In his return to competition after crew chief Brandon Snider filled in admirably with a semifinal finish at the U.S. 131 Nationals, Steven Whiteley did likewise at the rescheduled Great Bend Nationals, advancing to the final four to soar into second place in the Mid-West Drag Racing Series Pro Mod standings.
Whiteley managed just a shut-off 5.52 at 78 mph on the original date four months ago in Great Bend, Kan., but he, like many, got just one run, and for the worst possible reason: in the second qualifying session, Ronnie Hobbs’ car went over the wall in a tragic crash that took his life and took out the timing system, ultimately pushing the race back four months and to a different site, series headquarters Tulsa Raceway Park.
“I went only about 10 feet and blew the tires off in the left lane on that one run at Great Bend and never got to make a run in the right after Ronnie’s crash,” Whiteley said. “I think morale was down for everybody, and rightfully so. We were all just thinking about his family.”
A world away in Tulsa, the rescheduled Great Bend event served as Race 1 of a two-race extravaganza on the penultimate weekend of the eight-race MWDRS season. From the No. 2 qualifying spot, Whiteley plowed through the first round of eliminations with the quickest and second-fastest run of the stanza, a sizzling 3.64 at 208.33 mph. Only Ed Thornton’s 219.54-mph blast was faster, and he was nearly a full tenth of a second behind Whiteley in the all-important E.T. department with a 3.72.
For Whiteley, the race may have ended in the quarterfinals when his ’69 Camaro slipped to a 4.59/111 against second-generation driver Justin Jones, but the weekend was far from over. Things were looking way up a day later at the Throwdown at T-Town, where the J&A Service/YNot team towered over the entire field with an event-best 3.64/209.
“By the time we made up this race, it wasn’t the same vibe as at that next one after Great Bend,” Whiteley said. “It’s a different track, and enough time has passed that things were just different. You could feel it. I wasn’t fazed about getting in the car again – I just wanted to get back at it. I think we all did.”