Story continues below this advertisement
Armed with about 35 runs of experience, Whiteley made her debut last November at the Lucas Oil Series divisional event in Las Vegas. All she did was qualify No. 1 on her first run, half a tenth ahead of a field that included six national event winners. She eventually landed in the fifth spot and lost to eventual winner John Lombardo in the opening round.
Until that weekend, she'd never driven a Funny Car with someone beside her. "We tested there the day before the event, and Clint Thompson said he'd run beside me," she says. "I kind of roll up to my stage rpm, and I didn't want to make anybody wait too long or burn anybody down. Shane Westerfield and Clint and Lombardo told me they'd they 'bark' their motor to let me know they were ready, and everything worked out."
In her national event debut at the Winternationals, Whiteley qualified a solid fourth with a career-best 5.61 but again drew the eventual winner (Daniel Oliver) in round one. She was on an even better run, her first 5.50-something, but when the car drifted toward the centerline, she wisely shut off.
"We found out that the rollout between the right tire and the left was off by three-fourths of an inch," Whiteley says. "Once it shakes the tires and I lose vision, I'm done. I told the crew that I don't want to lose rounds for you, but before I get in trouble, I'm going to lift. I'll probably never be a real aggressive driver."
Whether that success continues remains to be seen, but her goals are aggressive. "Jim never puts any pressure on me, and neither does anybody else, but my goals for this year are to win a national event and a regional event. My crew doesn't think that's high enough. They're like, 'That's it?' But I think it's a lot. Look at Alexis DeJoria. It took her years to win a national event. Most people never win one, but that's what we're shooting for.