At the most prestigious race of the season, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, two-time NHRA world champ Jim Whiteley made his 2014 debut at what turned out to be the toughest Pro Mod race of all time and son Steven Whiteley qualified a career-high fourth with one of his best runs ever.

Steven, who ran a 5.87 earlier this year at the Southern Nationals in Atlanta and a 5.88 in last-shot qualifying for the Summernationals in Englishtown, N.J., blistered the Lucas Oil Raceway quarter-mile for a 5.89 that left him a scant three-hundredths of a second from the top spot. It was also low e.t. of the entire third qualifying session and the only run in the 5.80s all weekend by a supercharged car – including those of some of the biggest names in Pro Mod racing: past national event winners Von Smith, Danny Rowe, Mike Janis, and Jay Payne.

Jim, who hadn’t competed since a runner-up finish at the 2013 NHRA Finals locked up his second straight Top Alcohol Dragster championship, fell six-hundredths of a second short of making the field with a 6.05 that would have qualified him at virtually any other event in Pro Mod history. The 2014 U.S. Nationals attracted the largest contingent of blown, turbocharged, and nitrous entries of all time – 33 cars in all, led by Don Walsh’s 5.86 and anchored by second-generation star Bill Glidden’s 5.99. Even one of the alternates, Canada’s Eric Latino, ran in the five-second zone.

“This wasn’t the easiest place to get started, was it?” asked Jim, who won the Top Alcohol Dragster title at last year’s U.S. Nationals. “It’s still a thrill, an absolute adrenaline rush, every single time you let the clutch out in one of these cars because you never know what they’re going to do. They’re exciting. The dragster was too, but these cars are different, and I’m loving this whole Pro Mod deal. You absolutely have to be on top of everything every single time.”