Annie Whiteley pounded out some of her best runs in years en route to a respectable quarterfinal finish at the NHRA Winternationals, which, this year, wasn’t actually run in the winter. At would more accurately have been termed the “Springnationals,” the six-time national event champion laid down a 5.45 in qualifying, improved to a 5.44, and knocked off Nick Januik before falling in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Shane Westerfield.
Whiteley, whose lone final-round appearance at Pomona came at the 2017 World Finals, where she was runner-up to John Lombardo, began eliminations from the lofty No. 2 qualifying position, behind only world champ Doug Gordon, who ran a mere two-thousandths of a second quicker than her 5.441 with a 5.439.
Pitted against former national event winner Januik in the first pair of the first round, Whiteley advanced easily with one of the quickest and fastest runs of the entire weekend, a 5.460 at 267.27 mph. Januik blew the tires off early and was left in the dust with a shut-off 11-second time.
Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro launched just as hard in the quarterfinals against the notoriously quick-leaving Westerfield, who was driving the late Rick Jackson’s car for possibly the final time. She left right with the 2017 world champ, but in the middle of the course the car hunted around, straying perilously close to the centerline and stubbornly camping out there until she finally lifted.
“It shook the tires, I pedaled, and here came the centerline,” Whiteley said. “I pedaled it again, but it went right back over there. I kept bringing it back but it just kept going to the right, and finally I just said, ‘Nope, that’s enough,’ and shut off. It’s too bad, too – the car was trying to run good all weekend.” It was doubly bad, actually: the winner of that round had a bye to the final.