Joey Gladstone’s dream season continued at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in the picturesque hills of eastern Tennessee, where he qualified a career-high 2nd with a fine 6.88 made more impressive by the fact that this is just the second time Pro Stock Motorcycles have ever raced on the high-altitude Bristol strip.
The barren surface was more than a little shaky for the two-wheel set in Friday evening’s initial qualifying session, but it wasn’t downright treacherous like last fall, when more than one run was a crash just waiting to happen. Drawing on years of experience across a broad spectrum of machinery under every conceivable track and weather condition, Gladstone guided Cory Reed Motorsports’ Vance & Hines-powered Suzuki down the slippery strip to a 7.02/189 for the No. 6 spot.
Saturday Gladstone shot to a 6.94/193 to leap all the way to No. 2 at the time and No. 3 by the end of the session, and then an outstanding 6.88/194. That run, in the final pair of the day, was, for the first time in team history, low e.t. of an entire session and good for No. 2 overall behind only low qualifier Angelle Sampey’s slightly quicker 6.87/196.
“Number 2, wow,” Gladstone said, almost speechless. “That’s the highest I’ve ever qualified anywhere. It’s pretty nice to know that we can do something like that out here with all these guys who’ve been doing it for so long.”
Sunday morning in the first round of eliminations, Gladstone faced the No. 15 qualifier, national event champion Jianna Evaristo, the former Jianna Salinas, daughter of 2022 Top Fuel title contender Mike Salinas and surprise winner of the last national event of the 2010s, the 2019 NHRA Finals. Both matched their qualifying times right down to the hundredth of a second – Gladstone with another 6.88 for a lopsided win and Evaristo with another 7.22 in defeat.
Gladstone’s charge came to an end in the quarterfinals when he ran into career-long nemesis Jerry Savoie, the eventual winner. He got off the line on time with a .020 light, but Savoie beat him to the punch with a near-perfect .002 and won by a couple bike lengths with a 6.91/196 as Gladstone spun and slowed to a 6.96/193, dropping his career win-loss record versus the 2016 world champion to 0-8.