It could’ve been worse – a lot worse. Joey Gladstone red-lighted in the second round of the NHRA Fall Nationals, a potentially disastrous development made much less egregious when the only rider ahead of him in the standings, Matt Smith, drifted toward the centerline and had to lift in the following round, mitigating the damage.
Coasting across the finish with a speed (26.19) nearly the same as your E.T. (20.82) is no is no way to open qualifying, especially in a 20-bike field, but Gladstone made marked improvement from that 20-second throwaway to the 6.90s to the 6.80s, to, in last-shot qualifying, the promised land: the 6.70s.
Only three Pro Stock Motorcycle riders qualified between 6.73 and 6.80, and all three ran not just 6.79s but identical 6.793s that had to be separated on the basis of their speeds. At an even 200.00 mph, Gladstone was right in the middle, No. 4 behind Angie Smith’s 200.96 and ahead of Steve Johnson’s 199.80.
Gladstone, who’s won Sonoma, Topeka, and Reading already this season, drew theoretically the easiest first-round opponent on the ladder – Richard Gadson, who qualified 13th in his NHRA debut. Gadson actually had a slight early lead but eventually had to get out of it after his bike, like many on gray, blustery afternoon, strayed out of the groove toward the wall, allowing Gladstone to drive around him for an easy 6.85/197 win.
“I didn’t take him lightly,” assured Gladstone, who’s reached at least the semifinals in two-thirds of his starts this season. “This may be his first national event, but he’s a phenomenal racer. It takes time. He’s going to have a great career out here, trust me.”
For just the third time in 2022, Gladstone fell in the second round, this time to a self-inflicted wound, a red-light start. It was the perfect time to do it: even with a .000 reaction time, his 6.86/197 wouldn’t have held off resurgent Steve Johnson’s superior 6.77/195. “I apologize to my team and sponsors,” he said, “but I wasn’t going to do anything with that .77 anyway.”