Forced back into his old Cadillac CTS-V after championship contender Todd Tutterow smashed into his Camaro right after the finish line at Topeka, shoving him into the wall and destroying that side of the car too, Steven Whiteley returned to the NHRA Pro Mod tour at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk. “We’ll just see,” he said before qualifying got under way. “We don’t really have any information for running a torque converter/automatic transmission setup in this old thing. When we ran the Cadillac, it always had a clutch.”

First time out with the unfamiliar combination couldn’t have gone much worse. Whiteley, ranked as high as fifth in the NHRA Pro Mod standings this season and long accustomed to qualifying high and going rounds, didn’t make it into 2nd gear all weekend. Most of the time, he didn’t make it to the Tree. The teams’ first crack at the shotgun wedding marriage of an automatic transmission and the old Cadillac yielded an uninspiring 17-second shutoff Friday afternoon, and this was no time to start from scratch with a converter setup; after just one qualifying session, the bump was already down to 5.88.

Instant shake deep-sixed the Friday night session, too, though Whiteley came within a thousand of a second of a perfect .000 reaction time. Early Saturday afternoon in Q3, it was the same story: off the throttle by the 60-foot mark. The only Cadillac to ever win an NHRA national event left hard in last-shot qualifying, charging hard with the wheels up, but it was all over before the 1-2 shift, and Whiteley coasted silently across the finish line 18 seconds later at 47 mph.

By the time the J&A Service NHRA Pro Mod season resumes over Labor Day weekend at the biggest event in drag racing, the U.S. Nationals, everything will be different. Whiteley will be back in his trusty Camaro, and by then countless test runs with the completely rebuilt machine will be in the logbook. More important, team leader Jim Whiteley will be there with his all-new split-window ’63 Corvette and Pro Mod points leader “Stevie Fast” Jackson calling the shots.