Of all the lousy ways to lose a championship, having your car accidentally shut itself off halfway through an in-the-bag win is way up there. Jim Whiteley’s longshot bid for the 2021 Mid-West Drag Racing Series Pro Mod title officially disintegrated in the very first round of the last race of the year when his normally bulletproof Leahy safety system inadvertently silenced the car, handing the championship to young Joey Oksas.
Up to that point, everything was shaping up for a deep run into eliminations for Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team – he led all Xtreme Texas World Finals qualifiers with an outstanding 3.69 at nearly 203 mph (Oksas was No. 2) and thus drew the slowest driver in the field, Todd Moyer, in the first round. If he made it through that one – and there was absolutely no reason to think he wouldn’t – he’d have a second-round bye run straight into the semifinals.
Oksas had a commanding lead coming into the event, sure, but the opportunity for a last-ditch championship run was still on the table for Whiteley. He killed the Tree with a .020 reaction time, gaining a noticeable early lead Moyer’s sleepy .105 … and then looked on helplessly when his car quit on him. “It was perfect,” he said. “The front end was up, the car was hauling ass, and then it just went dead.” He slowed to a 6.26 at only 73 mph, dragging the chutes across the finish line long after Moyer had sailed past him to a winning 3.79/200.
It cost Whiteley the round and maybe the race – almost certainly the race – but, honestly, probably not the championship. Only some Hail Mary would have kept Oksas, safely ensconced on the far side of the ladder, from another late-round appearance, and nothing Whiteley could have done, including winning the event, would have been enough to overtake him.
Oksas, qualified No. 2, directly opposite Whiteley on the grid, drove his Jeff Pierce-tuned Mustang to another final, where he was upset by, of all people, Moyer, who’d never won a race until this weekend. But finishing the season with five straight final-round appearances left Whiteley, who wound up second in the final standings, no room for error. “It would’ve taken a miracle,” Whiteley said. “He was too far ahead of me. Good for him. He’s a good kid – he deserved it.”