Just days after the ultimate high of a victory at the Spring Nationals in Houston, Jim Whiteley found himself in a most unfamiliar place when qualifying concluded for the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte: on the outside looking in, unqualified along with son Steven, last year’s Gatornationals champion, who also missed the cut.

“I messed up on the Tree on the one run that definitely would have been good enough to qualify,” Whiteley said with characteristic modesty. “The Four-Wide Tree can really confuse you if you’re not careful, and I rolled right through the beams because I thought I was in a different lane than I actually was. To be in the what’s the left lane at any other track but one of the two right lanes on a four-wide track and have to look at the other side of the Tree … it’s just not natural. It gives you something to think about, and in drag racing that’s never a good thing.”

Positioned in Lane 3, Whiteley crept into the beams with a wall on his left and opponent Rickie Smith to his right. For 99.9% of the runs he’s ever made, that would have him looking at the left side of the Tree. But as the third of four drivers lined up across two adjoining tracks, the stage lights corresponding to his spot in the lineup actually were second from the right. Wondering why his staged light wasn’t coming on, he inched through both the pre-staged and staged beams and wasn’t on the starting line when the Tree dropped. Translation: his run wasn’t timed.

Naturally, it was that very run when Whiteley’s ’69 Yenko Camaro made had its best performance (about a 5.77, according to information downloaded from the data recorder), a run that otherwise would have qualified him in the top half of the field. In each subsequent session, he, like most Pro Mod drivers on the fast but tricky zMax surface, struggled for traction. He went up in smoke Saturday morning in the heat, and a backed-down 5.84 in last-shot qualifying late Saturday afternoon that was one of the better times of that session ultimately was good enough only for 19th on the final grid. “That won’t happen again,” he said of the opening-session slipup.

Son Steven fared no better, never making a representative run and landing 28th on the final qualifying chart with an aggregate best of 6.32 in the Friday evening session and a 231-mph speed Saturday morning. “There’ll be some big changes before we get to Topeka,” he said, undaunted. “We’ll be back.”