Steven Whiteley doesn’t particularly care who drives his car – him or talented driver/tuner Brandon Snider. Isn’t it weird to stand on the starting line sometimes and watch his car charging down the track with someone else at the wheel? “Not really,” he said. “I get asked that a lot, but, first of all, it’s not my car; it’s my dad’s. I know Brandon’s driving style, and he’s good. Really good. He’s a better driver than I am, hands-down.”

At the rain-delayed Night of Fire & Thunder contested in conjunction with the originally scheduled Heads-Up Hootenanny, Snider pulled off something even more important than winning: he took out points rival Keith Haney, the biggest obstacle between Whiteley and Whiteley’s first championship.

Snider proved his worth right from the start, six weeks ago on the original date, when he tuned and drove the car to the No. 1 spot by more than a tenth and a half with a 3.69 at 205 mph, earning a first-round bye in the short 13-car field. On that single, he missed low E.T. of the round by mere thousandths of a second with a 3.72/203 behind only hard-charging Mark Micke’s 3.71 at 215 mph, top speed by nearly 10 mph.

That set up a massive quarterfinal clash with Haney, which Snider won with a better light (.063 to .075) and a quicker (3.64 to 3.70) and faster (208 to 201 mph) pass. “Tuning the car just shows how much more analytical he is than I am,” Whiteley said. “I’m just a driver. I let go of the trans-brake button and send it, then tell him what I just felt when I get out of the car. He knows what’s going on the whole time – in or out of the car.”

Snider summarily mowed down Jerry Hunter in the semi’s, 3.69/207 to Hunter’s slowing 3.85/187, but Micke grabbed the upper hand on his bye run with a 3.65/217. Picking up significantly to a 3.66/207, Snider gave the J&A Service/YNot Racing team a real chance in the final, but Micke ran him down before the eighth-mile with a superior 3.64/217. “Brandon was winning,” Whiteley said, “but against that turbo car there’s not much you can do. He outran us, but that wasn’t the big thing. Beating Haney was the big thing, and he did.”