Back with the other top runners in Sunday eliminations, Jim Whiteley advanced to the quarterfinals at St. Louis in his best outing since he beat soon-to-be 2016 world champ Rickie Smith in the wild Houston final for his first NHRA Pro Mod title.

At the wheel of his powerful J&A Service/YNot Racing ’69 Chevelle, Whiteley forced his way into the tough AAA Nationals field with a 5.94 at 235 mph Friday afternoon and hung in there with a 5.93/243 Saturday morning. That afternoon in the first round of eliminations, qualified just 14th in the field, Whiteley lined up against No. 3 qualifier Sidnei Frigo, the Brazilian whose frightening over-the-wall crash at Houston made it possible for Whiteley to get back into the race as an alternate and eventually win.

Whiteley drilled Frigo with a telepathic .009 reaction time and drove away from Frigo’s state-of-the-art ’16 Corvette to win handily. “With Chuck’s clutch, you almost can’t not cut a good light,” Whiteley said of his new crew chief, master blower builder Chuck Ford, a former door-car driver himself. “We did three or four hits in testing, and the lights kept coming up -.005 red, -.001 red, -.002 red – the same thing every time. The spread was so close that Chuck said, ‘Stay right where you’re at and we’ll adjust it and be good,’ and he was right.”

Whiteley’s winning time against Frigo, who was off the throttle early, was a 5.90-flat, his best run all year outside of Indy. In qualifying, son Steven Whiteley ran even better – a 5.87 at 247 mph for the No. 8 spot – but he fell by the wayside in a first-round loss to Smith, who virtually locked up his third J&A Service NHRA Pro Mod championship with a runner-up to Troy Coughlin.

Jim was out one round later when he blew the tires off against past Top Fuel and Pro Mod winner Khalid alBalooshi – but not before getting the jump with another great reaction time, .021. “It’s just great to be going down the track again,” he said. “The car’s running better and better, no doubt about it.”

The NHRA Pro Mod season officially ends after the next race, the Toyota Nationals at Las Vegas – but not for Whiteley, who’ll be “racing” in Comp next weekend at Dallas. Actually, he won’t be racing at all; he’ll just be using that race to test for Vegas under the only kind of conditions drivers see at NHRA events – an NHRA-prepped track. “We’ll just treat every qualifying run a test run,” Whiteley said. “Same thing in the first round. If I accidently beat somebody with a good run, we’ll bypass the scales so they can get back in. We don’t want to mess anybody up – we just want to test under NHRA national event conditions.”