At the NHRA Spring Nationals in Houston, national points leader Jim Whiteley reached his fourth final in six starts this season to extend his lead in the national Top Alcohol standings to more than 50 points. Whiteley, the reigning national champion and defending event champ, had a commanding lead on Randy Meyer in the final until four blower studs failed around half-track, allowing Meyer to slip past him on the top end for his first national victory in six years.
Whiteley qualified No. 1, as he has at every race this year, and set low e.t., as he also has at every race this year, with a 5.26 in what turned out to be the only qualifying session. A downpour of almost biblical proportions washed out Saturday’s scheduled qualifying session and the first round of eliminations and turned the Royal Purple Raceway pits into a quagmire.
With a close 5.34 to 5.40 first-round win with Texan James Thompson, Whiteley advanced to the quarterfinals, where he sped to a 5.30, low e.t. of the round, on a bye run. When Brandon Pierce’s car failed to fire for the semifinals, he took another single and clocked a 5.28 at 274.83 mph, good for top speed of the meet honors for the fifth time this season.
Unfortunately for the J&A Service/YNot Racing team, the blower studs chose the final round to fail, slowing Whiteley to a 5.46 at just 221 mph and costing him the race against Meyer’s 5.36 at 271. Any other run he made all weekend would have been more than enough to win. “You hate to have that happen at a time like that, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “This car has been as reliable as any car in the country all year, but sometimes these parts have a mind of their own.”
Wife Annie Whiteley was eliminated in the first round of Top Alcohol Funny Car eliminations by defending Houston winner Jay Payne, 5.71 to a shut-off 6.36. “I stayed with it as long as I could,” said Annie, who qualified in the fast half of the field with one of the quicker runs of the entire weekend, 5.61, on her only attempt. “It went one way and then the other, and it’s not worth risking going over the centerline or hitting the wall, even in eliminations, so I shut off.”
After a busy spring, including three races in April alone, the J&A Service/YNot Racing crew will be off for nearly two months, until the Central Region event in Tulsa June 14-16. That race will be the start of a back-to-back-to-back swing that also includes stops in Denver and Chicago.