TAFC – HOUSTON
Picking up right where she left off in an utterly dominant victory four days earlier at the rain-soaked Dallas regional, Annie Whiteley stormed to a 5.52 under overcast skies in the opening session of SpringNationals qualifying to claim the provisional pole by a mile. An even better 5.50-flat Friday afternoon set her up in the No. 2 position on the final grid behind eventual final-round opponent Brian Hough, who took the top spot with a 5.48 and held it for good when last-shot qualifying Saturday afternoon was completely washed out.
Whiteley’s J&A Service YNot team, led by crew chief Mike Strasburg, stepped up dramatically in the first round of eliminations to a 5.45 at 272.17 mph (top speed of the meet) to dispatch overmatched Aryan Rochon. A similar 5.48 at more than 271 mph in the semi’s was enough to wipe out many-time divisional and regional champ Kirk Williams, who trailed her across the finish line by about a car length with a competitive 5.55/259 after upsetting Jay Payne, one of the most prolific drivers of all time in both Top Alcohol Funny Car and Top Alcohol Dragster.
In the final round against Hough, who had only beaten her once in four previous encounters, Whiteley blew the tires off right when anything close to either of her qualifying times or either of her winning eliminations runs would have been more than enough to win. “I was in trouble by 60 feet,” she said, clearly dejected. “I tried to pedal, but it wasn’t having it. If he would’ve blown our doors off with another 5.40, that’d be one thing. But a 5.70 to win the final? That’s a little tough to take. I mean, even a 5.60-something would’ve been enough. We hopped it up a little for that run because it looked like the track could hold more than a 5.48, and the way he’d been running, we thought we were going to need it. Maybe we just got a little greedy.”