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Artie Allen Feature (Gainesville event)
by Todd Veney
For former Division 2 Top Alcohol Dragster champ Artie Allen, this weekend's Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at Gainesville Raceway, his home track, is just the start.
The Jacksonville, Fla., driver, who edged Bill Evans for the 2008 Division 2 title, is about to embark on his most aggressive campaign in years. "I've never really chased points, and I ran only a few times last year, but this year, we're really going after it," says Allen, 46, an underground-utility contractor from Jacksonville, Fla. "I'll do maybe six national events, and I'm going to hit more regional events, too. Florida isn't the best place to be from with this new regional format, so we're going to run either the Division 1 tracks [East Region], or Division 3 [North Central Region], probably the Division 3 stuff."
It all starts this weekend in Gainesville, where Allen broke though for his first major win at the 2005 race, beating the eventual division champ that year, Guy Kelly, in the final. Allen backed up that victory with one later that year in Bradenton, Fla., also over Kelly.
"There were some big names running Division 2 back then - Ashley Force and Morgan Lucas," says Allen, whose best showing in national competition was a semifinal finish at the 2009 Gatornationals. Force and Lucas went on to be stars on the Full Throttle circuit, but they aren't the only "name" drivers Allen has had to contend with over the years.
The win that clinched the 2008 Division 2 championship came at the expense of current Top Fuel points leader Spencer Massey, who then was driving Gene Snow's A/Fueler. "I'll never forget it," Allen says. "It all came down to the semi's - one run for the championship - we both went up in smoke, and I had to pedal that thing probably eight times. If Spencer had taken me out, Bill Evans would have won the division. I got out of the car, and [former Division 2 Director] Bill Holt was sitting down there, and he told me, 'That's it. You got it.' "
Allen's lone event title in that championship season came at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta, Ga., over current nostalgia Funny Car great Peter Gallen. Allen has two career titles in a blown-alcohol car and two, including his 2006 triumph at Valdosta, in an A/Fuel car. He made the often difficult switch from a blown-alcohol combination to an injected-nitro setup five years ago. "I had to," Allen says. "I had a brand new Brad Hadman car and the best of everything, but 5.40s don't cut it when the guy in the other lane is running 5.20s with an A/Fuel car. But I've always liked the blown cars, and they're running a lot closer to the A/Fuel cars than they were a few years ago, so who knows?"
No matter what fuel is in the tank - alcohol or nitromethane - Allen loves to race. "There's nothing like drag racing. I've raced offshore boats, raced tunnel boats, raced on rivers, but nothing compares to the thrill I get out of drag racing," says Allen, who first drove a Top Alcohol Dragster in 1998. "I ran Super Comp before that, but I didn't like the transbrake and I didn't like the delay box. It was a steep learning curve at first, so we brought in Ora Vasquez in 1999 and 2000, and that was probably the best thing we ever did. I wish I could have moved him next door."
Allen and brother Chuck have gone on to make 12 final-round appearances, most recently at last year's Division 2 opener in Bradenton, where he fell to Al Moeser, who picked up his first career win that day. "It's been a lot of fun over the years, and I really think this year is going to be our best one yet. We're going to try harder than we ever have, and all our stuff's ready to go. We have new Stage 8 heads, a totally new combination, and we've really been picking away at it. Our goal is to get our first national event win and to finish in the top five in our region - whichever region that is."
Jim Whiteley feature (by Todd Veney)
photos courtesy Bob Wilson
If not for a few up-in-smoke runs at the most inopportune times, Jim Whiteley might be a two-time Top Alcohol Dragster world champion by now. Whiteley, who has finished in the top five in the NHRA national standings for four straight years, has been not just quick but consistently quick since the day tuning mastermind Norm Grimes, the hands-down best blown-alcohol crew chief of the past 15 years, joined his YNot Racing team.
Whiteley is the only driver in either alcohol category other than Bill Reichert, who won five consecutive Top Alcohol Dragster championships before finally being dethroned last year, and Frank Manzo, who has won the last five titles in Top Alcohol Funny Car, to finish in the top five in the national standings in each of the past four years. He was fourth in 2007, second to Reichert in 2008 and 2009, and third last year.
"We're never stellar, but we're consistent," Whiteley says, and he's half-right. He's the most recent winner on the NHRA tour, having wrapped up the 2011 season with a victory at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, where he qualified No. 2 with a 5.30 and ran between 5.29 and 5.31 in all four rounds.
Whiteley joins defending event and series champ Duane Shields, 2010 Winternationals winner Chris Demke, and known leaver Joey Severence - all top five drivers in 2011 - as an odds-on favorite to win this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals. With four victories in his last seven appearances at Pomona Raceway, including three in a row, and a crew chief who has five career titles at the Winternationals alone, maybe Whiteley is the favorite.
But it's not just Pomona. Whiteley reached at least the semifinals in 15 of 17 starts last year, racking up a 41-12 record with three national event victories (Houston, Brainerd, and the Finals) and three in divisional competition (Denver, Earlville, and Las Vegas). He was beaten in the first round just once, at the Brainerd divisional, where he was upset by Jared Dreher after qualifying No. 2.
"When you run that good in qualifying, you kind of think you'll do a little better than first-round loser," Whiteley says. "I knew at the time that it was going to come back to bite us, and it did - there and Tulsa, where we got beat in the semi's. We chased this car all year and finally started getting a better handle on it at the end of the season.
"I look back on each of those years that we were second and think, 'We should have won it all. We were just a round or two away,' " Whiteley says. "I'm sure that every driver who gets close to a championship but doesn't quite win it feels the same way. It was just one or two little mistakes every time, but that's all it takes. Everybody shakes or smokes the tires sometimes, but how many did we throw away? Very seldom do we get outrun. When we lose, it's usually from smoking the tires."
It sure isn't from crumbling under the pressure. Whiteley has appeared in 15 national event finals since 2007 event and has won 13 of them, falling only to upstart Jeff Isbell four years ago in Las Vegas and to Reichert last year in Chicago. "Norm is as good as they come at reading a race track," says Whiteley, 49. "He's a nervous wreck in the first round, but in the late rounds, it all just seems to come together for him. I think I'm better on the lights in the late rounds. I go through my little spells like everyone does, but I'm pretty good at controlling the pressure and not letting it get to me. I don't even think about being in the final, really. I just know that when it's time, I'm going to be there."
For Whiteley, there's just one thing left: a championship. Will he, like Reichert in 2006 and Shields last year, finally break through after beating on the door for years? "I sure hope so," says Whiteley, who will be joined on tour this year by wife Annie, who impressed in her Top Alcohol Funny Car debut last November at the Vegas divisional. "I've got to win at least one before I'm done with this sport. That's the way I've always looked at things, in my business and in everything in life. I won't say that this all will have been a waste if it never happens, but I know that my career definitely will be incomplete if it doesn't."
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