Cory Reed qualified on the bump at the NHRA U.S. Nationals and was out after a single round in his first start in nearly two years, but this time that wasn’t really the point. The only thing that mattered at the most prestigious event in drag racing was that he was back on a bike, back out where he belongs – both he and his teammate, 2022 championship runner-up Joey Gladstone.

The last time NHRA fans saw Reed, he was careening into Gladstone in the shutdown area in the second round of the 2021 Carolina Nationals in easily the most horrifying crash in the 40-year history of Pro Stock Motorcycle racing. “I had to make some 7.50 passes at 175 mph just to get my license back,” he said. “It was a little strange, but I guess it’s all part of the process of coming back. You’d think 175 mph might feel slow, but it didn’t – until we left Indy, everything up to 180 felt fast.”

Still hobbling but dead-set on returning to the quarter-mile, Reed accepted teammate Michael Phillips’ out-of-nowhere offer to run Indy on a two-valve bike. “We saw what Karen [Stoffer] did with the two-valve weight break [at Sonoma, where she ran a 6.79], and we were curious,” he said. “Michael called me one night and said, ‘What do you think? You ready to get back on a bike?’ and I thought, ‘What the hell? Why not?’ “

With the exception of the third session, the Reed/Phillips team showed steady improvement every time down the track, with times of 7.22/187, 7.21/181, 7.36/186, 7.19/185, and a 7.16/188 in last-shot qualifying, Reed’s quickest and fastest run of the long Labor Day weekend. A full four-tenths of a second behind Mr. Everything 2023, Gaige Herrera, who has taken the sport by storm since taking over for Angelle Sampey on the Vance & Hines flagship Suzuki, Reed didn’t expect to beat him in the first round, and he didn’t.

Nobody else would have either. Reed picked up considerably to a 7.09 at 189 mph but was no match for the runaway points leader’s 6.79/198 in a lopsided but ultimately unimportant loss. “I’m just happy to be out here and lucky to be riding Mike’s bike,” he said. “I had zero expectations coming into this weekend – I’m just here to have fun. For Joey and me, it’s just great to be back out here with our racing family.”