Joey Gladstone left Gainesville a career-high third in the standings after the finest season-opener of his young career – one of the few races ever run without any qualifying. Drying out from nearly six inches of rain in two days, the Pro Stock Motorcycles never hit the lanes till the sun was going down Saturday evening, and when they finally did, only four actually made a run. None of them counted.

One, by seven-time national event winner Michael Phillips, oiled the lengthy Gainesville Raceway strip from end to end, and by the time the cleanup was complete, conditions were unsafe – at least according to some. Others, including Gladstone, felt quite the opposite. “This is crazy,” he said of the decision to halt qualifying and seed the field based on final 2021 points standings. “There’s nothing wrong with this track. If you want to run, run. I do. If you don’t, roll up there and take the Tree. There’s only 16 bikes here – you’re in.”

Gladstone, who made his NHRA debut exactly 10 years ago this weekend, was slotted into the No. 7 position on the ladder based on his career-best eighth-place finish in the 2021 standings. But instead of a brutal first-round matchup with six-time world champ Andrew Hines, who’s just tuning for Vance & Hines racers this year and not riding, Gladstone got a much more favorable matchup with Kelly Clontz. He trounced her by half a tenth on the Tree, .066 to .113, and that was the difference in a much closer than anticipated race, 6.86/198 to 6.87/193.

In the quarterfinals, Gladstone drew not 2021 championship runner-up Angelle Sampey, as expected, but rather Marc Ingwersen, who’d upset her in the first round for the first round-win of his career. The Reed Motorsports Suzuki Hayabusa posted a fine 6.78, which was within six-hundredths off the incoming national record of 6.72 until eventual winner Karen Stoffer doubled it three pair later with a record-shattering 6.66. “Looks like we got our scooter back,” said Gladstone, who maintained his earlier 198-mph pace in the semifinals but slipped to a 6.88 and fell to Angie Smith’s 6.73/201. “Good weekend,” assessed team leader Cory Reed, hobbling around in a walking boot and thrilled to be back in action after his harrowing Charlotte crash Sept. 19. “I feel great. I’m getting around pretty good, and I feel a lot better than I did. But what really feels good is seeing those win-lights come on.”