Steven Whiteley’s dreams of a Pro Mod championship came crashing down with a red-light start at the final race of the 2023 Mid-West Drag Racing Series season, but not before he’d pushed the title fight to the absolute limit. “We’re still holding our heads high,” said Whiteley, who came into this race just five points out of the lead. “We battled all year and overcame a lot. It was a hell of a comeback story, crashing at one race [Martin] and coming back to win the next one [Tulsa].”

At the MWDRS World Finals in Ferris, Texas, Whiteley and crew chief Brandon Snider clawed their way to the brink of overtaking season-long points leader Keith Haney, but with a near-miss -.013 foul start in the quarterfinals, it wasn’t to be. “I had that one in the bag,” Whiteley said. “I beat myself, took us right out of the race. I just pushed too hard, and I didn’t even need to.”

Whiteley matched his excellent 3.66 qualifying time with another 3.66 in round one that wiped out Mike Labbate and gave him a decided performance advantage over former series champion Aaron Wells in the second round, a round he absolutely had to have to take down Haney. “The car was hauling ass all weekend,” Whiteley said. “We were working hard all night to maintain lane choice, and I tried to string a few lights together to maybe intimidate Haney a little. All year, whenever we’d back up and play it safe we didn’t do as well as if we’d just kept getting after it every run, so Brandon got after it and I did, too.”

Whiteley invalidated what would’ve been a winning 3.66 while Wells, who eventually won the race, upsetting Haney on a holeshot in a wild final, mustered only a 3.88. “He had to pedal it, and that made red-lighting hurt even worse,” Whiteley said. “A .66 was a solid run, decent for the conditions and borderline good. It’s not like I had to have some perfect light to win that round; a .060 would have been more than enough.”

Compounding Whiteley’s frustration was that he made it all the way through the eighth-mile traps and well into the shutdown area without ever knowing he’d gone red. “I had no idea,” he said. “Half the guys on the team didn’t know, either. They were all celebrating back on the line, then someone came over the radio and said, ‘Hey, bud. Sorry, he got you.’ I was like, ‘What? He’s not even down here.’ I never saw him.”

Overall, Whiteley and Snider went 21-5 (.807) for the season. “It was a fun battle all year,” Whiteley said. “Between Brandon and I, we wore Haney’s ass out a few times, but hey, he did a good job – not that that makes red-lighting any less bitter. It was a weird year – weird, but good.”