At Houston Raceway Park, defending SpringNationals champion Jim Whiteley missed the cut and and son Steven Whiteley reached the quarterfinals before being ousted by Gatornationals winner Todd Tutterow, who took his sixth of seven consecutive round-wins to open the season. Jim, who also won Pro Mod at Houston in 2016 (and scored in Top Alcohol Dragster in 2011 and 2012), was in the 5s on three of four attempts but not far enough under the six-second threshold to crack the 5.790 bump.
Steven went rounds for the second race in a row and left his dad’s favorite track on the J&A Service Pro Mod tour tied for fifth in the standings. Jim opened with a 5.94 at 244 mph that had him well in the field, 11th of 26. Steven shut off early in that session, coasting across the finish line at just 209 mph and still running in the 5s with a 5.98. Both stepped way up Friday evening, Jim to a season-best 5.83/245 to bump his way back into the show for the time being and Steven to a 5.78/249 that got him in the fast half at the time, and both shook hard, got out of the groove, and had to lift Saturday morning.
Saturday afternoon in last-shot qualifying, Steven shut off to a 9-second time, but all was not lost – he was already safely in the field. For Jim it was all over, despite making yet another competitive run, a 5.86/244, because the bump, for the second race in a row, was in the 5.70s. The entire 16-car field crammed itself in the unbelievably tight spread of less than six-hundredths of a second, from leader Jose Gonzalez’s 5.731 to former world champion Rickie Smith’s 5.790.
Though he qualified 13th and first-round opponent Rick Hord was fourth, Steven was down only three-hundredths going into their first-round matchup. With a clutch .037 reaction time, he shot of the line in the lead, as he has all year, and when problems set in downtrack he still coasted home a winner with a 6.93 at just 148 mph. Hord, last year’s Carolina Nationals winner, went into brutal shake early and was never in the race. Steven then gained an imperceptible starting-line lead on Tutterow in the quarterfinals, .053 to .054, but his nemesis outran him, 5.76/251 to 5.82/250, en route to his second final of the season.