In the final event of the 10-race regular season, in the best race of his young drag racing career, Pro Stock Motorcycle rookie Cory Reed catapulted over three other riders to move from 13th place into the Top 10 and into championship contention.

Reed qualified in the fast half of the field yet again and drew 10th-ranked Steve Johnson in a titanic head-to-head first-round matchup that meant the end of a potential title run for the loser. Reed was off the line like a shot with a .027 reaction time and drove away from Johnson, 6.93 to 7.06, and just like that, he was on the doorstep of the Countdown.

“I knew what I had to do before we ever got here: go one round further than Michael Ray, Karen Stoffer, and Steve Johnson,” Reed said. “I figured if we got to the semi’s I was in, but it turned out that I just had to get to the second round because everybody else lost first round. I watched Ray lose [to eventual runner-up Hector Arana Jr.] right in front of me, so that was one. I was running Johnson, so if I won he was automatically out. So then I just needed Karen to lose.”

She accommodated him with a loss to perennial championship contender Eddie Krawiec, 6.83 to 6.89 – but first Reed had to get around the wily Johnson, who has more starts than anyone in NHRA bike history. “Steve’s always been nice to me,” Reed said, “but I thought he’d try to play a game on the line – that’s his style – but he didn’t roll it back out of the beams or try anything.”

Reed had the lead from start to finish, and by the time he returned to the PSE/Star Racing pits, he was in the Countdown. “What I didn’t get was why nobody else seemed to know it,” he said. “I won first round, they all lost – I knew I was in.”

To put an exclamation point on the accomplishment, Reed, who had reached the quarterfinals at five of the past six races, took it one step further with a first career semifinal finish, topping teammate Angelle Sampey, who fouled away a 6.92. Reed’s .013 reaction time and quicker 6.88 meant that he actually got to the finish line first anyway.

In the semi’s, Reed fouled by the narrowest possible margin – one-thousandth of a second – against Arana, but by then the war had already been won: he was in the Countdown to the Championship. Now instead of trailing the points leader by an insurmountable 596 rounds, Reed finds himself just 110 points out of the lead because of the controversial Countdown format, which erases the points racers have accumulated all season and separates everyone in the Top 10 by just 10 points per position.

Now, anything can happen. “I really think making the Top 5 is a realistic goal, but I’m a racer – I want to win the championship,” he said. “We’re almost as fast as the Harleys now – maybe the next-fastest ones after them – and I do a little better with pressure, so we’ll see what happens. I definitely want to win at least one race.”