Two-time Top Alcohol Dragster world champion Jim Whiteley nailed down the second victory of his Pro Mod career at the same place he claimed his first – Houston – but this one was a world apart from his wild 2016 Spring Nationals win. Instead of going the distance despite never qualifying for the field and shutting off early in the final but winning anyway because his opponent plowed into the wall, Whiteley made one strong run after another to bring home easily his most satisfying triumph to date.
Crew chief Chuck Ford had the J&A Service Yenko Camaro on a rail in all four qualifying sessions and all four rounds of eliminations, starting with an off-the-trailer 5.78 at 247 mph Friday afternoon. While others struggled with the green, slippery surface, Whiteley backed up that opening 5.78 with a 5.800-flat and back-to-back 5.82s. “Everybody was complaining about the track conditions, but you’ll never hear a bad word about this place from me,” said Whiteley, who drove to back-to-back Top Alcohol Dragster titles at Houston in 2011 and 2012. “I always loved racing here with the dragster, and I still do now. This place has always been good to me.”
Whiteley ended up just 14th on the final qualifying chart – one position and one-thousandth of a second behind son Steven’s 5.787 – but he placed among the top six of 30-plus entrants in all four qualifying sessions. When conditions improved Sunday for the first round of eliminations, Ford was ready, and the car responded with an outstanding 5.74 that easily covered 2017 championship runner-up Mike Castellana’s out-of-the-groove 8.55.
Whiteley, long established as one of the premier leavers in any kind of car, cut a season-best .022 reaction time in the quarterfinals to easily handle former Top Fuel racer Khalid alBalooshi with a consistent 5.77 and used those reflexes in the pressure-packed late rounds to go distance again on the tricky Houston surface. He drilled perennial title contender “Stevie Fast” Jackson for a holeshot semifinal win, 5.77 to 5.75, and did likewise to Rick Hord in a 5.83-5.81 final when both drivers’ engines expired with the finish line in sight.
“Now that was a good race,” Whiteley said of a classic final decided by less than a hundredth of a second. “When you’re in the right lane, you can’t see the win light on the wall [because the massive blower and injector sticking up through the hood totally blocks the driver’s view], but I knew it was close because I could hear him the whole way down.”