At long last, overdue rider Joey Gladstone and team owner Cory Reed realized their ultimate dream at Sonoma, the fastest track on the circuit: victory at an NHRA national event. For Reed, who switched from motocross seven years ago, and Gladstone, who’s been drag racing all his life, it was the culmination of years of struggle and countless hours of backbreaking work. “It’s about time,” joked Reed, the 2016 Rookie of the Year, whose team had finished second at the past two races, Norwalk and Denver.
“I still can’t believe this is real,” said Gladstone, whose recent hot streak catapulted him to second in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings, just two points out of the lead. “I’ve dedicated my life to this sport. Winning a race like this has been my goal since I was a little kid getting made fun of for being so small. The day I saw Angelle [Sampey], I knew what I wanted to do.”
Delivering on the promise shown in three previous final-round appearances this season (including the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte), Gladstone made the quickest run of his career (6.75) Saturday afternoon in last-shot qualifying for the No. 3 spot, then ran at least that quick in all four rounds Sunday. After a brief scare in the first round when his bike refused to do a burnout opposite overmatched Jianna Evaristo, Gladstone reset his all-time-best with a blistering 6.74, then dumped Katie Sullivan in round two with an even quicker 6.73 at his fastest speed ever, 202.18 mph.
When his Diamond W Suzuki Hayabusa brushed aside Bristol winner Jerry Savoie in the semifinals, 6.75 to 6.84, only one thing stood between Gladstone and his first major title: longtime nemesis Eddie Krawiec. “I’m gonna bring everything I have in this final,” he said as he climbed off the bike in the semi’s, trying not think about how close he was – again. “I was ready to go 20 minutes before they called us up there for the final,” he admitted later. “I was like, ‘Come on, let’s do this. Let’s get it over with. Don’t overthink it. Cut a light, but not too close – don’t throw it away on a red-light. Give yourself a chance.’ “
With a .026 reaction time, he did, gaining the only edge he’d need because both he and Krawiec made the exact same run, matching 6.75s. “I heard him over there the whole time and knew I was ahead, but I never let myself think it,” said Gladstone, who won on a holeshot, 6.759 to 6.758. “Not after what happened at Charlotte [last fall, when the kill switch became disconnected in high gear as he looked on in horror.]”
“It seemed like it took 30 seconds for the finish line to get there,” he said. “I almost didn’t want to look for the win-light. Going to all these finals and losing, you wonder in the back of your mind if it’s really meant to be. We may not have won them, but just from being in those other finals, I knew we could do it. I’m never going to forget this, and it’s just the start.”