2016 NHRA Rookie of the Year Cory Reed paced the field early in qualifying for the Route 66 Nationals in Chicago before ultimately bowing out in the first round of eliminations. Reed, teammate of three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Angelle Sampey, wheeled his Team Liberty Victory machine to a speedy 6.96 at just short of 190 mph off the trailer to assume the top spot.
Reed and crew chiefs Ken Johnson and Chris Rivas maintained their consistency in the second session with a similar 6.97 at just 185 mph. Under different atmospheric conditions Saturday afternoon in the third of four qualifying sessions, Reed managed an incredibly consistent 6.97 at his best speed of the weekend, 190.62 mph, and followed with a steady 7-flat at 189 that evening.
Eliminations ended early when Reed, one of the quickest-reacting drivers in drag racing, was too quick for his own good. By less than one-hundredth of a second he fouled in the opening round of eliminations against recent nemesis L.E. Tonglet, who absolutely dominated the first half of the season, winning more races than all other riders combined.
“It didn’t even matter – no way I could have beaten him that time no matter what my reaction time,” said Reed of his -.009 red-light start. Tonglet, who also won the Chicago event in 2010, when he won the NHRA championship, and again in 2011, marched to a 6.830 at 196.36, crossing the finish line ahead of Reed even despite Reed’s ill-gotten early lead. “We’ll keep working at it and working at it and one of these days I won’t need to try to cut it so close on the Tree.”
At the site of her first career NHRA national event title in 2014, Annie Whiteley drove to the semifinals of the Allstars race and the quarterfinals of the Route 66 Nationals. At Route 66 Raceway just outside Chicago, Whiteley qualified No. 3 with a blistering 5.49 and never ran slower than a 5.52 in eliminations for either race, moving to within two rounds of the Top 10 in the national standings despite having run fewer races than most of her competitors.
Whiteley’s Mike Strasburg-tuned J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro opened with a solid 5.63 at 263 mph in the first qualifying session and got only stronger from there, picking up to a 5.57 at 266 for the provisional No. 4 position in the late Friday session and ultimately to a 5.49 at 267 mph early Saturday for the No. 3 spot on the final grid.
That 5.49 couldn’t have come at a better time – the final qualifying session for the Route 66 Nationals was actually the first round of the prestigious Jegs Allstars race, which pits the top two drivers from each of NHRA’s four geographic regions against each other on an eight-car ladder comprised of the best of the best.
The 5.49 wiped out East Coast contender Dan Pomponio’s distant 5.79, and an equally outstanding 5.52 at 267 mph in the Allstars semifinals left her just short of a 5.50-flat at 270 mph by Shane Westerfield, who went on to sweep both the Allstars and the Route 66 Nationals.
Whiteley stomped former national event champion Ulf Leanders of Sweden in the first round of the Route 66 Nationals with another 5.49 but came out on the wrong end of a tight race to Doug Gordon in the quarterfinals, 5.53 to 5.50. Next up is the first of two regionals at Woodburn Dragstrip, just outside Portland, Ore., where last year Whiteley won once and was runner-up at the other one.