To keep Joey Gladstone from his long overdue first NHRA title, it took the fastest run in Mile-High Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle history. Denied victory in four previous finals and appearing in his second in a row, he was out first and laid down a fifth straight run in the 7-teens but still got run down by Matt Smith’s record-setting 190.22-mph blast, 7.09 to 7.16.
“When I let it go and saw the light was green, I knew it was a good light,” Gladstone said. “I thought, ‘OK, you did your job.’ Somewhere around the 300-foot mark, I started thinking, ‘Hey, maybe…’ Then I heard him at the eighth-mile and finally saw him at about 1,000 feet. After that he just drove away from me.”
From the quarterfinals on, Smith, who broke both ends of the Bandimere Speedway track record in qualifying (7.090 seconds at 189.79 mph), reset the track speed mark every time he crossed the finish line. “You can’t be too mad about losing when a guy’s running like that,” said Gladstone, who dipped into the 7-teens in last-shot qualifying and remained there throughout eliminations, outrunning everybody but Smith.
Gladstone pounded pal Ryan Oehler, who red-lighted, in the first round with yet another .00 light, a .008, in an almost uncontested 7.17/186 to 7.34/182 match. He climbed off the bike and proclaimed to a national television audience, “Eddie, you’re done,” before second-round opponent Eddie Krawiec raced Kelly Clontz, and, sure enough, took the measure of his longtime nemesis in the next round, 7.15/185 to Krawiec’s 7.18/186.
“Everybody knows what you have to do to be fast on the mountain,” Gladstone explained. “Add three or four teeth to the rear sprocket and put two floaters next to each other so the clutch doesn’t pull the motor down too much and bog off the line. No matter what you do, you’re making 27 percent less horsepower when you get here.”
In the semifinals, Gladstone prevented a rare husband/wife final, upending No. 2 qualifier Angie Smith, who’d been in the 7-teens all weekend, by 16-thousandths of a second, 7.19/185 to 7.21/186. A heavy underdog in the final, a race he figured he had a “one in four” shot at winning, he afforded himself every opportunity to win with a superior reaction time, but there was no stopping Smith, who cracked 190 mph for the third run in a row with an all-time Denver record of 190.22 mph.
“I had him for a while,” said Gladstone, who now trails fading points leader Steve Johnson by just 46 points – about two rounds. “But nobody was gonna beat that guy today.”