For Steven Whiteley, the Memphis makeup race at Tulsa Raceway Park will always be more about his teammates than it was about how he himself fared. Wife Delaina enjoyed the finest outing of her burgeoning Top Dragster career with a runner-up finish to his aunt, reigning MWDRS champion Anita Pulliam-Strasburg, and mom Annie Whiteley won Funny Car.
Not that Whiteley didn’t do just fine himself. He breezed into the top half of the field with a 3.73, lifting a little early because the quick, still-unfamiliar rack-and-pinion steering ratio made the car want to dart around on him. “That first run was just my seventh hit back in the car, and you definitely don’t want to oversteer, especially because it’s my dad’s – not mine,” he said. “But if it had been a full pull, that would’ve been straight to the top.”
The numbers bear it out. Every driver who qualified ahead of Whiteley made a hammer-down 200-mph blast through the traps, 20 mph faster than his coasting 183-mph run, yet those drivers were only incrementally quicker, with 3.71s, 3.72s, and 3.73s. Water seeped through the track to such an extent that eliminations had to be canceled in Memphis, and when they finally began, it was two weeks later and more than 400 miles away at Tulsa Raceway Park.
“That first weekend in Memphis was kinda rough,” said Whiteley, who ended up No. 6 with the early-shutoff 3.73/183. “It was just a never-ending battle with the track. We’d walk up there and check it out, there wouldn’t be enough runoff, and the water would collect so they could never get the track in shape for us to run.”
Under vastly different conditions in Tulsa, Whiteley definitively showed what that 3.73 in Memphis could have been by laying down a 3.66 in the first round (half a tenth quicker than No. 1 qualifier Dustin Nesloney’s 3.71 in that round) to wipe out track co-owner Todd Martin’s 3.76.
“This is all fresh, we’re coming off a break, and it’s like everything’s all new again,” he said. “I’m just loving this eighth-mile deal. I’m over the quarter-mile. After the eighth, it almost feels like the car is floating to the finish line. You’re just waiting for something to happen, and you’d better be ready to do something fast if it does. In the eighth-mile, the car’s carrying the front end the whole time, all the weight is on the ass end, and you’re charging all the way to the end. The whole race is more exciting, more intense.”