In the second-to-last start of his Pro Mod career, second-generation driver Steven Whiteley turned in his second-best outing ever, behind only his victory at the 2017 Gatornationals. Whiteley drilled everybody on the Tree and reached the final round of the penultimate event of the 2019 season, which “Stevie Fast” Jackson won to clinch the NHRA Pro Mod championship. “This was almost better than winning Gainesville,” he said, “just because of who we had to run. It was great to run with the big guys and not just run with them but beat them.”

With one round-win in 20 career head-to-head matchups against Steve Matusek, lifelong nemeses Rickie Smith and Todd Tutterow, and Jackson heading into the Carolina Nationals, Whiteley went 3-1 against them and started from the No. 5 spot, the highest he’s qualified all season. Matusek, like every driver Whiteley raced all weekend, cut an excellent light, and like the other three he still trailed the J&A Service/YNot Camaro off the line. He was the only one who didn’t make it close, falling well short of the first of Whiteley’s first of four consecutive runs between 5.756 and 5.762.

“Tricky Rickie,” who narrowly lost the U.S. Nationals final on a holeshot, outran Whiteley in the quarterfinals but came up seven feet short for another holeshot loss, 5.761 to 5.757. “He’s always had my number,” said Whiteley, who stood 0-8 against the many-time series champ until now. “Every time I ever lined up against him, he chewed me up and spit out the bones, but it’s different with this car. I just feel good in it. Always did, really. With the converter, I feel like I can cut a light.” That’s putting it mildly – he averaged a .019 reaction time for the event, with a worst of .024. He’s averaging a .029 for the season and leaving first 85 percent of the time.

In the semi’s, Whiteley and Tutterow, who led the early season standings before veering across the centerline in Topeka and T-boning Whiteley’s car, both ran 5.75s. The veteran was more than on time with a .021 light, but Whiteley had him all the way with a .016 to win by 8-thousandths of a second. “It felt really good to put that guy’s ass on the trailer, I can tell you that,” he said. “After all the times I’ve run him – especially Topeka – that had to be the round of my career.”

The final ended in a loss to “Stevie Fast,” who clinched the NHRA championship when Whiteley took out Tutterow, but it wasn’t much of a disappointment. “This was a great weekend,” Whiteley said. “We’ve always run well in Charlotte, probably because we test there more than we do anywhere else. Yes, Stevie has been helping us for a while ­– that’s no secret – but not to the degree that he’s been helping my dad’s team. This weekend was all about [crew chief] Jeff Perley. He really showed his colors here.”