Steven Whiteley persevered through tornadoes that touched down across the Kansas plains early in the weekend, off-and-on rain that plagued qualifying, and horrendous mechanical carnage in eliminations to maintain second place in the Pro Mod standings.
In contention for the points lead all year with one consistent outing after another, Whiteley’s YNot Racing team bowed out in the Heartland Nationals quarterfinals after posting a strong 5.85 that positioned him 5th of more than 20 drivers in the first qualifying session. He slipped to 15th when a banzai attempt in the only other session ended in severe tire shake and found himself a huge underdog in the first round against Khalid Balooshi.
The former Pro Mod world champ and Top Fuel winner cut a perfectly fine .057 light but Whitely drilled him with a clutch .028 reaction time to win on a holeshot. With its tongue hanging out, his powerful Cadillac CTS, which easily would have run in the 5.70s on all eight cylinders, made it across the finish line first, but at just 244 mph. Balooshi’s turbocharged ’17 Camaro blew past him at 249, but only after they’d crossed the stripe in a 5.81 to 5.81 loss.
“That was a cool run,” Whiteley said. “We got lucky – he had a good light too – but we got the win. I used to cut .00s in my bracket car, but your leg is never going to be as quick as you hand is. I’ve worked at this for a long time, and I think it’s starting to come around. A deal like that, it’s pressure, and that actually helps – when you’re No. 15 and the other guy’s No. 2, you’ve got to cut a light.”
With no idea why the cylinder went out, the team, led by crew chief Jeff Perley, played it safe and changed everything for Sunday – new wire set, new coil, new cap. The power was there against second-round opponent Steven Matusek, but after leaving first Whiteley was left fighting for control when his car tried to shake itself apart.
“It destroyed basically everything,” he said. “The drive shaft, a couple 4-link bars, the wishbone, a rocker panel, a tire, the main hoop. The yoke was half-gone. The carbon driveshaft tunnel: destroyed. Looking at everything, you can’t really tell what happened first. The car will be fixed and heading back to North Carolina by Tuesday night, and then we’ll test the wheels off it, maybe at GALOT [Motorsports Park], where we’ve never run before. When Englishtown gets here, we’ll be ready.”