Two-time world champion Jim Whiteley, who claimed both of his Pro Mod victories in the Lone Star State and also scored here four times in his Alcohol Dragsters, rolled off the trailer at the NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex with a 5.73 at 248 mph for the No. 6 spot on the provisional grid. He followed with a 5.80-flat and a consistent 5.82 and went into race day solidly in the top half of the field for the second race in a row. He got stuck racing Rickie Smith anyway.
“Trickie Rickie,” winner of multiple NHRA Pro Mod championships and 11 series titles overall, managed to knock out Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service Corvette again, this time by a closer margin than ever. In a replay of their second-round clash in Gainesville, where Whitely got off the line first, .030 to .060, he drilled Smith’s otherwise respectable .060 reaction time with a clutch .029. He led almost the entire quarter-mile, but Smith inched ahead at the end to prevail by the invisible margin of 1/500th of a second.
“I thought I had him,” Whiteley said. So did everybody not wearing Rickie Smith colors. Factoring in their reaction times, the grizzled old vet got there first by less than a foot, 5.79 to 5.82. Both cars blew through the speed traps at well over 240 mph, but Smith’s sleek 2020 Camaro had every advantage downtrack and steadily, incrementally stretched the lead over the last few hundred feet, 250 mph to 244. “It seems like I run him every weekend,” said Whiteley, who fell to Smith for the third race in a row, including the U.S. Nationals, where he went down in the first round, and Gainesville, where he lost in the quarterfinals.
Without question, Smith’s superior top end speed – 250.78 mph to Whiteley’s 244.74 in his unaerodynamic ’63 Vette – was the deciding factor in an otherwise dead-even contest. “Rickie’s Rickie,” Whiteley said. “He does what he does. He’s tough. He’ll even tell you, ‘Don’t start your car till I do my burnout,’ but it doesn’t matter. Running this car probably costs me 2 miles per hour and 2-3 hundredths every time I go down the track, but no way am I getting rid of it. Hot rods like this are what Pro Mod’s all about to me.”