Motivated by back-to-back top-half qualifying performances at Charlotte and Atlanta, Cory Reed and his Liberty Racing crew pulled into Chicago thinking big. “We were all pumped up, like, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this race,’ but, uh, no,” said the 2016 NHRA Rookie of the Year, clearly disappointed. He opened with an off-pace 7.15 and it only went downhill from there.

Well aware that he wasn’t going anywhere in the second session, Reed shut off early and actually went into Saturday not qualified. He then picked up to a 7.03 at just short of 190 mph that squeaked into the field in the 15th spot, and after a similar 7.04 in last-shot qualifying found himself qualified, though barely so in the 16th and final spot. He was pitted against many-time world champ and No. 1 qualifier Andrew Hines in round one, but as it turned out, it didn’t matter who Reed lined up against when eliminations commenced Sunday afternoon – his engine refused to fire, and he was peeling off his gloves as his bike was pushed away from the starting apron when the light turned green for that first-round match.

“We had a different injector for this race, different manifold, shorter pipes, and moved the power curve up,” Reed said. “It all looked good on the dyno, but that’s not how it turned out. You make a small change to the clutch, and nothing happens. Even a big change, nothing happens. Out of nowhere, it does something it’s never done before. When we fried the clutch, we thought, ‘OK, no problem, that wasn’t the right way. We’ll just work back in the other direction,’ but that didn’t work either. It’s been a mess. Right now, the clutch just is not repeatable, but believe me, we’ll get this figured out before the next one.”