At the Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, one of the biggest Pro Mod races of all time and one that attracted nearly 30 cars, Steven Whiteley outran everybody – not just once, but twice.
The second-generation driver has gotten faster and faster as the season has progressed, and after qualifying a career-high fourth at the prestigious U.S. Nationals at Indy, he was No. 1 at Charlotte with an outstanding 5.87 at 246 mph right off the trailer, followed by an almost identical 5.89 at 245 that was low e.t. of the second session.
Whiteley topped a mammoth field that attracted nearly 30 cars and had a bump (6.03) too fast for past NHRA Pro Mod champs Mike Castellana and Jay Payne, and, unfortunately, for Steven’s dad, Jim, who just missed the cut with a 6.07. “The biggest thing with my car is that we got it to stop kicking the rods when I shut it off,” said Jim, who, during pre-race testing in Rockingham, N.C., blew two engines – not during the runs, but after he’d completely lifted off the throttle and was coasting through the shutdown area.
In the first round of eliminations Saturday evening, Steven became the second No. 1 qualifier in a row to be upset by No. 16. Again it was by the smallest of margins, again it was on a holeshot, and again it came when the No. 1 qualifier nearly duplicated his qualifying time and the No. 16 driver made the only run he’d made all weekend that would have been enough. At the U.S. Nationals, Bill Glidden ran nearly a tenth better than he’d run in his entire career, 5.90, to nip No. 1 qualifier Don Walsh’s 5.87; this time, Jim Laurita picked up a tenth to a 5.92 that edged Whiteley’s consistent 5.90 by just 12-thousandths of a second.
Laurita got the jump at the line with a .055 reaction time, Whiteley was right behind him with an .087, and the chase was on. The cars were never separated by more than 25-thousandths of a second at any point on the track, and Whiteley just missed running him down in a tight 5.92 to 5.90 decision. The run tied for low e.t. of the round with No. 2 qualifier Danny Rowe, who ran an identical 5.907 and had almost exactly the same reaction time that Whiteley had – .086 to .087 – but had the good fortune to do it against an opponent who lifted right off the line.
Laurita actually ran a 5.92 in the last-shot session that would have qualified him fourth, but the run was disqualified when his car came up light at the scales and he had to settle for 16th with an earlier 6.03. “Steven got a lot tougher opponent than you’d usually get as a No. 1 qualifier,” said Jim, who was No. 1 countless times in a Top Alcohol Dragster career that ended last year with consecutive national championships. “That’s OK, though. He’s still just getting started. The important thing is that he’s getting better every time out, and the car is too.”