NHRA Sportsman at Las Vegas

NHRA sportsman results from Las Vegas

Champs Whiteley and Manzo go out in style

Reigning NHRA Lucas Oil Series national champions Jim Whiteley and Frank Manzo, who have said for months that this will be their last season, clinched championships with victories at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For YNot Racing’s Whiteley it was his second straight in Top Alcohol Dragster and Manzo’s eighth in a row and 17th overall in Top Alcohol Funny Car.

Jim Whiteley got his last trophy for Top Alcohol Dragster. His son, Steve, will drive the car next season and dad will move into a Pro Mod.

Whiteley and archrival Chris Demke (lead photo) finished 1-2 in last year's final standings, again in this year's standings, at Indy, at this race, and even in qualifying for this race, which was the only time Whiteley didn't come out on top. He was second to Demke, 5.29 to 5.30, but quicker in all four rounds, starting with a 5.28 (low ET.) against Las Vegas' Duane Shields in round one. Demke beat Jeff Ashwell in that round with a 5.32 and kept his deteriorating championship prospects alive with a 5.40 second-round win over Dan Mercier, who -- unbeknownst to Demke, who thought he got left on -- had red-lighted.

"There was only a remote chance anyway," Demke said. "I knew it was a slim-to-none-deal coming in." Whiteley's 5.32 win over Don St. Arnaud one pair later made official what to many was already a foregone conclusion.

With another championship secured and only a few runs left in his Alcohol Dragster career, Whiteley maintained his focus in the semifinals against Mark Taliaferro, 5.34 to 5.41, and especially in his latest final-round showdown with Demke. "Races like that are what it's all about," said Whiteley, who prevailed, 5.33 to 5.34. "Demke and those guys pushed us all year."

Demke's Operation Solutions/Peen Rite dragster ran a 5.36, 268 in a semifinal win over Ray Martin and picked up a couple of hundredths to a 5.34 at 269 in the final, matching Whiteley's semifinal numbers. Unfortunately for him, Whiteley picked up a hundredth from the semi's for an eight-foot margin in the lights. "I couldn't see him the whole way down and thought there was a chance, but we're going home with our tails between our legs again," said Demke, who has two wins in seven career finals against Whiteley. "But it's still been a great rivalry."