At the Thunder Valley Nationals in picturesque Bristol, Tenn., another promising weekend ended in frustration for Steven Whiteley, who’s been qualifying at the top of drag racing’s most competitive class all year, when he got bounced again in the first round. This time he was at the very top of the Pro Mod qualifying charts – No. 1 – with a 5.823 that held up all weekend as low e.t. “I knew that was a decent run,” he said, “but I couldn’t believe it ran that quick, especially in these conditions. That was right on the edge of not making it – I don’t think the car could have run another .82 five minutes later.”

It wasn’t the only time Whiteley would top all qualifiers at Thunder Valley. Saturday afternoon, when steamy conditions made it impossible for anyone to approach his .82 for the top spot, he established low e.t. of that session, too, with a 5.88. “We knew that No. 1 run from Friday wasn’t going be taken down in these conditions,” he said Saturday, “so we used the day as a test session to have more data for race day.”

The wheels came off again in the first round opposite cagey old pro Todd Tutterow, who would go from the bump spot all the way to the final. Tutterow, seemingly down 13-hundredths of a second, matched his 16th-best 5.95 qualifying time while Whiteley reluctantly lifted early. “It was too weak,” he said. “What’s funny is that the car was set up exactly the same as it was on the No. 1 run, just backed up a little to account for the conditions. Jeff [Perley, Whiteley’s crew chief] figured it would run slower, but not that much slower. It’s bitten us before, and we thought we were getting pretty good at not backing up too much, but a run like that almost makes you wish ran bad all the time so you don’t look like a bunch of idiots losing in the first round after running good all weekend.”