ENNIS, Texas --
With increasingly quicker reaction times, Westerfield left on everybody he faced and reeled off one low-5.50 after another, highlighted by a 5.55 to 5.58 final-round decision over Manzo, whose last runner-up was 43 finals ago at the 2006 Winternationals. "That's about the best weekend anybody could have - not because I won but because I ended his streak," Westerfield said. "That's all anybody wanted to talk about."
Manzo had a solid .059 reaction time, but Westerfield, who is getting married next weekend, was even quicker with a .051 and fought his car off the centerline in low gear. "It went right almost immediately," he said. "I thought, 'I might end up hitting something, but no way am I lifting or short-shifting this one.' Just as I was getting really close to the centerline, the shift light finally came on, and I got it back in the groove. I actually thought I lost - I never saw my win-light come on. He wasn't too happy. He was loaded up and out of there in no time."
With the victory, Westerfield, who broke into the Top 10 for the first time last year, is up to second in the national standings, one point ahead of John Lombardo. He qualified his CP-Carrillo entry No. 3 behind Manzo and Annie Whiteley with a 5.54 and ran a career-best 5.52 in the first round to take out Texan Steve Burck, who slowed to a 5.93. From there, it was nothing but Top 5 drivers and side-by-side 5.50s the rest of the way: Lombardo fell in the second round, 5.53 to 5.56; Whiteley lost on a slight holeshot in the semi's, 5.54 to 5.52; and Manzo slipped to a 5.58 to fall short of his 5.55 in the final.
Racing at Dallas for the first time since the 1990s and just the fourth time in his career, Manzo ruled until the semifinals, where he lost lane choice for the final in a 5.55 win over Jay Payne. After qualifying No. 1 with a 5.50 that held up all weekend for low e.t., his 5.60 in the first round took out Ro Yale, who cut a .004 light and anchored the field with a career-best 6-flat - quicker than surprise non-qualifiers Tony Bartone and Brian Hough ran. Manzo then ran a 5.51 in a second-round win over Bryan Brown's engine-blowing 5.98 and edged Payne in a great semifinal race, 5.55 to 5.58.
The rare final-round loss may have ended Manzo's streak, but in just a month he's rocketed from the lower rungs of the Top 10 to a huge lead. With 15 consecutive round-wins and victories at Brainerd, Indy, and Charlotte, he now tops the standings by 85 points and almost certainly will close his incredible career with yet another championship
Jim Whiteley, like Manzo, is the defending national champ, just won Indy, recently announced that this will be his final season, has a commanding points lead, has won an overwhelming percentage of his career finals, and was part of a side-by-side final in Dallas. Unlike Manzo, he won.
Whiteley and Bill Reichert, who have combined to win six of the past seven Top Alcohol Dragster championships, both ran 5.32s in the final. Whiteley got off the mark first, .075 to .089, and ran slightly quicker, 5.322 to 5.327, to persevere by 19-thousandths of a second. "I can always hear those A/Fuel cars, so I knew he was there somewhere, but I had no idea it was that close," Whiteley said. "We had to take it easy on the motor. The number two main cap was broken completely in two, and we're real fortunate that it survived the run. The crank probably should have come out of it."
Whiteley qualified his YNot Racing Dragster No. 1 with a 5.24 at 274.50 mph (top speed) and made his best run of the season, a 5.23 (low e.t.) in a first-round win over Michael Manners, who was unable to appear. A steady 5.28 took out Monroe Guest in the second round and the first of back-to-back 5.32s was enough against Joey Severance in a semifinal match both were lucky to survive.
Severance got into his own oil, veered into Whiteley's lane, corrected, and slid down the centerline for hundreds of feet on the left tires before miraculously steering back into his lane unscathed. "I saw him coming at me and wondered what was going to happen," Whiteley said. "Then I saw him turn and knew I was OK, but somebody was definitely watching out for him that time."
Running conservatively in the final, Whiteley managed another 5.32 to all but lock up his second straight championship. "I heard some rumors that I need to just qualify in Las Vegas to clinch this, but I'm not sure," he said. "I've been told that if I quit right now, [Chris] Demke would have to win every race for the rest of the year to pass me. [Brandon] Booher has come on here lately, and if he does well at Reading, Vegas, and Pomona, maybe he could take us, so we'll just have to wait and see. I'll miss racing this car next year, but I've done what I wanted to do. We set out to win a championship, and it looks like we might get two."
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