While her friends were unwrapping toys on their eighth birthdays, Katelyn Whynaught was unwrapping a junior-dragster, and while her friends were playing with those toys the next day, she was pounding pavement at a dragstrip near her family’s Oceanside, California home.
Quick to find all of the gauges and gadgets, she advanced to the semifinal at her very first race, and went on to win two championships in her junior-dragster before moving into her brother, Mark Whynaught’s, ‘69 Nova when she turned eighteen in 2011.
In that classic car with a lot of curbside appeal, she spent the next two years going rounds in a bracket class at Barona Dragstrip in California, where she also earned a High School class championship. But she longed for a chassis more like that of her junior-dragster, and her dad, Cliff Whynaught, bought her a ’97 Tom Yancer Race Cars-built dragster in 2013. With it, she introduced herself to NMCA WEST Edelbrock Super Quick ranks in 2014.
While she ran a limited schedule that year, she ramped up her efforts in 2015, laid down a best of 7.60 at 178 mph and earned a win and a runner-up on her way to the class championship.
Read on for more about Whynaught, the upbeat and undeniably talented driver who graduated from Kaplan College in California, is now a registered dental assistant and still lives in Oceanside, California.
What was it like to transition from the junior-dragster to the Nova in 2011?
I was really sad to have to get out of the junior-dragster because it was my baby, and there was a big difference between the junior-dragster and the Nova, especially in the cockpit. I was going 7.90 at 83 mph in the eighth-mile in the junior dragster, and I was going twelves at 95 mph in the quarter-mile in the Nova. Because I was racing a bunch of racers I had never raced before in the Nova, I felt a little extra pressure. Actually, I felt more pressure racing a bunch of racers I had never raced before than I did moving from the junior dragster to the Nova. While I was in the Nova for two years, I made the NHRA Summit Super Series ET finals in 2012 at Bakersfield, so that was good.
The Tom Yancer Race Cars-built dragster you got toward the end of the 2013 season was a bit of a surprise gift, correct?
Yes. I would see my dad looking at dragsters online, and he would show me stuff and ask my opinion on it. Then, out of the blue, he asked if I wanted to go to Las Vegas to look at a dragster, and he said that if I liked it, we would bring it home. I thought he was joking, but we went to look at it, and the seller showed me all the ropes and I fell in love with it. We went home, got the money together and drove back the following week to pick it up. It has a naturally aspirated 565 cubic-inch big-block Chevy built by Andy Spiegel of Spiegel Racing Engines in California, and my dad built the Powerglide for it.
You certainly came out of the gate running.
Yes, I made it to the semifinal at my first race, which was at Auto Club Famoso in California. The dragster was running eight seconds and 170 mph in the quarter-mile, and since the mph was a pretty big adjustment for me, I started out with a throttle-stop so that I could take baby steps. It was nice and straight and smooth, and it felt like home to be in a dragster rather than a door car. I’ve always loved dragsters, and I feel safer in a dragster because of the tighter cockpit. I’m shoulder-to-shoulder in it, and I can’t swing around in it. It’s far more comfortable for me than a door car.
We’re glad you came to NMCA WEST in 2014. What brought you to us?
I had been running in the NHRA Summit Super Series at Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California, and I learned about NMCA WEST from my brother, Mark, who had run in Quick Street the year before and won a Wally. It was a very big deal, and everyone was talking about it. I decided I wanted to try it, too.
What are some highlights from the 2015 season?
That would definitely be when I won three races in one weekend. I entered and won Bracket 1 on Saturday and Sunday, and I won Super Quick on Sunday. That was especially meaningful because I was racing in memory of my grandmother, Sandra Whynaught, that weekend. She passed away a few years ago and that was her birthday weekend. I had never doubled-up on a win before, but I really wanted to that weekend.
Did your 2015 championship come down to the last race?
Yes, it sure did, and I was actually super-nervous about that. I lost in the second round at the last points race and the racer who was right behind me in points was getting closer and closer, but then he lost in the round I needed him to lose in. What I’m most proud of is the fact that we actually applied some things we had learned and they worked. We were double-checking things, we were consistent and my crew chief and best friend, Gaige Herrera, and I had good communication.
Are you a fan of being able to run two different classes at an event?
Yes. I love it. It keeps me in the car and it makes me stick to my routine. It also keeps me amped up from the round before and it doesn’t allow me to sit for long between making passes. The only downside is, if you lose in one class, it’s hard to focus on doing well in the other class. I’ve actually thrown away a race by accident after losing in another race.
You’ve already achieved a lot, but what are your aspirations for 2016 and beyond?
We’re done for the 2015 season, so we’ll go ahead and freshen-up the engine, but we won’t make any major changes to it or give it any more horsepower. I’d like to back up my Super Quick championship, and continue to run Bracket 1 whenever I can. Eventually, I want to go on to Top Dragster, and I like the idea of a Top Alcohol dragster, but I’ll always be a bracket-racer at heart. I like the challenge of bracket-racing, and that you have to keep your emotions in-check. That’s important because if you can’t control your nerves as a driver, you might not be able to control the consistency of the car.
Who helps keep your dragster a well-oiled machine?
I have help from my engine-builder, Andy Spiegel, San Diego Gear and Axle, Mickey Thompson Performance Tires and Wheels, my crew chief and best friend, Gaige Herrera, and the rest of my crew, including my parents, Cliff and Karen Whynaught and my brother, Mark Whynaught. My other brother, Eric Whynaught, was absolutely my lucky charm this year.
What do you like to do when you’re not piloting your dragster?
I like to go snowboarding and hang out with my family, and I love to go to the river and being on the boat. My crew chief and best friend, Gaige Herrera, has a twin-turbo and small-block powered boat that we go out on. I like to watch racing on TV, especially NHRA races. Brittany Force is one of my favorite drivers, and so is my engine-builder, Andy Spiegel, who races NHRA Top Dragster. I’m obsessed with racing.
Interview from the March 2016 Fastest Street Car.