TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL
In her 17th and final start of 2019, Annie Whiteley won her third race of the season to lock down yet another Top 5 finish in the NHRA national standings. The J&A Service/YNot Racing driver established top speed of the meet, as usual, and came out on top of one of the toughest fields in Top Alcohol Funny Car history with her sixth career final-round appearance at the fabulous Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and sixth win.
“I don’t know what it is about this track,” she said. “I always say that, I know, but there’s just something about this place and Sonoma.” Qualifying began with a thud when she blew the tires off, but, after a subsequent 5.52 at 268.60 mph (top speed of the meet to that point) run, she entered eliminations fifth on the final grid, paired against a driver who has more lifetime appearances than anyone in alcohol racing history (even Frank Manzo): Jay Payne. He clocked a 5.523 on his final attempt to move around Whiteley by one spot, but that just meant that he had lane choice – they were already 4 and 5 and destined to meet anyway.
When the Tree flashed, Whiteley was out first and made the third-quickest run of the entire weekend, a 5.500 at 269.67 mph (top speed of the meet) to hold off his right-there 5.56. That set up a semifinal match with the most feared driver in Top Alcohol Funny Car, back-to-back world champ Sean Bellemeur, who was sidelined by, of all things, a stuck throttle on the burnout. “I was just putting it into reverse when I heard this weird revving sound as he went by me,” she said. “He kept rolling down there and it hit me: ‘We just won the semi’s – we’re in the final.’ ” The resultant bye couldn’t have come at a more opportune time – after the .50-flat in the first round and another .50-something run in the final, she blew the tires off at the hit and coasted across the finish line at a speed that wouldn’t have gotten her a speeding ticket out on I-15, 74 mph.
In the final against Brian Hough, who’ll finish second in the championship standings this year, Whiteley blasted off the line right on time and came out on top in a close race, 5.54 to 5.56. “I told myself, ‘Relax, relax, relax,’ before I went up there, and I did,” she said, “I thought, ‘You know you can do it, so just do it.’ My clutch pedal is fixed now, and I am too. I’ve never been much of a gambler, but I guess in Vegas I’m lucky. I have no clue why we always run so good here – maybe I just save all my luck for the race track.”