At the Dodge NHRA Finals, the end of the line for Pro Mod drivers every year but this year for all the pros, too, Jim Whiteley lined up against theoretically the toughest possible opponent and definitely the last one he wanted to see lose, YNot teammate Steve Jackson. But with absolutely everything on the line for defending NHRA Pro Mod champion “Stevie Fast,” locked in a down-to-the-wire battle with incoming points leader Brandon Snider for the 2020 championship, Jackson is exactly who Whiteley got first round.
To intensify what already would’ve been an epic showdown, Whiteley, the No. 8 qualifier (5.836) in a short but stout field, and Jackson, surprisingly just fifth in the order with a 5.788, had a couple friendly side bets going: $100 for the best reaction time head-to-head, and another $50 for supertuner “Philbilly” Shuler if Whiteley’s car got into the .70s. In the end, everybody won.
Whiteley and Jackson staged almost simultaneously, the Tree flashed, both were way more than on time, and “Stevie Fast,” who would have lost it all with anything slower than a 5.773, stayed alive with a 5.770. Staring down the most pressure imaginable, he came through with a clutch .011 reaction time, but Whiteley outdid him with a near-perfect .005 only to be edged out in the lights by four-thousandths of a second, 5.770 to 5.780. Anything less than a .015 reaction time, and “Stevie Fast” would have been done. “I wasn’t messing around up there,” he said.
“Neither was I,” joked Whiteley, who matched Jackson stride for stride and shift for shift the length of the quarter-mile: 2.53-2.53 to the 330-foot mark, 3.79 at 196 mph to 3.79 at 196 mph at the eighth-mile, and 4.86 to 4.86 to 1000 feet. At the top end, the superior aerodynamic characteristics of Jackson’s late-model Camaro trumped the early ’60s “aero package” of Whiteley’s split-window Corvette. With equal power under the hood, Whiteley could only look on helplessly as Jackson crept incrementally ahead in the final quarter of the course, 248.48 mph to 246.71.
From there, Jackson got the best of a winner-take-all second-round match with Snider and went on to the event win, his third this season, and a second consecutive NHRA championship. Whiteley locked up his first Top 10 finish as a Pro Mod driver and first since he retired from Top Alcohol Dragster with seven in a row, from 2007-13 – and not just Top 10s. All seven were Top 5s, including back-to-back championships in 2012-13. “Next year, that car’s gonna run better than ever,” Jackson said of Whiteley’s’ old-school hot rod. “You just wait.”