Any Pro Mod fan could’ve predicted exactly what was going to happen when the Tree flashed green for Jim Whiteley and Khalid AlBalooshi in the first round of the Mile-High Nationals: Whiteley would move first.

He did. By a lot. Whiteley, who’s been winning on holeshots all year, left on AlBalooshi, who’s been losing on holeshots since he started driving, by a full tenth (.030 to .137), stayed off the centerline without overcorrecting when things got a little hairy downtrack, and hung on for a huge holeshot win, 6.11 to 6.03. Both passed the 330-foot mark with 2.62-second times, and though AlBalooshi was going 3 mph faster by the time they hit half-track, 186 mph to 183, Whiteley was never headed in a satisfying if not particularly close (.033- second margin of victory) decision.

Back in the same lane 90 minutes later for the quarterfinals, Whiteley, who always performs well at his home track (including six straight Top Alcohol Dragster victories in the 2010s), fell to teammate “Stevie Fast” Jackson the same way he’d taken out AlBalooshi: on the starting line. With a .041 reaction time, the YNot driver was anything but late, but Jackson, winner of the past two NHRA Pro Mod championships, nipped him, 6.08/233 to 6.07/230, in a doubly important match – it was for a bye to the final. Whiteley, who ousted Jackson on a holeshot three weeks ago at Norwalk, came up short this time by 12-thousandths of a second – about two feet at the stripe.

Two-thirds of the way through qualifying, Whiteley’s immaculate YNot/J&A Service Camaro was still mired in the 6-teens. Just over the hill from the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, he charged down the Bandimere Speedway course Friday evening in the first qualifying session to a 6.14 at 229 mph and delivered a nearly identical 6.15 the next afternoon. It was Saturday evening in last-shot qualifying that the prospect of going rounds in eliminations Sunday got much more realistic when Whiteley took a quantum leap forward with a 6.06 for the No. 7 spot.