NHRA Sportsman classes at U.S. Nationals

NHRA Sportsman classes at U.S. Nationals

 

Reigning NHRA Lucas Oil Series national champions Jim Whiteley and Frank Manzo ruled the most prestigious race of any season, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend, Whiteley in Top Alcohol Dragster and Manzo in Top Alcohol Funny Car.

Jim Whiteley  (Richard Muir photo)

In the Top Alcohol Dragster final, Whiteley beat Chris Demke, the No. 2 driver in the nation behind him last season, the No. 2 driver behind him in points this season, and No. 1 qualifier for this race, 5.35 to 5.37.

"That was a lot of pressure," Whiteley said. "Winning Indy is something I really wanted to get done before I stop racing in Alcohol Dragster, and points-wise, this is just huge."

With the final-round victory, he passed Demke to take the lead in the national championship by less than one round, 668 points to 649.

"I really wanted that one," Demke said. "The first time this team came back here, in 1998, when Darren Nicholson was driving and I was on the crew, we won, and we almost won it the next year, too."

Demke had a solid reaction time, .041, but Whiteley's was even quicker at .025, his best of the event.

"We'd been in the left lane all day, but when he outran us in the semi's, I knew we'd be over in the right for the final, and I just didn't want to give it away by shaking the tires because we almost did in the semi's," Demke said.

Whiteley, who was knocked down to No. 2 in the final qualifying session when Demke stepped up to a 5.33, was unerringly consistent throughout eliminations, with winning times of 5.33 over Paul Fishburn, 5.32 over Randy Meyer, and 5.34 in the semi's against Aaron Olivarez. Demke was just a few ticks behind in every round, with a 5.42 against Dave Heitzman, 5.33 against Rich McPhillips, and 5.36 in the semifinals against 2010 U.S. Nationals runner-up Shawn Cowie.

"I always get up to race Chris," Whiteley said. "It was a great race – when we run each other, it usually is – and to me, it was just what it should have been. The final round of the U.S. Nationals ought to be side-by-side with both cars running great. This is just about the biggest win I've ever had. The only one I ever liked more was in Topeka [in 2009] against Tom Conway in the final."

In Top Alcohol Funny Car, as in Top Alcohol Dragster, eliminations distilled into a match between the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers. “Ace” Manzo, who never ran slower than 5.63 all weekend, got the jump on Annie Whiteley (Jim’s wife), who hadn't run slower than 5.61, and maintained the lead for a tight 5.56 to 5.57 win.