Frustrated with the direction of his NHRA Pro Mod program, Jim Whiteley had serious thoughts about stepping away from the sport.
Instead, he’ll look to the NHRA Pro Mod points leader to rejuvenate it.
Stevie “Fast” Jackson has officially been named crew chief on Whiteley’s supercharged J&A Service ’69 Chevelle, looking to turn around a team that has struggled mightily since Whiteley won in Houston early last year.
Whiteley has qualified just twice in the past 12 races in the talent-heavy class, including four DNQs to open 2019, something Jackson is determined to change as he comes on board.
“Jim is such an asset to this entire sport and it really touched my heart to help get his car racing like it needs to perform,” Jackson said. “We’ve been friends since I started running NHRA Pro Mod, and after eliminations (last weekend in Atlanta), we struck up a deal. It’s a huge honor to even be considered to tune that car. Jim’s an exceptional driver and is capable of winning. Hell, he has kicked my butt a time or two. I am going to give him a car that can win.”
Jackson’s success across the sport is impressive, and those talents have been apparent since he moved into the NHRA Pro Mod ranks in 2017.
He picked up four wins over the first two seasons, and has started 2019 in incredible fashion, setting the E.T. world record, winning a race in three final-round appearances and holding the points lead after four events.
Jackson also help makes his own tuning calls along side veteran crew chief Billy Stocklin on his supercharged Bahrain 1 Racing Camaro, and Whiteley has been impressed with the job he has done.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him. It shows on the track, but he’s got a lot of expertise with automatics,” Whiteley said. “He’s open-minded and he comes to race. His car runs so well and he does it with fewer people than most. His program, it’s one of the top ones out there, so I’m real excited.”
Jackson plans to make wholesale combination changes, as well as a number of component changes, with plans to test it all early next week.
If that goes well, Whiteley could race next weekend at the NHRA Pro Mod race in Virginia. Should the changes take more time, Whiteley will be back later this year, with Jackson promising the car won’t race until he’s confident it can qualify.
After a frustrating stretch dating back to last season, Whiteley also wants to make sure he has a car capable of running with the best in the loaded class.
His J&A Service company has been a staunch Pro Mod supporter the last several years, previously serving as a title sponsor for the class and now as a presenting sponsor. Whiteley remains passionate about the class, but disappointing performances – along with severe parts carnage – had him questioning how much longer he wanted to do it.
“I love to go racing and I really like this series,” Whiteley said. “But it’s been very frustrating for me. It’s difficult to feel good when you’re not running well and you tear stuff up. I was seriously thinking about backing up and stepping out. There’s no doubt we were going about things the wrong way. I would see my son (Steven) go out and run 5.70 at 253, but we would struggle so it has been frustrating.
“I would love to be part of the class, and qualify well with a car that has an opportunity to win, and I think working with Stevie can help us get there.”
Jackson is confident he’ll get Whiteley’s car back to that point. He received the blessing of his Bahrain 1 Racing Team to add the crew chief role, but juggling dual roles on separate cars will undoubtedly be difficult.
“I called Sheikh Abdulla and explained the situation in detail. He is an ambassador of the sport worldwide and immediately encouraged me to help. It’s awesome to be surrounded by people who love the sport of drag racing as much as I do,” Jackson said.
At the least, it will put the fan-favorite driver on a time constraint, and it could prove challenging to run for a championship in 2019. For Jackson, though, as he looked into the future, the decision was a no-brainer.
“Jim, Steven and (Jim’s wife) Annie are the salt of the earth. They’re a tremendous asset to this class and they’ve always helped racers in a time of need,” Jackson said. “Time is always the enemy, and it’s going to put a wrench in our chase for the championship, but long-term, it’s going be an awesome partnership. I’m willing to trade some short-term bumps for long-term success. I’m playing the long game, and the strength and determination of this team inspires me.”