Cory Reed qualified on the bump 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 the sport 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 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-plus year history of Pro Stock Motorcycle racing. Still hobbling but dead-set on returning to the quarter-mile, Reed accepted teammate Michael Phillips’ unexpected offer to race the NHRA U.S. Nationals on a two-valve bike.

“We saw what Karen [Stoffer] did with the two-valve weight break [at Sonoma, where she ran an outstanding 6.79], and we were curious,” Reed said. “Michael called me one night and said, ‘What do you think? You ready to be back on a bike?’ and I thought, ‘Why not?’ “

With the exception of the third qualifying session, Reed showed steady improvement every time down the track, with qualifying times of 7.22/187, 7.21/181, 7.36/186, 7.19/185, and a 7.16/188 in the last-shot session, his quickest and fastest run of the long Labor Day weekend. A full four-tenths of a second behind Mr. Everything, 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 this weekend – I’m just here to have fun. For Joey and me, it’s just great to be back out here with our race family.”