Sometimes Jim Whiteley’s a little too quick for his own good. Nobody’s really beating him. He’s beating himself, barely, and in the most infuriating possible manner – on red-lights that aren’t that red.

He’s not screwing up some part the delicate staging process, not distracted, not choking under pressure. Like Top Fuel great Antron Brown in his final days on a Pro Stock Bike, Whiteley’s seeing yellow, reacting, and missing not just a decent light but a perfect light by just a fraction of a second.

It happened again at the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ U.S. 131 Nationals in Martin, Mich., and this one was particularly grating because it came in the first round and really compromised his shot at the 2021 championship. Like always, it was a round Whiteley absolutely would’ve won with almost any kind of green-light start, and, like always, it was by the narrowest possible margin – eight-thousandths of a second.

After another late-round finish last month in Kansas – he’s gone rounds at six races in a row and reached at least the semifinals at every MWDRS event this year – Whiteley hit Martin with a narrow three-point lead over Great Bend winner Joey Oksas, 287 to 284. Tulsa champ Jon Stouffer and Ed Thornton came in about 30 points back, but after his Great Bend crash, Stouffer effectively is out of the title hunt.

The J&A Service/YNot Racing team’s own championship hopes took a huge hit when Whiteley’s surprise first-round loss was compounded by the fact that his closest challenger, Oksas, capitalized with a second straight victory, topping series founder Keith Haney in the final.

Whiteley, who qualified No. 1 at Great Bend, was just sixth this time, one of five drivers to qualify with a 3.70-flat. He was ahead of two and behind the other two with a 3.703 at 203.62 mph that tied Oksas to the thousandth of a second. Haney paced the field with an outstanding 3.666, and Judd Coffman established top speed at 207.56 mph despite qualifying just ninth.

Eliminations for Whiteley came to an abrupt end in the first round when he voided a potentially winning 3.75/200, one of the quickest runs of the round, with the -.008 red-light start, advancing Tom Ladisky’s 3.81/192. Despite the brutal early loss, a championship remains a distinct possibility, with a double at Tulsa later this month and the Xtreme Texas World Finals set for Ferris Oct. 22-23.