Coming off a career-best stretch to close the 2015 NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod season and fresh off a big win at the RPM (Real Pro Mod) event earlier this month in West Palm Beach, Fla., Steven Whiteley was riding an all-time high entering the NHRA Gatornationals.

Driving the supercharged YNot Racing Cadillac, Whiteley was as high as 8th in the field at world-famous Gainesville Raceway but had the misfortune in the first round to line up opposite his nemesis, eventual winner Rickie Smith, who laid down low e.t. of the meet at the time, a 5.78 – the seventh-quickest run in Pro Mod history. “With a low-5.90 two years ago, when I debuted here, you’d be in the top three,” said Whiteley, who lost despite an otherwise excellent 5.90. “Now, that puts you in the slow half of the field. It’s not enough when guys are running .80s and even .70s. Everybody just keeps getting faster and faster and that’s cool, that’s how it should be. We should be running that too, and in certain conditions, we do.”

Whiteley shook and shut off on his opening qualifying attempt and stormed to a 5.92 at 246 mph in the second session, and it’s a good thing he did: He was pushed off the starting line in the final session. “The bolts on the back side of the ring gear came lose,” he explained. “I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it would roll freely and then lock up, roll freely and then lock up, so I knew it had to be something in the rear end. If that had been eliminations, I would’ve parked it in the beams and hoped the other guy made a mistake, but on a qualifying run there was nothing to do but shut it off.”

Whiteley made his best run of the weekend when it counted most, in the first round, but his 5.90 wasn’t enough against Smith’s 5.78 – even though the J&A driver drilled him on the Tree with a .053 reaction time. “I don’t know where Rickie came up with that, but we didn’t go for it and he did,” Whiteley said. “We’re better than that. Right now, what we struggle with is high-humidity conditions. It just kills the power and makes it shake the tires. When it does get down, it’s dead slow. When we have ‘Disneyland’ conditions, we’re tough, and we’re going to see those conditions again soon.”