Veteran Pro Mod driver Steven Whiteley is no stranger to competing at the World Series of Pro Mod, but the 2023 edition of the event – March 3-5 at Bradenton Motorsports Park – will still be a new experience.
Whiteley, who will be driving his J&A Service screw-blown 1969 Camaro, was an attendee of the first two WSOPM races in Denver in 2017 and 2018. Those events ran the quarter mile at an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level. While the format has changed, Whiteley’s excitement has not.
“I was thrown back,” Whiteley said upon receiving his invitation from Drag Illustrated Founder & Editorial Director Wes Buck. “I remember seeing a lot of the stuff on social media, and it was making me think back to when it started in Denver years ago. When he texted me, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, here we go. We’re going again.’”
Whiteley resides in Grand Junction, Colorado, and admitted racing close to home at Bandimere Speedway was special to him. However, he believes that both the move to Bradenton, Florida, and an outlaw eighth-mile format will make the event grow even bigger.
“I know there was a lot of racers that couldn’t make it to Denver, or because of the elevation, it would be hurting the parity quite a bit,” said Whiteley, the 2017 WSOPM runner-up. “It’s funny, because years ago after we ran [in Denver], I said, ‘I wonder if they ever want to do this in Florida, because our stuff would haul ass there.’ Years down the road, it finally happened. I’m happy to have participated when it was at Denver because it is very close on my heart. But in the interest of putting on a race of such caliber, I think this is the place to do it.”
Whiteley competed primarily in the Mid-West Drag Racing Series in 2022, finishing second in points. As a former competitor in the NHRA and PDRA as well, he’s anxious to see some old familiar faces, and race against the best drivers from every sanctioning body.
“I’m glad they’re truly pulling from everyone,” Whiteley said. “If you want to have the baddest car win the baddest race, I think it only makes sense that you pull your heavy hitters from various drag racing organizations throughout the country.”
With $100,000 at stake for the winner, Whiteley knows this isn’t like any other race. He’s competed on this stage before, though, and says that once his rig rolls through the gates, he doesn’t let the financial aspect concern him.
“I think the majority of the racers here are well-seasoned veterans that are used to dealing with pressure,” said Whiteley. “In situations like that, if your mind is consumed with, ‘I have to win this, I have to do that,’ that’s a compromise right there. And you’re automatically mentally not fit for what you need to be doing. So I don’t even let that come into my mind until afterwards.”
The WSOPM will also feature a chip draw before each round, creating a bit of a matchup mystery for the 32 drivers that qualify. Whiteley enjoys the idea of knowing that anyone who qualifies can win the event, no matter how high or low they are on the list.
“It kind of takes away the upset,” said Whiteley. “That side of it mixes things up, keeps it fresh. I also think it could help the morale of the teams during qualifying. If we’re struggling, and gotta go against the fastest car there, it kind of scratches that off the table. At that point, it really doesn’t matter. You need to do your job better than the guy next to you. So regardless if you’re matched up with a chip draw, or based off a qualifying sheet – you got a job to do, and the 16 that do it better are gonna move on to the next round.”
WSOPM officials recently announced the race will feature not one, but two professional broadcasts – a livestream from FloRacing, and a primetime television slot on CBS Sports in early April. Whiteley believes the increased exposure will show Pro Mod in a light that to this point has been reserved for other classes.
“I think drag racing recently has increased its audience, mostly because of Street Outlaws,” Whiteley said. “They bring a lot of attention to the sport. Because when it comes to NHRA or anything else like that, unless you’re Top Fuel, no one really cares about you. I think it’s cool to have a broadcast that’s based solely on real racers, real equipment, and real race cars in their setting. Not just a hopped up TV show that’s fake half the time anyway.”
After a few years away from the WSOPM, Whiteley should still feel right at home running for big money with the cameras rolling – even if the event has moved far away.
“I’m really excited to be back behind the wheel and representing J&A Service. I think that little bit of pressure does help me; it’s kind of a test to myself. I’ve had my break, and it’s time to get back to work.”
For more information about the WSOPM, including a complete list of invited drivers and how to purchase tickets, visit www.WorldSeriesofProMod.com.