At the Carolina Nationals at spectacular zMax Dragway, Jim Whiteley, who won Houston last year despite not qualifying for the race, nearly became the only driver in drag racing history to pull of that incredibly rare feat twice.
Whiteley, who joined Clayton Harris (1973 Summernationals), Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen (1973 Supernationals), Ken Veney (1985 Gatornationals) and Michael Bartone (1995 U.S. Nationals) as the only drivers to get in as an alternate and go on to win an NHRA national event, barely missed the cut in Charlotte.
He wasn’t 17th in the 16-car field – he was 18th, five-thousandths of a second short of the 5.873 bump with a 5.878 – but No. 17 qualifier Dan Stevenson was literally driving out the gate when the word went out that Shannon “the Iceman” Jenkins wouldn’t be able to make repairs in time for the quick turnaround between the final qualifying session and the first round of eliminations. Whiteley was tending to business on the opposite side of the track when his crew frantically tracked him down and informed him that if he could get to the lanes in time, he was back in the race.
While other cars were parading past the J&A Service/YNot Racing pit area on their way to the lanes, Whiteley hustled back to his pit, where his ’70 Chevelle sat, ready to run. “I threw on my suit and they were already backing the car out,” he said. “If the guys hadn’t already done all the maintenance to have the car ready for testing tomorrow, we never would have made it in time.”
Whiteley’s first-round opponent was Sidnei Frigo, who survived a spectacular over-the-wall crash last year at Houston, where Whiteley beat eventual world champ Rickie Smith, who crashed, in the final. Frigo, who won the biggest race in drag racing, the U.S. Nationals two weeks before this event, took another wild ride opposite Whiteley in the first round, careening into the right lane behind Whiteley’s ’69 Camaro, which was long gone with a winning 5.90 at 247 mph.
“The car is pretty consistent but not quite quick enough right now,” said Whiteley, whose steady 5.92/247 in the quarterfinals fell short of 72-year-old Chuck Little’s 5.87/245. “We’re right in there, in the high 5.80s most of the time, but to win these races, you really need to be in the low .80s all the time and the high .70s when it counts.”
Son Steven Whiteley, a fixture in the top 5 of the J&A Service Pro Mod standings all year, slid from fourth place to seventh after skipping the event to be home with wife Delaina for the birth of daughter Bayslei.