For once at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Top Alcohol Funny Car veteran Annie Whiteley, a winner there in her rookie season of 2012 and in ’13 (at both regionals – spring and fall), ’15, and ’19, went out early. Following a surprising first-round defeat here last week at the Four-Wide Las Vegas Nationals, she was swept out of the race in the opening round for the second week in a row.
Whiteley didn’t make into the field until the last of three qualifying sessions with a 5.56 at 256 mph that positioned her well up toward the top in the No. 3 spot. She and everyone else lagged behind reigning world champion Doug Gordon, jam-packed from No. 2 (a 5.55 by three-time world champ Sean Bellemeur) to No. 8, the 5.63 of bubble qualifier Hunter Jones.
Though Whiteley, a 17-time winner in Lucas Oil Regional competition, held lane choice and a slight performance advantage, she was thwarted once again by recent nemesis Ray Martin, who had upset her in the Phoenix semifinals en route to his first victory in six years. (He and Whiteley have something in common: both are among the very, very few Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers ever to claim their first win in their first start.)
But while Whiteley has gone on to dozens of regional and national event titles since that 2012 breakthrough, Martin remained winless from the time he won the 2017 Gainesville Eastern Region opener until two months ago in Phoenix. Whiteley got the J&A Service/YNot “Shattered Glass” Camaro off the line in good shape with a .072 reaction time but dropped out around the 60-foot clocks with a shutoff 10.64. “Stupid tire shake,” she said. Martin was grateful to advance with a 5.66 – a full tenth of a second behind her qualifying time.