Everybody gets beat in the first round, but for Joey Gladstone that hasn’t been a problem – until Richmond. Competing at his adopted home track, Virginia Motorsports Park, Gladstone was gone early for the first time all season after just missing a perfect reaction time with a -.010 foul.
“I was pushing it, sure,” he admitted. “That’s Eddie [Krawiec, the four-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion] over there in the other lane. You know it’s gonna be a tough round. You know he’s gonna run good. You’d damn sure better be ready, and I guess I was a little too ready that time.”
Gladstone, who began the season with a semifinal finish in Gainesville, was looking good until the Tree flashed in the first pair of the first round. Still a solid sixth in the standings despite this untimely setback, he unloaded an all-time best 6.77 at 199.29 mph in testing here April 12 and entered the race in fourth place, ahead of past champions Matt Smith, Angelle Savoie, and Jerry Savoie.
Friday evening in the first of three scheduled Virginia Nationals qualifying sessions, Gladstone, fighting the weather like everyone in every category, came through with a 6.87/195 to move well into the field, followed Saturday afternoon by a more than respectable 6.89/196. Any shot at improving was eliminated by persistent showers that evening that had some riders willing to wait out the rain for one last run and others not.
“The dew point was falling,” said Gladstone, who ended up ninth on the final qualifying grid, stuck with an unenviable first-round meeting with number 8 Krawiec. “The guys who didn’t want us to get one more run were making their case with NHRA officials – I stood right there and watched the whole thing go down. We really could have used one more run. If we’d have gotten it, things would have turned out a lot differently on Sunday, I guarantee you.”
With her quickest run all year and the fourth-fastest speed of all time, Annie Whiteley qualified No. 1 for the third time in four races. Her Mike Strasburg-tuned YNot/J&A Service Camaro shot off the line with a .935 60-foot time, blasted through the 330-foot timers in 2.44 seconds, and hit the half-track mark in 3.59 seconds at more than 216 mph. She crossed the finish line two seconds later at 274.44 mph and now owns the fastest, second-fastest, and fourth-fastest time slips in Top Alcohol Funny Car history.
That 5.38 under the lights Friday night at Virginia Motorsports Park paced easily the toughest Division 1 field of the season, one fortified by the presence of three western invaders – her, former world champion Shane Westerfield, and 2018-19 U.S. Nationals runner-up Chris Marshall. Those three qualified 1-2-3, but past East Region champs Matt Gill, Dan Pomponio, and D.J. Cox were right on her wheelie bars with otherwise outstanding times in the 5.40s.
“The guys told me when they buckled me in for that run that it was either going to haul ass or not go anywhere at all,” Whiteley said. “I believed them, too – they don’t say that too often.” As the No. 1 qualifier, Whiteley was scheduled to race the slowest driver in the field, No. 8 Joshua Haskett, but Haskett blew up his only engine in the final qualifying session, opening the door for the only other entrant, Melinda Green. She made herself ineligible by plowing over the top-end cones on both of her qualifying attempts, nullifying a 5.87 in the right lane that ended with one rear wheel in each lane and a subsequent 5.83 in last-shot qualifying that also had top-end cones flying.
With no one to race when eliminations commenced, Whiteley swung for the fences on her first-round single and came up empty, quietly advancing to the semifinals with a 10.29 at 84 mph. It all came crashing down after that when she was upended by Gill, the eventual winner, 5.49 to a coasting 7.62 at 126 mph. “We didn’t change tires soon enough,” she explained. “The first and second round were the 36th and 37th runs on that set, and I guess 36 runs was one run too many.”
YNot/PSE teammates Cory Reed and Joey Gladstone just missed a highly anticipated head-to-head second-round showdown at the Virginia Nationals when Reed was unceremoniously dumped by Hector Arana Jr. in the first round of eliminations. Gladstone put away 2009 NHRA champion Hector Arana Sr. in another first-round match, so another Arana-Arana matchup in the quarterfinals never materialized, either.
Reed assumed the early qualifying lead with a straight-down-the-groove 6.969 at 192 mph off the trailer. He slowed to a 7.13/188 Friday evening, improved incrementally to a 6.962 at just short of 194 mph Saturday in Q3 that left him smack in the middle of the pack, and entered eliminations mired in the No. 14 position after a dispiriting 7.02/191 Saturday afternoon.
Pitted against Las Vegas winner Arana Jr., who now stands third in the 2019 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle standings, Reed managed just a 7.10 187 mph – two-tenths of a second and 10 mph off what he’s capable of, in a discouraging loss to the perennial title contender’s 6.90-flat at 197 mph minutes after Gladstone had dispatched Arana Sr. with what surprisingly was technically the first holeshot win of his NHRA career. “I’ve left on a lot of people and have this reputation for being really good on the lights,” said Gladstone, who whipped the senior Arana’s 6.97/194 with a slower won 7.00/191, “but that’s the first time I’ve ever actually won on a holeshot.”
Cory Reed staggered into Richmond determined to shake off the most discouraging outing of his career and officially hit rock bottom in the opening qualifying session with an even more disappointing 7.28. From the depths of the Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying order, Reed’s Team Liberty Buell then picked up dramatically to a 6.96 Friday night, skyrocketing 10 spots in the order. “There’s no magic to this,” he said, “just hard work. We wasted time testing a tire that really killed the bike, really set us back, but I think that’s all behind us now.”
Reed stepped up even further Saturday afternoon with a 6.93 and woke up Sunday back in the race, with a legitimate shot to go rounds and a positive attitude about both his team and Pro Stock Motorcycle racing in general. “The bike class is still growing, and there are big gains to be made for all of us,” he said. “We can find a tenth out here – I’m not kidding. It’s there. We can go 205 mph. The whole field can be in the 200s. The front half of the class is really tight, really competitive, compared to the last couple of years.”
Facing a driver from that top half in the opening round of eliminations, No. 3 qualifier Matt Smith, Reed got the jump off the line, as he typically does, but Smith ran him down for a 6.87 to 6.98 win. “I don’t even care,” he insisted. “We’re better off now than we were when we got here. Larry [Morgan] and Jim [Yates] came up through the hard times of Pro Stock – they know what it takes to win out here. It doesn’t matter if it’s Pro Stock or Pro Stock Motorcycle – motors are motors, clutches are clutches, and transmissions are transmissions. Get it all right, and you’ll win.”
Hot off the promising debut of his new Camaro in Topeka, Steven Whiteley starred in qualifying at the Virginia Nationals in Richmond, setting top speed at 252.71 mph and claiming the No. 5 spot with a 5.82. “Everything we learned off the old car we applied to the Camaro,” he said of the venerable Cadillac he drove to victory last year in Gainesville. “We ran the wheels off that old car – it had 960-some runs on it – but this new car has development from Pro Stock.”
The new Camaro went 0-for-2 on Friday, shaking on the first run and being pushed off the starting line on the second, but hopes were high for Sunday’s eliminations after Whiteley pounded out back-to-back 5.82s in Saturday’s qualifying sessions, first a 5.828 and then a 5.821 late in the day after a storm blew through and drastically changed the conditions. “Jeff [Perley, Whiteley’s crew chief and a key member of several championship Pro Stock teams] figured out a lot on his own and brought it to this team. A lot of what we’ve done is what Pro Stock guys were doing – Jeff just applied it to Pro Mod before other people got on to it.”
Right when a long run in eliminations seemed a foregone conclusion, Whiteley was stopped in the first round by Chicago-area driver Dan Stevenson, who stepped up to a 5.81 while Whiteley’s car inexplicably slowed from earlier in the weekend. The team underestimated the completely resurfaced Virginia Motorsports Park quarter-mile, and Whiteley, who had never lost to Stevenson, slipped to a disappointing 5.89. “We just missed it on the tune-up,” he said. “No excuses – there was a lot more out there, and we didn’t realize it.”
In her first appearance ever at Virginia Motorsports Park in the heart of Civil War country, Annie Whiteley annihilated the track record in pre-race testing and got only faster once the event officially got under way. She led all qualifiers for the fifth time in a row (she’s yet to qualify anywhere but No. 1 this season) and was sailing through the preliminary rounds until it all fell apart against 2012 event runner-up DJ Cox in the semifinals.
When eliminations began, Whiteley had the entire field covered by more than a tenth of a second with an unbelievable 5.40-flat at 273.39 that crushed both ends of the track record. She drew a much tougher than usual No. 8 qualifier in the first round, two-time national event winner Kris Hool, but advanced easily with a 5.41 at another track-record speed, 274.11 mph. Then came the semifinals, where she met Cox, with whom she’s exchanged round-wins from the first time they staged up against each other.
“I’d win one, then he’d win one, then I would, and then he would,” Whiteley said. Never has Cox’s turn to win been more painful than in Virginia, where her outstanding 5.41 lost on a holeshot to his 5.48. Cox, who had blown everyone away in the first round with one of the quickest runs in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (5.38), got off the mark first with a .042 reaction and barely held off her 5.41 with the 5.48. The difference at the stripe: 11-thousandths of a second.
“I was just about in tears after that one,” Whiteley said. “You don’t even want to face your crew after something like that. I was so mad at myself I didn’t even know what to do. The car was running great – it has all year. You care so much and want so bad to cut a good light, and sometimes it screws you up. I think sometimes you just try too hard.”