Jim Whiteley entered the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston as the defending event champ and son Steven did so as top-ranked driver on the J&A Service Pro Mod tour, winner of the season-opening Gatornationals. It ended in disappointment for both drivers, Jim in qualifying when he surprisingly failed to make the cut and Steven in the first round of eliminations.
“This was a big letdown after everything that happened in Gainesville,” said Steven, who fell in the first round to eventual winner Steve Matusek. “Winning Gainesville took a little bit of pressure off, just getting that first win, but it added some too because now everybody wants to take you out.”
Steven, twice a No. 1 qualifier already in his young career, entered last-shot qualifying just 25th in the field with a shutoff best of 6.35. Under immense pressure, he pounded out a 5.85 at 247 mph to make the program in the No. 12 position. Jim, whose earlier 5.93 had him comfortably in the field at the time, slipped to 21st by the time he staged in the final session and missed the race with a tire-shaking shutoff run.
In the first round, after lengthy delays for oildowns and the cleanup from Bob Rahaim’s scary double-wallbanger crash, Steven bolted off the line with a .053 reaction and was well on his way to a run well into the fives when the car got loose beyond half-track. He stayed with it until the very end, getting right on the edge of disaster without crossing it before finally relenting and reluctantly stepping off the gas. Matusek charged ahead and took the win with a 5.81, matching his qualifying time.
“This was the last thing I wanted after how well everything went in Gainesville,” Steven said. “These cars are so hard to keep consistent and you don’t want to let yourself fall into ‘Here we go again’ after a weekend like this, so we’ll just pick up from here and move on. I know what this team is capable of doing – we just did it in Gainesville.”