Cory Reed was out early at the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, victimized by a rare starting line miscue that disqualified him from a race he wasn’t going to win anyway.

Reed red-lighted in the opening round of eliminations, but opponent L.E. Tonglet, winner of the most recent event and a tenth and a half faster than Reed at this one, ripped off low E.T. of the meet to that point, 6.81, to win handily. After the foul, Reed charged to a 6.92, by far his best run of the weekend.

“I knew I had to go for it to even have a chance, Reed said. “Qualifying with a 7-flat … I didn’t think anyone would be qualifying anywhere all year with a 7-second run. I had to do something. It doesn’t feel quite as bad when the guy who beats you ends up winning the whole race, and he did. He beat everybody.”

For Reed, already known for his lightning-fast reflexes, it wasn’t a matter of being too quick for his own good and missing the Tree by a few thousandths even though he left on yellow. He just left. “I started thinking up there, and that’s never a good idea,” he said. “My hand wasn’t quite where I wanted it, and I was still moving it after I was staged. It was slipping, slipping, and finally I just let it go. I knew it was going to be red when I went by the Tree.”

All is not lost for the 2016 NHRA Rookie of the Year and his all-new Team Liberty, who blew up two motors testing in Charlotte the Monday after the 4-Wide Nationals. “One of them wasn’t that bad,” he said. “It just dropped a valve. The other was completely blown up – there was a rod sticking out the side of it – and that really set us back at this race. We had to run a couple backup motors, and they weren’t quite as good.”

In 2016, the Atlanta race was the first time the rookie rider made the field. This time it was his third in a row – he’s qualified for every race all year. “Power is right around the corner,” he said. “We just need to keep doing what we’re doing. We haven’t had much time to do anything, really. We haven’t done what normal teams do, like run every possible combination on the dyno. We don’t have a dyno. We will, though. We’ve been shooting in the dark. It’s one try on the right piston, one try on the right cam. We’ve got all kinds of good stuff coming. When the power gets here – and it will, soon – we’ll be fine.”