At the NHRA Summit Racing Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, an hour outside Cleveland and 10 minutes from the shores of Lake Erie, Cory Reed and Team Liberty kept alive their perfect streak of qualifying both his and teammate Angelle Sampey’s bikes at every event before both bowed out in the opening round.

“It probably doesn’t look that great from the outside – losing first round again – but you have to look at the big picture,” said Reed, NHRA’s 2016 Rookie of the Year. “We continue to make progress, little bits at a time. Chris [Rivas] knows what he’s doing. Ken [“Big” Johnson] knows what he’s doing. When we have a dyno like everybody else, we’ll be faster – a lot faster.”

Reed, who has qualified as high as fifth in his young drag racing career, began eliminations from the No. 9 spot – his highest to date with the newly formed team. He came within a scant thousandth of a second of the top half of the field, matching No. 8 Mike Berry’s 6.932 right to the thousandth of a second but losing the speed tiebreaker, 189.04 mph to Berry’s 192.03.

Already established as a known “leaver,” Reed figured to have the upper hand in such an even matchup, but Berry got the jump, .030 to .064, and slightly outran the second-year racer for a 6.95 to 6.99 win. “When the bike’s not leaving hard, it doesn’t just hurt your e.t. – it hurts your reaction time, too,” Reed said. “I like Mike – he’s a good dude. If somebody had to beat me, it may as well be him. But this sucks. Losing sucks. We ran that 6.93 in the first session, and when you run that good that early you know you’re going to be in the show and can really focus on stuff to make the bike faster. Only this time, we never got any faster.”