In his first appearance of 2023, in one of the most highly anticipated events in class history, Steven Whiteley was part of a swarm of drivers who descended upon Orlando, Fla., for the prestigious Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod. Runner-up at the inaugural event and a past NHRA national event champion, he made it all the way to the final round – sort of.
Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team actually fell short of the 32-car bump, but this was it was OK to not qualify: where else is there a whole other race for teams that miss the cut? Only the World Series of Pro Mod features the Chicago-Style Second Chance Shootout, and Whiteley qualified No. 2 for that field and opened an early lead on Melanie Salemi in the final.
“This whole deal is fun,” Whiteley said. “It’s a lot bigger than the first World Series [in Denver in 2017, where he made it to the final]. There’s more fans, more hype, more everything. I just like outlaw stuff like this, always have.”
With 60-some Pro Mods in the Bradenton Motorsports Park pits, trying to make the lineup was, as expected, absolutely brutal. Less than six-hundredths of a second separated the entire field, from No. 1 Johnny Camp’s 3.626 to the 32nd-best 3.682 of Spencer Hyde, who, against all odds, made it to the $100,000 winner-take-all final against Kurt Steding and won it.
Whiteley landed a disappointing 36th in the final order, only eight-thousandths of a second but a full four spots outside the field. “We didn’t do any good here in qualifying,” he said. “We sucked, actually. That’s the simplest way to put it: we sucked.”
Granted a rare reprieve by the special format, Whiteley’s team did anything but in the Chicago Style Second Chance Shootout. Only the two quickest drivers in the one-shot, last-ditch session would run for the money, and Whiteley ended up second with a 3.69, behind only Salemi’s 3.66. He was one of four drivers to run 3.69 but was the quickest with a 3.690, thousandths ahead of Joe Albrecht’s 3.691, Steve King’s 3.696, and Mike Decker Jr.’s 3.697.
Opposite Salemi in the $10,000 finale, Whiteley was halfway through low gear when the third member gave out. “We had what we thought was a .65 in the car,” he said. “I had her by a couple [hundredths of a second] on the Tree and she ran a .64, so a .65 should’ve been good enough to win, but who knows? We thought we were going to qualify in the top 32, too. It definitely would have been a good race, though – that I can say for sure.”