Steven Whiteley outdrove and outran the top drivers in the world to reach the final round of the World Series of Pro Mod, the highest-paying race in class history, where, for maybe the first time ever for an event of this magnitude, no E.T.s or speeds appeared on the scoreboard.

There was no qualifying – pairings were completely random, drawn out of a hat in the weeks before the event. Everybody knew what they were running the whole time, but nobody ever knew what anybody else was. When the final was run and the tire smoke literally had cleared, it was revealed that just five 5-second times were recorded in the unfriendly climes of Denver’s mile-high Bandimere Speedway. Whiteley accounted for three of them all by himself, in the first, second, and semifinal rounds of eliminations.

One more 5-second run – anything close to a 5, actually – and Whiteley would have claimed the biggest payout in Pro Mod history, $100,000, but this was one time it didn’t pay to finish second. The World Series of Pro Mod, more than any drag race ever, was truly winner-take-all. Not only did first- and second-round losers receive no paycheck, but neither did the semifinalists. And neither did the runner-up. This one was all or nothing.

“That was a tough round to lose,” admitted Whiteley, who whose car annihilated the tires about 100 feet off the line in the final round. Upstart Michael Bowman had to lift, too, but he didn’t shake as severely as Whiteley did and got back on the throttle for a winning 6.27 at 239 mph – the only numbers to appear on the scoreboards all weekend – and the biggest payday in Pro Mod history.

“The car was straight as can be until the tire kicked out,” said Whiteley, who was off the mark first with a clutch .029 reaction time. “I got back on it, and it pushed me to the centerline. You never want to lift, but it wasn’t worth wrecking. Michael’s a good guy. He’s humble. He probably needed the money more than we did, and I’m just happy with how our car ran.”

Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot team ran between 5.97 and 5.99 in all three preliminary rounds, against local driver Tommy Johanns, Canadian Eric Latino, and Steve Matusek. Between them, the other 15 teams accounted for just two 5-second laps and Whiteley’s dad, YNot team leader Jim Whiteley, ran one of them. Matusek ran the other, a 5.98 in the semifinals, but Steven, whose worst light all weekend was a .032, beat him on a holeshot with a 5.99.

“It was a good weekend,” Whiteley concluded. “Bandimere’s basically our home track. We got to the final and the car ran great all weekend. I’m encouraged about Indy and the rest of the season, and I haven’t had this much fun racing in a long time.”