Solidly in the middle of the pack, locked in for what figured to be the closest match of the first round – No. 8 vs. No. 9 – Cory Reed faced theoretically the toughest possible opponent: incoming points leader Ryan Oehler, the most recent winner on the 2021 NHRA tour. In the end, it didn’t matter who was in the other lane – he didn’t have a bike to ride.

Runner-up to “Flyin’ Ryan” two weeks ago in Las Vegas, Reed sailed through Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying at the Southern Nationals, the 40th and last at Atlanta Dragway, only to have it all far apart in eliminations. He broke behind the line without ever turning a tire. “This whole deal sucked,” Reed said. “I didn’t know what the hell was going on up there – it seemed like the motor was about to blow up.”

With just a pair of qualifying runs to tune from under Atlanta’s unpopular two-shot format, all arrows were pointing up for Reed heading into race day. He clocked a 6.867 at 198.00 mph Saturday morning on his first attempt and a better 6.842/196.85 that afternoon in the only other session, hanging way off the side in the shutdown area to keep the bike off the wall. Meanwhile, teammate Joey Gladstone’s heroic 6.78 on his first run back from a nasty 200+ mph crash weeks earlier in Darlington, S.C., made him the star of the entire event.

Reed ended up in the same spot he qualified at both previous races this year, Gainesville and Las Vegas: No. 9. He didn’t need to improve to eliminate Oehler; he didn’t even need to make a good run. Any full run would’ve done. But as Oehler was inching toward the line to stage, Reed was climbing off his bike in the water box and walking away in disgust. The two-step failed, and he had no interest in dragging himself to the line just to watch Oehler disappear in the distance. With the track to himself and victory guaranteed, Oehler staggered across the finish line 9.86 seconds later with a blown engine.

“I would have beat him if I got to run, obviously,” Reed said. “You come here with a really fast motorcycle, then on Sunday you can’t even do a burnout. The two-step breaks? I’ve never heard of that happening, ever. I mean, that’s a $45 part. You know something’s wrong, but you don’t know what it is – I thought the pistons were parked on the cylinder walls or something. I popped the clutch, and the motor just went ‘Uhhhhh…’ No power. I tried putting it in second for some ratio, but nothing was happening. Everyone’s yelling, ‘Stage it, stage it,’ but I’m like, ‘Nah.’ I already knew it wasn’t going go anywhere. Why stick a rod out the side of the block for nothing?”