In cool, fast conditions in Gainesville, Fla., in the first round of the first race of the season, 2016 Houston Pro Mod winner Jim Whiteley met, of all people, his son, defending Gatornationals champ Steven Whiteley. Both drivers overcame a gargantuan 35-car field to qualify for one of the quickest races in class history (5.83 bump), Steve in the No. 5 spot with a 5.78 and Jim at No. 12 with a 5.80-flat.
As dictated by the NHRA eliminator ladder, No. 5 drew No. 12 in the first round – the last thing either ever would have wanted. Forced to square off in an all-YNot showdown, father and son shot off the starting line with identical .063 reaction times and charged side-by-side to the end of the quarter-mile, where Jim emerged victorious by the smallest possible margin: one-thousandth of a second, 5.868 to 5.869. Steven’s clutch-equipped Cadillac was traveling 6 mph faster than Jim’s Yenko Camaro when they got there, 250.88 mph to Jim’s 244.16, and the cars were separated by literally inches as they sped across the finish line in one of the closest races in Pro Mod history – if not the closest.
“It’s about time I beat that little SOB,” Jim joked. Both were acutely aware of their all-time head-to-head record: Steven 4, Jim 0. “People kept telling me, ‘Well, if you had to lose, there couldn’t be anybody better to lose to,’ ” Steven said. “Yeah, I guess, but I don’t want to lose to anyone. I can’t really say that losing to my dad made it any easier to take.”
Jim then lost in the quarterfinals to eventual winner Rickie Smith, long known for doing anything to win. Seeing that Jim was having trouble getting his car to hold on the line, Smith double-bulbed him, and when Jim revved the engine for the launch, he lurched off the line for an aggravating red-light loss. “He can do that,” Jim said “Lighting both lights like that isn’t illegal. But it won’t happen again.”