Coming off by far the best year of his career, Pro Stock Motorcycle star Joey Gladstone stumbled to a second-round loss at the season-opening Gatornationals. Before a jam-packed house, Gladstone, runner-up for the 2022 NHRA championship with three victories in six final-round appearances, rode Cory Reed’s Precision Service Equipment Hayabusa to the middle rounds of eliminations despite qualifying just 15th.
Gladstone, who won Sonoma, Topeka, and Reading last year, managed a decent 6.84 on his first official run of 2023, fell off on the next two, and broke on the last one, leaving him in a precarious position going into eliminations. “We were a little conservative initially, but when it spun in Q2 and especially in Q3, I knew we just had to calm it down for the last session,” he said. “Bad runs like those can be really hard on parts. It hurt the shift forks, but we have the new billet cases, so it was fixed in like 10 minutes, and I knew the bike would run good first round.”
It did. Gladstone posted a solid 6.81 at 196 mph but didn’t need it when No. 2 qualifier Steve Johnson, perhaps intimidated by Gladstone’s renowned starting-line reflexes, threw away his qualifying advantage on a red-light start. A round later, it was Gladstone who nullified a sure-win with a foul start opposite Angie Smith, who moved on with just a 15.90.
“It’s not like I was trying too hard – I saw yellow,” Gladstone insisted. “It felt normal, but I knew it was red when I went by the Tree. I was going to shut it off because at that point it didn’t matter, but about halfway down I thought, ‘What the hell? This is a good run and we’re not racing again for a while,’ so I stayed in it to get more data.”
It turned out to be a 6.79/197, the team’s best E.T. of the new season. “Not that long ago, a .79 was killer,” Gladstone said. “Now, that’s not enough. Everyone is stepping up. This class just keeps getting tougher and tougher all the time.”