PRO MOD – TOPEKA
Steven Whiteley was minding his own business, speeding down the right lane at nearly 250 mph in the first round of Heartland Nationals eliminations, when opponent Todd Tutterow slammed into his car just past the finish line. Sliding sideways out of control across the stripe at 223 mph with a 5.80-flat, one of the quickest Pro Mod runs all weekend, Tutterow, the second-ranked driver of 2019, actually got the win.
But after the finish line – right after the finish line – things got ugly fast. The grizzled pro, who won the season-opening Gatornationals and who’s made countless runs under every conceivable track and weather condition, took it a little too far this time, and when he corrected way later than he probably ever has that far down the quarter-mile, his ’68 Camaro shot across the track and rammed Whiteley’s ’18 Camaro. It trashed the left side of the once pristine ’18 Camaro and shoved it into the right-side wall, crunching the right side and effectively totaling the car.
“I never saw him until he got close,” Whiteley said. “By then, there’s wasn’t much I could do before he plowed into me and pancaked my car into the wall. He told me, ‘It sucks to tear up your stuff, but it sucks even more when somebody else’s gets torn up, too,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah, no kidding.’ It’s pretty tough, knowing your family’s watching the whole thing. The weird part is it was exactly one year ago here at Topeka that we debuted this car.”
It was an unfortunate but somehow fitting conclusion to the clash of past Gatornationals champions – Whiteley in 2017 and Tutterow, who’s lived through countless dangerous runs down every backwoods track in the South across all eras of big-time door-car racing, in 2019. In the same round, four cars were more or less destroyed – the First Gen and Sixth Gen Camaros of Tutterow and Whiteley, the late-model Camaro of Pro Stock/Pro Mod racer Alex Laughlin, who smashed up the left side of his car when he lost vision but pressed on anyway, and the split-window ’63 Corvette of past national event champ Jeremy Ray, who just missed collecting superstar Erica Enders in a frightening crash that opened possibly the single most eventful round in the history of NHRA Pro Mod racing.
The round marked the end one of the finest-looking Pro Mods to ever grace the J&A Service Pro Mod series, but it won’t keep Whiteley down for long. The second-generation star will be at Bristol this weekend supporting father Jim Whiteley and back in action next weekend at Norwalk with his old Cadillac. “I’m not sure when the Camaro will be back,” he said. “Maybe Indy – we’ll just have to see.”