YNot Racing Pro Mod driver Steven Whiteley qualified in the top five for the third race in a row – again with run in the 5.80s – and made his fastest run of the season (248.07 mph) on another qualifying run but was upset in the first round of eliminations by crosstown rival and eventual winner Mike Knowles.
After qualifying a career-best fourth at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and earning his first No. 1 two weeks ago at Charlotte, Whiteley qualified third of nearly 30 drivers at the AAA Insurance Nationals in St. Louis with an outstanding 5.889. Already a solid sixth in the field with a 5.90 that made him No. 1 at the time, the 21-year-old Pro Mod rookie scorched the timers in last-shot qualifying with a 5.88 that put him higher in the field than even reigning NHRA Pro Mod world champ and current points leader Rickie Smith. Steven’s dad Jim Whiteley, the 2012 and 2013 Top Alcohol Dragster world champion, just missed the program with a 6.04 at 237 mph in his supercharged ’53 Corvette.
Despite back-to-back runs quick enough to win the entire race to close out qualifying, Steven came out on the wrong end of a wild, backpedaling match with Knowles, who also hails from Grand Junction, Colo., in the first round of eliminations. After getting in and out of the throttle in an effort to get his powerful ’68 Camaro back under control, Steven charged hard on the top end but fell short with an 8.17 at nearly 200 mph. Knowles, who qualified 14th with a 5.94, picked up the win with an all-over-the-track 7.09 at 173 mph in his “Blown Money” Camaro.
“The car just went right up into smoke,” Whiteley said. “The conditions were a lot better late in the day, when the sun wasn’t directly on the track, and it bit us. We’re getting things figured out for the hot conditions – you can tell by the way we’ve qualified at the last several races – but it’s a different track when you get to first round. We’re working on it, and we’re going to figure it out.”
With just one race remaining on the 10-race NHRA Pro Mod schedule, the Toyota Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Oct. 31-Nov. 2, Steven is on the brink of his first Top 10 finish in the national standings. He currently is in 11th place, just 6 points behind Knowles.