Always ready to race – anytime, anywhere – Jim Whiteley leaped at the chance to be part of the inaugural World Doorslammer Nationals at Orlando Speed World Dragway. Like Don Garlits’ revolutionary National Challenge ’72 in Tulsa or Drag Illustrated‘s World Series of Pro Mod events decades later in Denver, the groundbreaking event guaranteed the biggest payout in history. “No way I was going to miss this deal,” Whiteley said. “There were a lot of good cars here – a lot of good cars.”
In the end, more than $300,000 was divvied up among the absolute biggest names in drag racing’s premier door-car classes – Pro Mod legends Rickie Smith, “Stevie Fast” Jackson, Todd Tutterow, Jason Scruggs, and Mike Janis, and NHRA Pro Stock stars Jeg Coughlin, Greg Anderson, Erica Enders, Jason Line, and Alex Laughlin, the only driver to compete in both categories. Enough Pro Mod cars to fill two 16-car fields poured through the Orlando gates, and when all four qualifying sessions were complete, Justin Bond had run quicker than the incoming NHRA national record with a 5.623 for the pole position and veteran Steve Matusek established the record bump with a 5.739.
Whiteley’s show-stopping ’63 Corvette slipped to the 14th spot with a 5.73 in the opening session that had him, at the time, fourth-quickest of the 27 drivers who took the Tree that round. In all, 33 teams attempted to qualify, more than three-quarters of them ran 5s, and five ran 5.70s and still didn’t make the cut. Whiteley’s J&A Service team, led by crew chief “Stevie Fast,” drew Laughlin, the No. 3 qualifier and reigning NHRA U.S. Nationals Pro Stock champion, in the first round. Running one pair ahead of them opposite Michael Biehle, Jackson, the defending NHRA Pro Mod champ, crashed into the left wall beyond the finish line. (He was uninjured, and the car is repairable.)
When the wreckage was cleared, Laughlin rolled into the staged beam immediately after Whiteley pre-staged, Whiteley quickly followed, and they left as one and charged side by side the length of the quarter-mile. The YNot team captain ran within mere thousandths of a second of his qualifying time, but Laughlin edged him out in a photo-finish that typified the entire event, 5.71/249 to Whiteley’s right-there 5.73/246. Laughlin ran just a 5.82 in the following round but went on to win the event, pocketing $50,000 – five times the winner’s share of an NHRA Pro Mod race – and Coughlin collected $75,000 for winning Pro Stock.