Everybody gets beat in the first round, but for Joey Gladstone that hasn’t been a problem – until Richmond. Competing at his adopted home track, Virginia Motorsports Park, Gladstone was gone early for the first time all season after just missing a perfect reaction time with a -.010 foul.

“I was pushing it, sure,” he admitted. “That’s Eddie [Krawiec, the four-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion] over there in the other lane. You know it’s gonna be a tough round. You know he’s gonna run good. You’d damn sure better be ready, and I guess I was a little too ready that time.”

Gladstone, who began the season with a semifinal finish in Gainesville, was looking good until the Tree flashed in the first pair of the first round. Still a solid sixth in the standings despite this untimely setback, he unloaded an all-time best 6.77 at 199.29 mph in testing here April 12 and entered the race in fourth place, ahead of past champions Matt Smith, Angelle Savoie, and Jerry Savoie.

Friday evening in the first of three scheduled Virginia Nationals qualifying sessions, Gladstone, fighting the weather like everyone in every category, came through with a 6.87/195 to move well into the field, followed Saturday afternoon by a more than respectable 6.89/196. Any shot at improving was eliminated by persistent showers that evening that had some riders willing to wait out the rain for one last run and others not.

“The dew point was falling,” said Gladstone, who ended up ninth on the final qualifying grid, stuck with an unenviable first-round meeting with number 8 Krawiec. “The guys who didn’t want us to get one more run were making their case with NHRA officials – I stood right there and watched the whole thing go down. We really could have used one more run. If we’d have gotten it, things would have turned out a lot differently on Sunday, I guarantee you.”