Missing the middle rounds of eliminations for the first time all year, Cory Reed absorbed the first early exit of Team Liberty’s promising 2018 season at the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. “We were chasing a clutch tune-up and different gear ratios, trying to learn,” Reed said following a narrow first-round loss to championship contender Scotty Pollacheck.

“It was still a good weekend, if you ask me,” Reed said. “The team came together, people meshed, and everybody’s morale was good. We just ordered six complete transmissions so we don’t have to spend time changing gears between runs. It’ll just be ‘Take this one out and put this one in’ because rebuilding the whole transmission just takes too long to do it between rounds. We weren’t here to test – we came to win – but each pass was a learning experience, and things are looking up.”

Reed grabbed the early qualifying lead with an off-the-trailer 6.88 that had him in the No. 2 spot when the opening session wrapped up, No. 3 at the conclusion of Friday qualifying, and No. 7 on Saturday’s final grid. He and Pollacheck left the line within a thousandth of a second of each other Sunday morning and charged down the quarter-mile side by side to the finish, where Pollacheck persevered by about a bike length, 6.93 to 6.97.

“That sucked, but I’m not down,” Reed said. “The season’s 16 races long – you’re going to lose first round a time or two. My first year out here [2016], I didn’t qualify three times and we still made the Countdown. We’re building for the future. People are telling me we’re assembling a super team and we are – these are the exact people I would pick if I had my choice of anyone out here. Ken [Johnson] and Darrell [Mullis] have the bikes prepared perfectly every time, and everybody knows what Larry [Morgan] and Jim [Yates] can do. I’m not out here for a good time – I want to make my name in drag racing and bring this whole class up. I’m here to win championships.”