Jim and son Steven Whiteley both reached the semifinals in Pro Mod’s highly anticipated debut at the unpredictable 4-Wide Nationals, which fans love and drivers in other classes have come to dread. “I know what the pros have said in the past, but I loved it,” said Jim, whose sentiments were echoed by not just Steven but 85 percent of the dozens of Pro Mod drivers who descended upon zMax Dragway for the first time.
“It’s hardest for the guys in the inside lanes,” Steven said. “It’s not just that there are four stage lights to keep track of instead of just two; it’s that if you’re in lane 2 or lane 3, you’re not looking at the Tree the way you have at every other track you’ve ever been to. That’s what messes everybody up. You’ve really got to train yourself ahead of time.”
Just qualifying, as is the case at every event on the J&A Service Pro Mod tour, where 30 drivers are vying for a spot in the field every weekend, is an accomplishment. Jim made the top half of the field with a 5.83 at 247 mph for the No. 7 spot and Steven, despite running just two-hundredths slower than his dad, a 5.85 at 249, was six spots behind him in 13th.
In the first round of eliminations, Jim left on everybody in his quad and advanced easily with a 5.836, matching his qualifying time right to the thousandth of a second. He finished second to eventual winner Mike Castellana and well ahead of former Pro Stock great Larry Morgan, who’s in his first season of Pro Mod, and veteran Danny Rowe. (In 4-wide competition, the top two drivers from each quad move on to the next round.)
Coming from the bottom half of the field, Steven beat everybody with by far his best run of the weekend, an outstanding 5.79 at 251 mph. Jonathan Gray survived with a 5.85, Michael Bowman lost on a holeshot with a 5.81, and Pete Farber, who outqualified them all, shook hard and shut off early.
Steven had his pick of the four lanes for his semifinal matchup, but violent shake did him in not far off the line. “I could see the guy on the same track as me way ahead and knew I was never going to catch him,” he said. “I might have tried to get back on it because you never know what the guys on the other track are doing, but I could actually see Troy [Coughlin] over the wall when he passed me, and there was no way I was going to beat them both.”
Jim suffered a similar fate, coasting to a 12.05 at 99 mph, but once again he left on all the other drivers. Both Whiteleys walked away with a smile on their faces. “This whole thing was awesome,” Steven said. “It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, and it was actually a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get back here next year.”