Mon, 09 Dec 2013, 09:46 AM
It Was A Great Ride
By Bob Frey
Over the years there have been several drag racers who got hot, really hot over a short period of
time. They would win a round and then a race and then they would win again. Sometimes it seemed
like they were getting lucky, but after a while everyone knew they were watching something special.
Bob Glidden certainly did it and so did Bill Jenkins. Brad Anderson and Ken Veney ran roughshod
over their particular classes for a while and so did that other guy, what's his name, oh yeah,
Frank Manzo. Even Warren Johnson put together a couple of pretty good years and that's putting it
mildly. There are certainly others, but when you consider all the racers who have ever competed on
the national event level it really is a very select group of racers who dominated a year, a class
or a series, and even fewer who put together big numbers in a relatively short period of time. Jim
Whiteley is in that group, as a matter of fact, after what he did the past few years he may be at
the head of the group.
In years gone by there were always some great matchups in the alky classes, races that featured two
really good teams. Races between Jay Payne and Chuck Baird, Tom Conway and Blaine Johnson or Bill
Reichert and Duane Shields come to mind, but it's been a while since we had a pair bring as much
excitement to the class as the meetings between Jim Whiteley and Chris Demke over the past few
seasons. The two, polar opposites in personality, always seemed to bring out the best in each other
and they certainly did during Jim's two championship seasons, 2012 and 2013, seasons that saw Chris
finish second both times. "It was always fun racing them," Jim said. "That's why you do this, so
you can race against the best and they were. I think it made both of our teams better." The two
faced each other eighteen times with Jim winning thirteen of the matches including five of the
seven final rounds where they met including that unforgettable final in Seattle in 2012. And as far
as that "making both of our teams better" I don't know how much better Jim's team could have been,
because in the past eight years, and over a span of just sixty-six races, he won a total of 151
rounds, went to thirty final rounds and won twenty-three of them. If you don't mind me saying it,
that's the stuff that legends are made of, and all of that came after he crashed in just his fourth
national event in the car.
Jim has not only been successful at racing he has also been very successful in his business
ventures, Advanced Oilfield Services and J & A Services, and he has used the same philosophy in
both endeavors. "To be good at anything you have to surround yourself with good people," he said.
"I had a great group working on my dragster and I was just the lucky guy who got to drive it and
who got his name in the headlines, but believe me, without them I couldn't have done it." Included
on his team were crew chief Norm Grimes, John Layfield, Dirk Olsen, Jeff Perley, Donnie Pulliam,
Robert Jonsson, Dave Weelie and Peter Muravez. Even though Jim owned the car if you want to know
who really called the shots on the team just ask Jim about the final round in Pomona, a round where
he smoked the tires and lost to Johnny Ahten. "I told Norm that I wanted to go fast because I think
we could have gone over 278 miles per hour. He told me that he just wanted to win the race and I
responded that I wanted to learn something. He just looked at me and said 'Why, you're going away
next year' and that was it."
Annie and Jim Whiteley
both celebrate their wins
Division 7 race in Las Vegas.
Photo copyright 2013 Bob Johnson Photography
There are several reasons for Jim's decision to retire and the main one is family. "I want to be
able to spend more time watching (his wife) Annie race and I want to help my son, Stephen, too."
Annie, who had a great year in the alky Funny Car class, will return to run a full schedule in 2014
while Stephen will hit the road and compete in the Pro Mod class. "Annie had a great car this year
and she made almost thirty runs in a row without shaking the tires and that's not easy to do in a
Funny Car. I'm so proud of what that entire team has done. Stephen will run all of the Pro Mod
races and I'll be at five or six with the torque-converter car," Jim said. "Annie has been so
supportive of me and now I want to do the same for her." He went on to say that as great as winning
the championship was the times that he got to share the winner's circle with Annie were extra
special. "I wasn't able to do it at the national event but we did it several times at the
divisional races and that was really a highlight for me." And even though they never won the same
national event Jim said that when Annie won her first national race in Chicago it cemented his
decision to retire. "I had been thinking about it for a while and when she won I said right there
that's it, I'm done doing this full time." He also said that a vision problem which had been
affecting his driving was also a factor. "I had a condition that made it tough for me to hit the
shift points and do my job as well as I should. It's not something they can fix with glasses so I'm
having it looked at now and we'll see what can be done in the future."
Even though Jim won't be driving in the dragster class next year his presence will still be felt.
"My crew chief, Norm, is going to be working with Mark Taliaferro so that will be a good team. Mike
Strasburg, who has been a friend of the family for a while, will drive my old car at six or eight
races and we think that should be fun, too. Plus I'm going to help Joey Severance out with his
engine program a bit so that should make things very interesting on the West Coast in the class
The good news for drag racing fans is the fact that Jim will still be at the races, and like the
alky Funny Car class there will be a new champion next year. The bad news for the Pro Mod class is
that he will bring that same competitive spirit and intensity that won two championships to a new
group which will make the 2014 Pro Mod races better than ever. "I've driven the car several times
and we went to Salt Lake City and set the track record. It's funny but you really drive a Pro Mod
car like a dragster, that is, you don't want to over-steer it down track or you will get in
trouble. I'm looking forward to the challenge but I'm really looking forward to seeing how Stephen
does and to seeing if we can't win a championship for Annie." When you have a track record as good
as the one Jim has it's probably not a matter of "if" Annie can win, but "when" she will win. As
far as Jim is concerned he leaves behind one of the great legacies in the history of the Top
Alcohol Dragster class, one that will be tough for any other team to beat for a long while.
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