Tag: Top Alcohol Funny Car

TAFC – TOPEKA 2017

With a runner-up to John Lombardo, who had never beaten her in national event competition, Annie Whiteley just missed a third win and second national event title early this season. At the Heartland Nationals at sprawling Heartland Park Topeka, where she had laid down multiple 5.40s and some of her best reaction times of the season, she went up in smoke off the line in the final and lost to Lombardo’s sub-par 6.26.

Whiteley took the lead for about 15 feet in the final with a clutch .047 reaction time, then went up in smoke, pedaled until the car was such a bucking bronco that there was no point in continuing, and coasted to a 9.22 at 111 mph. To compound the frustration, Lombardo, who earlier had made the third-best run in class history, 5.398, was pedaling for his life in the other lane, eventually recovering to win with an E.T. that would lose virtually any round at any race all year.

It was a disappointing end to what had been a great weekend. Whiteley and the YNot team reached the final round for the third time in 2017 by knocking off top-ranked Shane Westerfield in the semifinals in one of the closest races of all time. “Shane’s about the last guy I’d ever want to race,” Whiteley said of Top Alcohol Funny Car’s top-ranked driver. “He leaves on everybody. When he wasn’t already ahead of me, I actually thought, ‘I must have had a decent light – I don’t see him’ somewhere in low gear. I heard how close it was later but I never saw him the rest of the way.”

Westerfield was right there, falling to Whiteley’s 5.47 at 269 mph with a 5.44 at 272. Margin of victory: .0002 (1/5000 of a second). It was even tighter than her .0019-second MOV over Lombardo in the Gainesville semi’s that ended up being even more important than this round was, a rare two-for-one: as the winner, she got a single for the Gatornationals title when opponent Dan Pomponio was unable to return from a blown engine in the other semi.

Whiteley, who ended up No. 3 in rain-shortened qualifying with a 5.48/270 and erased Brian Hough in the quarterfinals with an outstanding 5.43/273, was grateful to still be around after the first round. Granted a first-round bye when Jeff Jones was unable to return after destroying an engine on an explosive, fiery qualifying run, she suffered some engine damage of her own, blowing up well before half-track and coasting to a 7.65 at 104 mph. “We had to change everything,” she said. “We didn’t end up winning, but the guys fixed everything and had the car running better on Sunday than it already was.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 1 2016

The West Regional at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – a track and an event Annie Whiteley has dominated since her rookie season in 2012 – ended in disappointment for Whiteley’s Colorado-based J&A Service/YNot team. Originally slated for Apr. 8-10 but completely washed out, the rain date was contested in the middle of the week between the Toyota Nationals at Las Vegas and the originally scheduled season-ending regional the following weekend.

Whiteley had been one of just three drivers to qualify with a run in the 5.50s back in April, a 5.59 at 263.05 mph that left her behind only No. 1 qualifier John Lombardo (5.54) and former world champ Tony Barone (5.58). The bump was a 5.67, making this one of the quickest fields in Top Alcohol Funny Car history, and three drivers – Jay Payne, Greg Hunter, and Bill Bernard – DNQed despite running in the 5.60s.

Eliminations figured to be tough – all eight qualifiers are multiple national event winners, as were two of the alternates – and they absolutely were. Whiteley was paired against her recent nemesis, many-time division champ Steve Gasparrelli, who benefited greatly from the rain delay and ran a 5.56 in pre-race testing.

On race day, Gasparrelli’s engine went away around half-track, and he faded to a 6.10 at just 158 mph. After a solid .062 reaction time, Whiteley marched to a straight-as-a-string 5.55 at 267.64 mph – top speed of the round – to win easily. She was on an even stronger run in the semifinals until her engine let go a few hundred feet short of the finish line, slowing her to a 5.60-flat at just 232 mph and letting Terry Ruckman, who swept both national events in Las Vegas this year, to slip around her for a close win.

Whiteley and the YNot team won’t have to wait long for a shot at redemption, however – the regularly scheduled season-ending regional event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway begins in two days.

LAS VEGAS NATIONAL 2016

At the Denso NHRA Nationals, Annie Whiteley didn’t do what she has so many times before at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – win – but she did take a big step in the right direction after the first-round loss at the Phoenix season-opener. Whiteley, the defending Top Alcohol Funny Car champion at this event, pounded out solid runs in two of three qualifying sessions, including a 5.58 at nearly 265 mph, her best run of the season, en route to a quarterfinal finish.

“Let’s just say it was an extremely tricky track,” said Whiteley, whose YNot Racing/J&A Service team was one of just two top-half qualifiers to survive the wild, wide-open first round. “When that many people struggle to figure out the track in the same round, you know something’s up.” No. 1 qualifier John Lombardo, No. 2 qualifier and many-time Las Vegas winner Tony Bartone, and No. 3 qualifier and national points leader Doug Gordon all were gone after one round, with Bartone’s backpedaling 5.82 the best run of the bunch. Whiteley, who qualified No. 4, backpedaled to a 6.20 to hold off Chris Marshall, who had upset her in the first round of eliminations here last fall.

Whiteley was off the line first with one of the best reaction times of her career, a near-perfect .004, and got the car under control enough to pull away from Marshall’s all-over-the-track 6.37/238 with a 6.20/252. “It spun the tires early, but I didn’t know where he was,” she said. “You have to be quite a way behind to see the other car, and I never did see him, so just I kept trying.”

She had no such luck in Sunday’s second round of eliminations against eventual winner Terry Ruckman, the only other driver from the fast half of the field (No. 5) to make it out of the first round. While Whiteley fought to keep her car off the wall, Ruckman was long gone with a 5.58, his best run of the weekend and low e.t. of eliminations. Whiteley steered back into the groove, chased him down until there was no way she could catch him even if he broke, and coasted to a 6.18 at 217 mph.

“Nobody wants to lose, but Terry’s a good guy and he’d never won a national event before,” said Whiteley, who hails from the same hometown as Ruckman, Grand Junction, Colo. “All in all, it was a decent weekend. We figured out a few things with the car and my reaction times. The whole team has been working to figure out something for my lights, and I think we got it. We kept repositioning my [throttle] pedal and repositioning it, and I’m a lot more comfortable now. I don’t have to bury my foot against the can anymore, it just feels a lot better, and that has me kind of excited about the rest of the season.”

TAFC – DENVER 2015

With a third final-round appearance in her last four races, Annie Whiteley, who had swept the Las Vegas regional and national events on back-to-back weekends, kept her bid for a Top Alcohol Funny Car national championship very much alive.

Back on the mountainside at her home track, picturesque Bandimere Speedway, Whiteley outran everybody in qualifying, which was saying a lot at this race – two-thirds of the drivers in the field were former national event winners. She qualified No. 1 with an off-the-trailer 5.80, and it’s a good thing she did – there were just two qualifying sessions, and her YNot Racing/J&A Service Camaro had to be pushed off the starting line after the burnout on her second attempt.

In the first round of eliminations, opposite Nick Januik in a matchup of the last two spring Vegas winners, Whiteley charged to low e.t. of the meet to that point, won handily, 5.76 to 5.92, and earned the semifinal bye. A consistent 5.81 on that run seemed to set her up well for the final against Lombardo, who was right there with a 5.77, but when the light turned green in the final, all hell broke loose in both lanes.

Whiteley went right up in smoke, but so did Lombardo, and the race was on. Any other up-on-smoke pass in her entire career would have meant an easy win for Lombardo, but she made him work for this one.

“I learned something that time,” she said. “I’ve always been told that if the car shakes, just stay out of it. And I always have. But that time…I don’t know. I guess that little competitive edge that you have inside you kicks in and you feel like you’ve got to keep trying because you’re in the final. So I got back on it.”

Whiteley got the car calmed down, tromped back down on the throttle and legged it to the finish line for an 8.04 at 211 mph, but Lombardo got there first with a 7.48 at just 160 mph. “That’s OK,” she said. “I learned something. I did something I didn’t know I could do. And this year’s already been a lot better than last year.”

TAFC – HOUSTON 2015

She may not have won, as she did on back-to-back weekends earlier this month at the national and regional events in Las Vegas, but Annie Whiteley didn’t leave Houston’s Royal Purple Raceway empty-handed. Driving the J&A Service/YNot Racing Top Alcohol Funny Car, she set low e.t. of the meet in eliminations with a 5.53 and top speed of the meet during qualifying with a 266.85-mph blast, the fastest run of her four-year career.

Currently fourth in NHRA national points, just a round out of second place despite running fewer races than the drivers ahead of her in the standings, Whiteley grew increasingly quicker throughout qualifying with an opening 5.614 at 264.29 mph followed by a 5.595/264.03 and a 5.581/266.85. “Up until the second round, the car was running great,” said Whiteley, who ran at least 2 mph faster on all three qualifying passes than she’d ever gone before this race.

After dispatching former U.S. Nationals winner Chris Foster in the quickest side-by-side race of the opening round, 5.53 to 5.59, Whiteley dropped a weird second-round match with Sweden’s Ulf Leanders, the eventual runner-up. “The car shook the tires about 200 feet off the starting line and at first we couldn’t figure out why,” said Whiteley, who was runner-up at Houston last year. “The computer graph was odd. It shouldn’t have done anything different on that run because the way the car was running, we hadn’t really made any changes.”

A post-race analysis of video from that run revealed the culprit: liquid spraying up from one of the rear tires. “It looked like I was pushing puddles, like there was water on the track or something,” Whiteley said. “We refired the car in the pits, and it was making a puddle under one of the headers because the inner tube was cracked.”

The Spring Nationals, Whiteley’s third race in three weeks, will be her last for nearly two months, and she heads for the sidelines having won 80 percent of her rounds so far this year, tops in Top Alcohol Funny Car. Next up: the Central Regional at Bandimere Speedway just outside Denver, the YNot team’s home track, June 19-21.

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