You know it hasn’t been a great weekend when your bike gets picked up by the wheelie bars and walked off the starting line three times in a row.
For Joey Gladstone, the second-ranked Pro Stock Motorcycle rider of 2022, the Thunder Valley Nationals undoubtedly was the low point of what’s been an up-and-down early 2023. He’s yet to reach the semifinals but made it to the quarterfinals every time – until now.
Following a ho-hum off-the-trailer 6.94, Cory Reed’s Vance & Hines-powered YNot Racing Suzuki lurched off the line that night in the second qualifying session and did the same Saturday morning in Q3. In the fourth and final session that afternoon, Gladstone didn’t even make it that far – he never took the Tree. Actually, he didn’t make it through the burnout. The coil wire came off, silencing the engine.
Gladstone, who scored three times last year in by far the best season of his burgeoning career, raced eventual winner Steve Johnson, the only driver to beat second-year sensation Gaige Herrera all year, in the first round. At the time, Johnson seemed like a decent draw: Gladstone had been mired in the bottom half of the field at the season-opening Gatornationals, too, but he put Johnson away when the veteran rider, perhaps intimidated by Gladstone’s well-known starting-line reflexes, threw it away with an untimely red-light start.
Not this time. Gladstone was more or less on time with a .052 light, good for an early lead over Johnson’s mediocre .077, and made his quickest run of the weekend, a 6.93 at 192.71 mph. But Johnson ate into his lead with every push-button shift of the 5-speed transmission and drove around him at the 700-foot mark, crossing the stripe first by about 10 feet with an 8.88/193. “Well, that sucked,” Gladstone said. “If I’d had my normal reaction time, I could’ve beat him on a holeshot.”
“We really thought we had it fixed,” Reed said. “We put the old tire back on it and thought we were good. Today was just frustrating – the whole year has been.”