The debut of Pro Stock Motorcycle’s new superteam, Team Liberty Racing, went better than anyone could have envisioned – especially as the dwindling days before the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals wound down. “Everybody’s happy,” said team leader Cory Reed after both he and teammate Angelle Sampey qualified for the tough Gainesville field. “I think we all decided as we headed to the track that we’d already accomplished our goals for the first race.”

While established teams spent the winter picking away at setups, finding new power, and refining their 2016 tuneups, the all-new Georgia-based operation was just trying to get a new shop built. “It was a relief to be actually be at a race after all that work,” Reed said. “It was like, ‘Well, let’s see how we stack up with everybody else.’ ”

Reed quickly learned that Team Liberty Racing stacked up quite well – both bikes made the cut. Reed and Sampey both picked up as the race wore on, Reed making the cut on his first run and eventually improving to a 6.88 at 192 mph for the No. 11 spot and Sampey qualifying a completely unfamiliar motorcycle under last-shot pressure.

“She was a nervous wreck for a while there,” Reed said of Sampey, a three-time NHRA world champ. “She just needed one pass to confirm that she can do it, and she was fine. When I first started learning, I’d sometimes make back-to-back passes rotating between four different bikes, so I got used to it. Now, I’m comfortable on just about anything.”

Reed showed it in eliminations, when, after not particularly trying to cut a light during qualifying, he opened an early lead on former world champion L.E. Tonglet in the first round with a clutch .011-second reaction time. Tonglet eventually drove around the 2016 NHRA Rookie of the Year, 6.80/197 to Reed’s 6.95/190, but by then Reed’s point was made: Team Liberty is going to be a factor in 2017.

The back-loaded NHRA schedule for Pro Stock Motorcycles, which features a much more packed slate of races and long breaks between events early in the 16-race season, stops next in Charlotte for the Four-Wide Nationals in late April. “We’ll have a lot of testing in by the time we get there,” Reed said. “We changed a bunch of piston stuff and cam stuff before we even left Gainesville, and we’ll be ready when we get to Charlotte. Both of us making the show in our first race made it a good weekend, but as the season goes on we’re both going to be a lot closer to the top teams.”