TAFC – CHICAGO
Coming off low e.t. and top speed of the meet in Route 66 Nationals qualifying (5.48/270.20) and a semifinal showing in the prestigious Jegs All Stars race, six-time national event winner Annie Whiteley got a bad draw for first round: five-time national event winner Andy Bohl – not your typical No. 16 qualifier. Bohl, making his first start in a Camaro purchased from 2018 championship team owner Tony Bartone, anchored easily the toughest field of the 2019 Top Alcohol Funny Car season – 17 cars, all 17 of which have run in the 5.50s at least.
Racing under the lights Saturday night in the first pair of the first round, Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Yenko Camaro and Bohl’s Howards Cams entry shot off the line as one. Whiteley sprinted to a two-car-length lead while Bohl, beset with traction problems in low gear as he had been all weekend, fell back. Whiteley charged to a smooth 5.51 at 269 mph for the win while Bohl’s car made an abrupt left turn at the 2-3 shift, plowing into the wall at a disturbingly direct angle and, when the left rear tire went down, sliding upside down in a shower of sparks into the opposite-lane barrier before ramming nearly head-on into the wall back in his own lane and erupting in flames. He leapt out the escape hatch and clambered over the wall to safety while Whiteley, oblivious to the fiery crash behind her, coasted uneventfully to a stop, wondering what was taking the NHRA Safety Safari so long to escort her off the top end.
“I sat there for forever, and when they finally pushed me off the track, [crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] ripped the hatch open and asked if I was OK,” Whiteley said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about, and it was a good 10 minutes before he got around to telling me what we ran, and then it all started to make sense. After I saw the video of Andy’s crash, the first thing I thought was, ‘That’s exactly what [husband] Jim [Whiteley]’s crash at Pomona in 2007 looked like’ – sideways into the left wall, then into the right wall, then back into the left wall.’ ”
It started raining before NHRA officials could clear the wreckage, and the remainder of the round was postponed. When racing resumed Sunday morning, Whiteley was victimized by Kris Hool’s lethal .024 reaction time and dropped a tough second-round match to the Wyoming driver, 5.52/264.29 to 5.49 271.68 (top speed of the meet). “We’re fighting something in the clutch right now,” she said. “It wasn’t responding like it normally does – the travel to get it to engage was way more than it should’ve been. What would ever cause it to change that much I have no idea, but instead of moving the pedal an inch to get the car to roll, it was like three inches. I’m just glad the car ran well and glad Andy’s OK.”