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.