Without making a bad run all weekend, 2013 Indy winner Jim Whiteley still left the 2020 U.S. Nationals empty-handed. Despite turning in easily the most consistent qualifying performance of his seven-year Pro Mod career, leaving on time in the first round of eliminations, and pounding out a fourth straight competitive run, he left town stinging from a dispiriting first-round defeat.
The 2013 Indy Top Alcohol Dragster champ ran hard right off the trailer, laying down an excellent 5.806 in the first of three scheduled qualifying sessions, backing it up with a slightly quicker 5.802 in Q2 and a consistent 5.811 in last-shot qualifying Saturday afternoon, yet entered eliminations mired in the bottom half of the field, 11th on the final grid with an aggregate best of 5.802 at 246.75 mph.
Under threatening skies on a rare raceday Sunday at Indy (other than the rained-out 2003 U.S. Nationals, the race has been contested on Labor Day Mondays for half a century), Whiteley strapped in for the first round of eliminations three different times. He first climbed out when Kris Thorne, who had just upset No. 1 qualifier Jason Scruggs, crashed in the shutdown area, plowing into the wall on his side of the track, then sliding upside-down in a shower of sparks through the shutdown area until he hit the sand trap, flipped again, and softly landed right-side up in a cloud of dust.
Three pairs after the track was cleared and the sand trap swept, Steve Matusek destroyed his immaculate one-week-old Tequila Comisario Mustang, handing the win to 2019 championship runner-up Todd Tutterow. It soon began raining, the track was down for hours, and when racing resumed, Whiteley’s weekend came to an unceremonious end when his respectable 5.85 wasn’t enough against nemesis “Tricky Rickie” Smith’s 5.76.