Phoenix for the No. 1 spot in the quickest Top Alcohol Funny Car field of all time (5.55 bump).

“I didn’t know exactly how quick it was, but I knew it was the quickest, fastest run I ever made,” said Hunter, who boosted his career-best speed by a full 7 mph in his debut with the team, from 263 to 270, making him one of the fastest drivers in Alcohol Funny Car history. “We were getting ready for first round, and I had to think about it for a minute, get my head around having the fastest car in the field. I’ve never had that kind of feeling before.”

Adapting quickly to the unfamiliar confines of Whiteley’s car, Hunter got the job done in the first round with a .050 light and a wire-to-wire win over the converter car of Bill Bernard, 5.51/268 to 5.58/258. In the semifinals, another new career best – 5.478, just one-thousandth of a second quicker than the 5.479 he ran to top all qualifiers – left Hunter just short of Doug Gordon’s unbelievable 5.43 at nearly 270 mph.

“I’m not saying I know it would’ve run a 5.43, but it could’ve run better that time,” Hunter said. “When I put it on the clip, it didn’t go all the way to the rpm [crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] wanted. We were trying to leave higher, and the track would’ve held it.”

Hunter, longtime driver for the recently sidelined SynOil Top Alcohol Funny Car team, is a two-time winner on the NHRA tour, both times at the Lucas Oil Series race at Mission Raceway in Mission, B.C. “I couldn’t believe it when Annie’s team asked me if I wanted to test their car, and then I even got to race it,” he said. “I was totally honored that they would let me do it. After the race, I told them, ‘Hey, maybe I should test Annie’s new car at every national event for a about a year, just to make sure everything’s good to go.’ “

TAFC – PHOENIX 2015

At the West Region opener at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Top Alcohol Funny Car star Annie Whiteley had to dodge one bullet after another in her brand-new YNot Racing/J&A Service Camaro.

On Whiteley’s first qualifying attempt, opponent Terry Ruckman drifted over the centerline, sending the timing-block cones into the air and raining debris in her lane. “Terry’s a friend and from Grand Junction like us, so of course we had to give him a little grief about it the rest of the weekend,” she said with a laugh. Startled by the flying cone fragments, Whiteley lifted, coasted across the finish line, and still clocked a 6.30 at 179 mph that was fast enough to get in the field.

In the only other session, Whiteley again had no choice but to lift. “That time it wasn’t cones coming at me – it was a whole car,” she said. “We were almost starting to wonder if there was a magnet somewhere on the car that was pulling other cars into my lane.” Many-time national event winner Larry Miner, at the wheel of friend Steve Gasparrelli’s car, got into her lane when, after backpedaling out of shake, his car hooked up, carried the front end, and shot across the centerline.

First-round opponent Mike Doushgounian stayed on his side of the track, but Whiteley had to abort another run when she went up in smoke right off the line. “We’re still kind of dumbfounded about that one,” she said. “It never should have smoked the tires like that, but that’s what happens when everything’s new – new car, new tire, and a completely different kind of clutch. We just have to figure out what the new car wants, and we will in testing before our next race, at Vegas.”

The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has always been Whiteley’s best track on the NHRA circuit: she’s won four times, sweeping the spring and fall regionals there in both 2012 and 2013.

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