No matter what happens, 2022 has been, unequivocally, the best year of Joey Gladstone’s drag racing career. Which is nice, because the points lead that began to evaporate a couple races ago is gone.
Gladstone, who won the first three races of his career over a span of just four events late this summer, has been eliminated in the quarterfinals of the past two races while the rider heavily favored to beat him for the championship, Matt Smith, won Dallas and made the final here.
Gladstone qualified sixth for the Nevada Nationals field and drew, for the third time in the past five events, national record holder Karen Stoffer in the first round. He put her away, 6.91/194 to 6.98/192, but not with a performance likely to carry him much further. “It was making too much wheel speed at the top of low,” he said. “We just don’t have enough data for these conditions – we’ve never run this track with this program. We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I knew she’d go .00 on me, and she did [with a .008 reaction time], but I couldn’t just take it easy up there. I couldn’t lay up, but I couldn’t go red, either.” With a .016 light, he absolutely didn’t.
Then the Diamond W/Fatheadz Hayabusa team pulled off a massive between-rounds thrash or Gladstone wouldn’t even have made it to line for the quarterfinals. “There was no time for [team owner and co-crew chief] Cory [Reed] and I to deliberate on the tune-up,” he said. “It all comes down to priorities. You can’t fine-tune something until you have an engine in the bike.”
They made it but didn’t make the kind of run that’s catapulted them to the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle world this season. Facing points leader Matt Smith’s wife, former national event winner Angie Smith, Gladstone came up with a 6.92 but fell short of her 6.91 by 12-thousandths of a second. Matt Smith beat pseudo-teammate Chip Ellis three pairs later and Jerry Savoie in the semifinals but was upset in the final by Hector Arana Jr., who has come out of nowhere to win two races in a row.
Down 104 points with one race to go, the NHRA finals in Pomona, Calif., Gladstone knows the championship is a long shot. “It probably took an hour and a half until I was over losing,” he said. “I’d much rather win the championship – who wouldn’t? – but if I finish second to someone who had a dominant second half like Matt’s had, I can’t feel too bad, can I? He’s a Smith – he knows how to play the game.”