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TAFC – POMONA 2016

It wasn’t epic like 2015, when she led the national standings for months and remained in championship contention right down to the last day of the season, but 2016 ended up another solid season for Annie Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team.

At the NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., Whiteley wrapped up a half-decade of Alcohol Funny Car competition with a winning record for the fourth time in five years and a fourth Top 10 finish in the national standings.

Whiteley qualified ninth in the fastest field in history with an outstanding 5.52 at more than 270 mph – a time that would have been good for the fast half of the field at any other race, ever – but got a tough first-round draw, nemesis Shane Westerfield, who was even quicker with a 5.50. Both passes came in the opening qualifying session, putting them 1-2 on the provisional grid before both were knocked down seven spots to the exact middle of the field in subsequent qualifying sessions.

Racing in the first pair of the first round as Nos. 8 and 9 qualifiers often do, Westerfield won by matching his qualifying time with another 5.50-flat. Whiteley left hard but slowed on the top end, coasting across the finish line with a smoky 5.88 at just 190 mph.

Whiteley and the J&A Service/YNot team head into the offseason with yet another Top 10 finish (8th), another winning record, 16-15 (.516), and three final-round appearances – one at a divisional event (Woodburn) and the other two at back-to-back national events, Brainerd and Indy.

TAFC – WOODBURN 2016

By the smallest possible margin – a thousandth of a second – Annie Whiteley missed her first victory of the 2016 season. At Woodburn Dragstrip just outside Portland, Ore., where Whiteley won and was runner-up in two appearances there last season, she fell to lightning-quick Terry Ruckman in the final, 5.54 to a slightly quicker 5.52, despite a better-than-average .077 reaction time.

“Ruckman is good on the Tree – always has been,” Whiteley said of her Grand Junction, Colo., neighbor, who also won the semifinals on a holeshot. “It was still a good weekend. A runner-up isn’t a win, but we still did good.”

Whiteley qualified third at what traditionally is one of the toughest eight-car Top Alcohol Funny Car fields in the country. It took a mid-5.50 to get into the top half of the show, and the bump was one car from being an all-time regional series record. Woodburn has always been a great alcohol track – it’s run by reigning Top Alcohol Dragster world champ Joey Severance, who leads the 2016 standings and won this race for the fourth year in a row.

The J&A Service YNot Racing team ran a 5.54, which put them behind only Jirka Kaplan, who ran a career-best 5.49 for the No. 1 spot and Doug Gordon, who clocked a 5.50-flat for No. 2. Whiteley made her best run of the event, a 5.50 at just short of 269 mph, to erase Sean Bellemeur’s 5.80 in the first round of eliminations and a consistent 5.52 to drop Gordon’s 5.56 in the semi’s.

“The car’s responding to what Mike’s doing again,” she said, referring to crew chief Mike Strasburg. “At the beginning of the year, they found something that made the car haul ass and really thought they were on to something, but it wasn’t a consistent setup because it didn’t respond to little changes to you have to make as the track changes. This is good run after good run for two races in a row, so I think we’re finally back to where we were.”

Back into the Top 10 in the national standings, ninth overall with more than half of her points-earning races yet to claim, Whiteley next races at Brainerd, Minn. where in 2013 she made her first final-round appearance at a national event, and then the big one, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, where she’s been runner-up in two of the past three years.

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