On his only run at the NHRA Southern Nationals, Pro Mod racer Steve Whiteley crashed for the first time in his career … and still qualified with a 5.96 at just 206 mph. “Not bad – a five-second run probably breaking the beam with the right header,” he joked. “Crashed on our only run and still made the show.”

Whiteley banged into Atlanta Dragway’s unforgiving left wall, but not nearly as hard as he could have because he got the chutes out just in time. “The car was fighting its way to the right the whole time, and I kept trying to get it to move back into the groove,” he said. “By the time I decided, ‘No, it’s not worth it,’ and lifted, all the weight shifted. That’s when it made its way over the centerline.”

When opponent Shane Molinari saw Whiteley’s J&A Services/YNot Cadillac veer across both lanes after the lights and sideswipe the wall, Molinari – who had to pedaled twice and had already given up on the run – jammed on the brakes and immediately was sideways and pointed at the opposite wall. He slammed into it while Whiteley was well beyond the finish line, bouncing off the left wall in a shower of sparks and rolling safely to a stop on all four wheels.

“The chute coming out as quick as it did really saved me,” Whiteley said. “There was definitely a little pucker factor going on, but I was focused on not hitting wall head-on. In a situation like that, you don’t think – it’s all reaction. By the time I had cognitive thoughts, I was more pissed than scared. I figured that was gonna be the last time I got to drive a race car, but my dad said, ‘He’s fine,’ and my mom was OK.”

The impact caved in the rear quarterpanel, smashed up the headers and left door, and trashed the left door tree. “It was a lot of little stuff, really – nothing too big,” Whiteley said. “The left side of the car is dinged up, but the actual chassis itself is OK. I’m just glad it happened now, right when we were about to have some downtime.”

It’s a full three weeks until the J&A Service Pro Mod Series picks back up with events in three consecutive weeks – Englishtown (June 10-12), Bristol (June 17-19), and Norwalk (June 24-26). “The car’s already at [chassis builder Jerry] Haas’ shop getting fixed, and we’ll be testing it in a week or two,” Whiteley said. “By the time we get to E-Town, we’ll be ready to go.”