In the first race of his first full season in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle, Cory Reed just missed the cut at the prestigious Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. Qualified 14th with one session to go, he ran 6.90s in three of four qualifying sessions only to get bumped in the final session by the guy in the other lane, perennial championship contender Hector Arana Jr.

“It was still a solid weekend, a great learning experience,” Reed said. “I like racing way better than just testing. It actually makes it a little easier, especially on the line – they put their first bulb on, you put yours on, you stage, they stage. It’s good just to get into the whole rhythm of having someone in the other lane.”

Astride the YNot Racing/Star Racing Buell EBR, Reed, who made his official debut last November at Las Vegas, took the early qualifying lead Friday afternoon with a career-best 6.933 at 191 mph only to have his time wiped off the board in the Friday evening session, when he spun off the line and slipped from 10th to 15th in the qualifying order – just below the crucial Top 12 line. In an NHRA rule enacted in 2008, all but the top 12 times are dropped heading into Saturday qualifying and everybody from 13 down starts all over. The final bump was 6.938, so if not for the controversial rule, Reed would have made an NHRA national event field in just his second attempt.

“It was hard not to think about that, but I’m more focused on getting used to the acceleration off the line and watching the shift light,” Reed said. “That first shift comes up fast – just past the 60-foot clocks – and you really have to be patient and wait on it. I short-shifted 1-2 and 2-3 really bad or that first run absolutely would’ve been in the .80s.”

Reed made two more strong runs Saturday – a 6.95 that got him back into the show in the third session and a 6.97 in last shot qualifying – but ended up 18th on the final qualifying grid, right between former world champ Matt Smith and many time national event winner Shawn Gann.

“It was awesome being right in there with all the big guys, especially Jerry [Savoie, who was in contention for the 2015 NHRA championship right down to the final day of the season],” Reed said. “Just rolling up next to Jerry was pretty sweet. It made me feel good to be a part of this team. [Star Racing teammate] Angelle [Sampey] qualified fifth [with a career-best 6.84], which just gives you even more confidence. These fields are tight, tight, tight every time, but we’re gonna figure everything out and I’m going to get this shift light figured out. We’ve definitely got the power, that’s for sure.”