Steven Whiteley pounded out three picture-perfect runs to open the prestigious U.S. Nationals, then survived a 1-for-3 stretch to record a quarterfinal finish and maintain fourth place in the J&A Service Pro Mod Series standings.

Whiteley, who won the season-opening Gatornationals, began the biggest race of the season with a 5.785/249, 5.840/248, and 5.795/249. He was up in smoke early in last-shot qualifying (“That was no surprise – we pushed the limit on purpose, just to see what we could get away with,” he said}, but when the tires broke loose again in the first round of eliminations, it was anything but OK.

It didn’t matter, though – opponent Shannon Jenkins, one of the true legends of Pro Mod racing, red-lighted. Whiteley was as surprised as anyone, and, as it turned out, the last to know. “All the way down the track and all through the shutdown area, I had no idea Shannon red-lighted,” he said. “I turned off the track and tried to swing wide to get of his way, but they kept pointing me over to where the winners go to be interviewed. When they told me, I couldn’t believe it.”

Granted the unexpected reprieve, Whiteley and the J&A Service/YNot crew didn’t capitalize Monday in the quarterfinals, bowing out with a good-but-not-good enough 5.91/247. Eventual winner Sidnei Frigo of Brazil took them out with a better 5.81/252 – exactly what Whiteley expected his own car to run. “As soon as I let the clutch out and made the 1-2 gear change, I knew we were screwed,” he said.

Whiteley’s second-round showing kept him in the top five in the standings, but he’ll be hovering in the lower reaches of the Top 10 the next time he straps in at an NHRA event – not because the team isn’t running well but because he has bigger priorities. Whiteley, whose wife, Delaina, is scheduled to give birth to a daughter right around the time of the next event on tour, Charlotte (Sept. 15-17), will skip that one and the following one, St. Louis.

“We’ll probably fall to sixth or seventh in the points by the time we’re back out there – lower, maybe – but as long as we change the car number [by finishing in the Top 10] for next year, I’ll be happy,” Whiteley said. “There are bigger things in life. This is my first child. I can race for the rest of my life.”