Kurt Steding was waiting on pins and needles as invitees were announced for the World Series of Pro Mod. His tuner and P2 Racing teammate, Todd “King Tut” Tutterow, was announced much later than many expected, and Steding’s name was announced even later than that. For Steding, it was all a part of the unique WSOPM experience.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #182, the WSOPM Issue, in May/June of 2023.]
“It was promoted so well,” Steding said. “You had the feeling of, ‘Man, when’s my name coming up? When am I getting invited?’ Even after we knew we were invited, I’m like, ‘When’s [Wes Buck] going to post it?’ Every day, every hour, you’re looking at it. The month before the race, I couldn’t wait to get there.”
Testing went well for the Pittsburgh-area contractor, then he fired off a 3.674 at 206.04 in his screw-blown P2 Contracting ’20 Camaro to sit fifth after the first qualifying session. He stepped up to a 3.665 in Q2 but slipped to No. 12. He wasn’t able to improve in Saturday’s two sessions, ending up No. 20 out of the 61 cars.
“We put up big numbers early and then we got surpassed there,” Steding said. “I was surprised to see us move to No. 20, but I loved how we did the chips, so it really made no difference. I thought that was a really cool thing. No. 1 and 2 could have raced right off the bat.”
In the chip draw, Steding got matched up with reigning Mid-West Drag Racing Series Pro Mod champion Dustin Nesloney, who qualified No. 15 with a 3.660. In the fourth pair on Sunday, Steding left on Nesloney by just .008 seconds, then the two drivers had to pedal their way to the finish line. Steding got there first with a 4.426 to Nesloney’s 4.456.
“We saw some big things happen in that first round,” Steding said, “and the track wasn’t so good in that first round, and we really had to pedal the car and get after it. Once we lost traction, the race was almost over at that point. I just said, ‘Uh-huh, it’s not.’”
Steding was .008 off the starting line in the second round to beat J.R. Gray’s 3.668 with a 3.675. A marquee matchup followed in the third round, as Steding drew Tutterow, who was tuning six other cars on top of the two P2 Contracting Camaros.
“I would’ve loved to see us both in the finals,” Steding said. “I’ve never beaten Todd in competition. We’ve dragged around in qualifying where we had a matchup and we make a little wager on it. I have done that. We go after the lights and all that.”
Steding finally got one up on Tutterow. They left with nearly identical lights – Steding’s .039 to Tutterow’s .040 – and it was Steding’s orange-striped Camaro sticking a nose out ahead of Tutterow’s white-striped car at the finish line in a 3.667-to-3.680 race.
“It just shows you what kind of guy Todd is,” Steding said. “Sometimes you might race him and the car doesn’t go fast. They just do different things. Even though the cars are almost identical, they run different. I actually felt bad at the end there when I beat him. I felt good, but I still said, ‘I’m sorry’ to him.”
Again, Steding was off the line first in the semifinals against Kenny Lang, by .004 seconds this time. He ran a 3.659 to beat Lang’s 3.677. It was Steding’s fourth consecutive round leaving first.
“I always try to just do the same thing and not get flustered,” Steding said when explaining his consistently solid reaction times all weekend. “Sometimes you have to change it up and go in first or second. Sometimes you have a turbo car. I was just really focused. We had a lot of friends and family fly in. Our pits were full. I just stayed away and kept my head straight and it worked out.”
As Steding and Hyde rolled to the staging lanes to start getting strapped in and ready for the final round, neither driver suggested a split of the $100,000 purse. Steding admits it crossed his mind, though.
“I’m not a big money splitter, but I will. I said to Todd, if he wants to split the money, I’ll do it, otherwise I’m not going to bring it up. And it wasn’t brought up. If it would’ve, I would’ve split it. But hindsight now, maybe I should have brought it up,” Steding laughed.
With a .033 reaction time to Hyde’s .037, Steding was first out of the gate in the final round, but he didn’t have enough steam to hold the lead through the finish line. He ended up with a 3.652 at 207.15, just five thousandths behind Hyde and his 3.643 at 205.51.
“That was probably one of my worst trees of the day, but it gets a little different at night,” Steding said. “We did nip the motor in round two. So you have to be careful that you don’t blow it up because we didn’t put a new motor in. We just rebuilt that one. You have to be careful not to push it too hard and blow it up and then lose the race. So it was unfortunate. He went faster and kudos to him. He’s pretty good on the tree too. He’s always been pretty good on the tree.”
Even though he didn’t turn on that final win light, Steding is adamant that his performance at the WSOPM was a win for his team. His car was running consistently, and he had perhaps the best driving day of his career. After finishing sixth in PDRA Pro Boost points last season, it was exactly the weekend Steding needed to kick-start his pursuit of the 2023 championship.
“My workload is so heavy and my mind wasn’t straight in the car at a couple points last year and it directly affected my lights,” Steding said. “One time you might have a .010 and next thing you know have a .050, and I’m not really a .050 light guy. I put my head straight in it a couple weeks before we got there, thought about it every day, and I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ And I think I hit the right point, so I think I’m back on track.”