As the 2021 Camping World Drag Racing Series approaches its midpoint, former NHRA Rookie of the Year Cory Reed isn’t quite up to speed. “My motorcycle’s a little behind right now,” he admitted after a tough first-round loss to longtime nemesis Andrew Hines. “[Teammate] Joey [Gladstone]’s bike has all the kinks worked out. It’s settled, smooth. Mine’s still fighting itself.”

Reed, who reached his second career final earlier this season Las Vegas, never really got going at the Summit Nationals in rural Norwalk, Ohio. After sitting through the rain all day Friday for one shot at the waterlogged Norwalk strip, he trudged to a middling 7.05 at 194 mph that positioned him ninth at the time but just 14th by the end of the session.

Saturday, Reed picked up with a 7.07/193 and a subsequent 6.96/195 in last-shot qualifying that got him off the bump and into the field for good. “We kept having wheelie bar issues,” said the young rider, who entered eliminations 13th in the final lineup. “I mean, we tried everything. Changing the tire seemed to work, and the bike improved almost every time it went down the racetrack after that. Basically, we learned here what to do with the wheelie bar on a hot track: raise it up. It really helps.”

Facing Hines, who’s ruined a lot of opponents’ afternoons on the way to a half-dozen NHRA championships, Reed came out on the wrong end of a 6.85/199 to 6.93/193 first-round decision, but, heading into the toughest part of the season, he remains undeterred. “We’re gonna test at Denver before the Mile-High Nationals,” he said. “It’s so slow up there. You have to raise the launch RPM like 1,500 and change just about everything for that one race, but when we get there we’ll be ready.”