Tag: regional

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2020

At The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the final race of a trying and largely unfulfilling season, Annie Whiteley wrapped up 2020 with a dispiriting first-round loss to outgoing Top Alcohol Funny Car world champ Sean Bellemeur.

The four-time TAFC Regional Champion (2013-14 in the West, and 2018-19 in the Central) never made a representative run all weekend. Whiteley, a many-time Vegas winner, posted an OK .974 60-foot time in Friday afternoon’s opening qualifying session but had to lift and slowed to a 12.47 at 66 mph, eighth in an eight-car field and the only one not to get to the finish line under power. Under the lights in Q2, she made it further downtrack but ultimately had to back off the throttle again and coasted to an 8.77 at 120 mph to enter eliminations on the bump for the first time in years.

Whiteley’s weekend came to an unceremonious, abrupt end not far off the line in the first round. Bellemeur, who had more than a tenth on the field going into last-shot qualifying with a 5.48/268 and ran in .40s in the only other qualifying session (combined .40s for all other teams: 0), claimed a lopsided victory. The 2019 series champ was long gone with a with a winning 5.50/269 in the left lane while over in the right, Whiteley’s suddenly stubborn, uncooperative machine refused to respond to crew chief Mike Strasburg’s between-rounds adjustments. Again she was forced to lift almost immediately, slowing to a 9.23 at 106 mph and winding up an up-and-down season on a decidedly down note.

“Too much wheel speed,” Whiteley said. “It’s been that kind of year.” She closes the door on 2020 second in the Central Region standings behind returning veteran Bob McCosh and sixth the national rankings. It wasn’t the best season the YNot/J&A Service team ever had, but in the end Whiteley qualified No. 1 four times (all in the first half of the year), racked up three final-round appearances and a win (at the 2020 opener in Belle Rose, where she’s still never lost), and finished with a 12-12 win-loss record, including a respectable 10-9 mark in NHRA competition.

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2019

In her 17th and final start of 2019, Annie Whiteley won her third race of the season to lock down yet another Top 5 finish in the NHRA national standings. The J&A Service/YNot Racing driver established top speed of the meet, as usual, and came out on top of one of the toughest fields in Top Alcohol Funny Car history with her sixth career final-round appearance at the fabulous Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and sixth win.

“I don’t know what it is about this track,” she said. “I always say that, I know, but there’s just something about this place and Sonoma.” Qualifying began with a thud when she blew the tires off, but, after a subsequent 5.52 at 268.60 mph (top speed of the meet to that point) run, she entered eliminations fifth on the final grid, paired against a driver who has more lifetime appearances than anyone in alcohol racing history (even Frank Manzo): Jay Payne. He clocked a 5.523 on his final attempt to move around Whiteley by one spot, but that just meant that he had lane choice – they were already 4 and 5 and destined to meet anyway.

When the Tree flashed, Whiteley was out first and made the third-quickest run of the entire weekend, a 5.500 at 269.67 mph (top speed of the meet) to hold off his right-there 5.56. That set up a semifinal match with the most feared driver in Top Alcohol Funny Car, back-to-back world champ Sean Bellemeur, who was sidelined by, of all things, a stuck throttle on the burnout. “I was just putting it into reverse when I heard this weird revving sound as he went by me,” she said. “He kept rolling down there and it hit me: ‘We just won the semi’s – we’re in the final.’ ” The resultant bye couldn’t have come at a more opportune time – after the .50-flat in the first round and another .50-something run in the final, she blew the tires off at the hit and coasted across the finish line at a speed that wouldn’t have gotten her a speeding ticket out on I-15, 74 mph.

In the final against Brian Hough, who’ll finish second in the championship standings this year, Whiteley blasted off the line right on time and came out on top in a close race, 5.54 to 5.56. “I told myself, ‘Relax, relax, relax,’ before I went up there, and I did,” she said, “I thought, ‘You know you can do it, so just do it.’ My clutch pedal is fixed now, and I am too. I’ve never been much of a gambler, but I guess in Vegas I’m lucky. I have no clue why we always run so good here – maybe I just save all my luck for the race track.”

TAFC – GAINESVILLE REGIONAL 2019

Rained out before a wheel ever turned at what she thought was her season opener – the Central Regional in Belle Rose, La., where it rained so much there was never any reason to bother unloading the car – Annie Whiteley instead began her 2019 campaign with a thud at the Gainesville Regional, where, for just the second time in her entire career, she didn’t qualify.

At the wheel of a brand-new Yenko blue Camaro, the last Top Alcohol Funny Car legendary fabricator Brad Hadman will ever build, Whiteley never made it to 2nd gear in three qualifying attempts. “I’ll be honest,” she said. “We were all a little worried about this new car. After the second qualifying session, I started thinking, ‘This thing is going to give us fits…’ ”

With an aggregate best of 7.71 at 162 mph, Whiteley wound up dead last in the final lineup, 11th of 11 potential qualifiers. “It would make it just far enough that you’d think you were good,” she said, “and then it would take the tire off right before the gear change. We switched transmissions, but obviously it didn’t like that ratio, either.” When qualifying was over and she found herself in the unacceptable and completely unfamiliar role of non-qualifier instead of being No. 1, as she was five times in a row to open the 2018 season, Whiteley and crew made one last test run Sunday afternoon to prepare for next week’s Gatornationals. The result: a more-than-competitive 5.53 at 271 mph.

“We finished last season with [John] Lombardo’s old car after I went into the net at Dallas, but that was Lombardo’s car – not my car,” Whiteley said. “I never did feel right in there. This new car … I just liked the way I fit in it right away. The guys measured every little thing and had everything placed just the way I like it before I ever got in the car. I never even sat in it till just before the first test run, but everything was right, right away. If it runs anything like it did in testing, we should be fine this year.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2018

Annie Whiteley took her rightful place in the quickest, fastest Top Alcohol Funny Car field of all-time, but at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of so much success in years past, she was gone early. Driving the repurposed John Lombardo/Rick Jackson Camaro she’d strapped into for the first time a week earlier at the Vegas national, Whiteley ran a 5.52/267 and an even better 5.51/268 that surprisingly didn’t land her in the fast half of the field.

It took a run in the 5.40s to do that and an unbelievable 5.53 to make the record bump. Newly crowned world champ Sean Bellemeur, who entered the event on a five-race win streak, locking up the first perfect 10-win season since Frank Manzo’s glory days, failed to qualify, and perennial contender Doug Gordon nearly did. Whiteley’s 5.51 was good only for the No. 6 spot, which set up a first-round match with Lombardo, who’d run a 5.47 for No. 3.

“[Crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] was saying at Dallas that the car wasn’t running that great, wasn’t doing what it was supposed to,” Whiteley said. “He could tell that something in the ignition wasn’t right because he was putting in timing maps all weekend that have never worked before but that the computer told him to run. Turns out the spark plug wires weren’t right, so we weren’t making the power every other part of the tune-up told him we should be making. Every run, he’d say, ‘It should have run better than that,’ and he never says stuff like that.”

Strasburg and crew threw a new set of wires on it for eliminations and voilà – instant power. Only now, with the rest of the tune-up hopped up to compensate, the car made too much power, and Whiteley blew the tires off right at the swap, allowing Lombardo to survive with a run barely over 200 mph. His engine blew in a flash of flame, slowing him to a 5.73/202, but he still made it across the finish line well ahead of Whiteley’s coasting 12.67 at 85 mph. “That showed Mike that the power had been there all along,” Whiteley said. “We just couldn’t run what we should have been running because the wires were bad. This was one time we almost didn’t even mind losing a round because now we know the car will be right for Pomona.”

TAFC – GAINESVILLE REGIONAL 2017

In her first outing of the 2017 season (but not her car’s first), perennial championship contender Annie Whiteley was unceremoniously upset in the first round of Top Alcohol Funny Car eliminations by veteran Kris Hool after qualifying way up in the No. 2 spot.

At the Eastern Regional in Gainesville, Fla., one week before she would win the prestigious Gatornationals at the same facility, Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro inexplicably blew the tires off in low gear, costing her the race. “We have no idea why,” she said. “It was running perfect in qualifying, then in the first round, ‘poof‘ – up in smoke.”

Until that point, Whiteley was perfectly positioned for another win. Qualified No. 2, behind only Sweden’s Ulf Leanders, she ran an outstanding 5.502, missing the .40s by a mere three-thousandths of a second. Weeks earlier in mineshaft conditions at the Western Regional event in Phoenix, substitute driver Greg Hunter reestablished his career best seemingly every time down the track in the YNot Camaro with one solid run after another, including his first 5.40s.

“We got back to the pits after first round, and Mike and the guys were all scratching their heads,” Whiteley said of crew chief Mike Strasburg, a former national event champion in Top Alcohol Dragster. “There was no way they were trying to do anything except what they’d already been doing. That’s OK, though – that’s why they have the next race, right?”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2016

Annie Whiteley’s snake-bitten J&A Service/YNot team qualified in the fast half of the field for the 12th time in 13th starts this season, but for the third race in a row was out early with a disappointing first-round loss.

At the Toyota Nationals at her best track on the NHRA circuit, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where she won the first race of her career as a Top Alcohol Funny Car rookie in 2012, she fell to former Gatornationals winner Ulf Leanders in what, by the numbers, should have been the closest race of the first round.

They qualified eighth and ninth with matching 5.60s, Whiteley in the No. 8 spot with a 5.603 and Leanders No. 9 with a 5.606. Such matchups usually go to the driver with the better reaction time, which, in this case, was Whiteley, who bolted off the line first with one of her best lights of the season, an outstanding .039.

Leanders matched their qualifying times with another 5.60-flat, so Whiteley would have won with anything better than a 5.63, but she knocked the tires loose in low gear. Racing in the first pair of the first round, at the ungodly hour of 8:30 a.m., she recovered quickly and charged after him, but a 5.77 at just short of 260 mph left her J&A Service/YNot Camaro a few car lengths behind at the finish line.

By any metric, it was one of the toughest Top Alcohol Funny Car races ever held. It featured one of the biggest fields in years – 28 cars attempted to qualify – and one of the fastest, with a bump of 5.66 and former NHRA event winners in the first five alternate spots on the final qualifying ladder.

Whiteley stands seventh in the national standings, with two more races coming up at Las Vegas – the makeup of the rained-out West Region opener scheduled for April in the middle of the week while the SEMA show is going on 15 miles away, and the regularly scheduled West closer set for next weekend.

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2015

It won’t count toward the national championship because she’s already run the maximum number of regional events – five – but Annie Whiteley pounded out one good run after another at her favorite track, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, at the final regional event of the season. As always, it was the toughest regional event of the entire season; 17 cars attempted to qualify for one of just eight spots, and the bump was one of the quickest of all time, 5.63.

Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro held down the No. 1 spot in Top Alcohol Funny Car until the final pair of the final session with a 5.49. No. 2 in the field when eliminations began, she ripped of a consistent 5.51 to take out defending event champ Ulf Leanders, then slipped to a tire-shaking 5.79 in the semifinals and fell to friend and Grand Junction, Colo., neighbor Terry Ruckman, the former Division 7 champ.

“It shook pretty hard that time, and there wasn’t much I could do,” Whiteley said. “It didn’t hurt us points-wise, but you never want to lose – ever. It was still a good weekend, though. We learned a lot about running the car in cold conditions, and that’s going to do nothing but help us down the road.”

Now the YNot team’s focus shifts to this weekend’s NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. One point out of the lead – 626 to 625 – with one race to go, she’ll overtake Sweden’s Jonnie Lindberg by winning just one round of eliminations. “It’s all right there for us,” she said. “I don’t want to think about points or anything like that. I’m just going to try to make each run like it’s a qualifying run and take it one round at a time. We’ve run good all year. Now we just need to do it one more time.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2015

Hot off a convincing victory at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week, Annie Whiteley continued her mastery of the sprawling desert facility with her second straight and sixth career Vegas title.

For her third triumph at the West Regional, which she also won in 2012 (in just the fourth race of her Top Alcohol Funny Car career) and again in 2013, Whiteley wheeled the J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro to a final-round win over neighbor and friend Terry Ruckman, whom she defeated in the national event semifinals seven days earlier. Whiteley charged to a third straight run in the 5.60s at more than 260 mph, a 5.66 at 260.11, to score easily while Ruckman lost traction and coasted to a 7.18 at just 139.

After qualifying No. 2 behind John Lombardo with a 5.62/262.23, Whiteley stopped Doug Gordon in the first round of eliminations in a rematch of the SummitRacing.com Nationals final, 5.64/261 to 5.78/256. Then came the race that no one who saw it will ever forget.

While Whiteley was speeding to a consistent 5.64 and another Vegas final, Payne’s car got completely sideways in the first 50 feet, slammed into the Christmas Tree, flipped on its side, pitched the body off the chassis, and pointed itself back toward the starting line before the veteran driver was able to shut it off and avert further disaster.

With her second win in just three starts this season, Whiteley has shot all the way up to third in the national Top Alcohol Funny Car standings, behind only Jonnie Lindberg and Brian Hough. She’ll go for her eighth round-win and third event title in a row this weekend at the Spring Nationals in Houston, where last year she was runner-up.

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2014

Annie Whiteley still hasn’t been beaten at the final regional event of the 24-race Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, but instead of going 3-0 for another win at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, she went 0-0 this time – she didn’t qualify.

Whiteley, who won the event in both 2012 and 2013 (and swept the spring regionals there both years, too) missed the cut for just the second time in her entire career and the first time anywhere in nearly two years. Whiteley, whose only previous DNQ had come at the 2012 NHRA Finals at Pomona, was one of 20 drivers – including two from Sweden and one from Australia – who attempted to qualify at what annually is the toughest regional event in the country.

With a respectable 5.700, she was in the field with one qualifying session to go, but an up-in-smoke leave in that third session left her on the outside looking in when four other drivers bumped into the field. “It was just too much for the track,” said Whiteley, who smoked the tires and coasted to a 14.33. “We have an all-new clutch [designed by the Leanders Brothers, who eventually won the race], and when you change something as big as that, it takes a little time to get everything sorted out like the old setup was. Eventually, this new clutch is going to be better, and this is just something we have to go through to get where we want to be.”

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