Running on his own while his dad, team leader Jim Whiteley, sits out until his new “Stevie Fast” Jackson combination is refined enough to race, Steven Whiteley absorbed his first DNQ of the J&A Service Pro Mod season. Steven, who was going rounds everywhere, rising high as fifth in the points standings, was in solidly the 5.80s and to most was securely qualified heading into the final day of qualifying.

Not to him, though. “No way that’ll hold,” Whiteley said before the third of four qualifying sessions for the NHRA Virginia Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park. Stuck in a precarious position after two of four qualifying sessions – 15th in a field of 16, two cars from being out in the cold – he improved, but not enough to ensure himself a berth in what’s long been established as the toughest field in drag racing.

“We’ve got to run better or we’ll get knocked thing for sure,” Whiteley said, and he was proven right – barely. When the tire smoke from nearly 30 blown, turbocharged, and nitrous hot rods had cleared, he wound up in the most frustrating qualifying spot of all, No. 17 – one position shy of making the show. After running a 5.893 at 247.84 mph out of the box that ordinarily would have had him set him up for bigger things to come, the 2017 Gatornationals winner improved by the smallest measurable margin, one-thousandth of a second, to a 5.892 that left him on the outside looking in.

Whiteley’s immaculate Camaro coasted to a shutoff 10.15 at 87 mph in the second of four qualifying sessions and to a 10.93 at 80 mph in the third that positioned him 15th going into last-shot qualifying, tied with Chip King at 5.893 but 15th and not 16th because of his faster speed – 247.84 mph to King’s 247.66. He improved to a 5.892 but was in the other lane when King climbed ahead of him with a 5.85. Vowing not to return to the series that bears his company’s name until he’s running good enough to win, father Jim Whiteley joined Steven on the sidelines, but with eventual event runner-up Stevie “Fast” calling the mechanical shots going forward, that shouldn’t last long.