From Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor | NHRA
Herrera’s dominant season leads to first Pro Stock Motorcycle championship
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 11, 2023) – With victories in ten of the first 14 races and an incredible 46-4 record in elimination rounds, Gaige Herrera delivers a 14th NHRA Camping World Pro Stock Motorcycle championship to the Vance & Hines team.
With a long history that includes 13 prior championships during the modern era and more than 100 race wins, the Vance & Hines Pro Stock Motorcycle team obviously knows a thing or two about evaluating talent. It’s also likely that even their most optimistic projections could not have predicted the level of success that Gaige Herrera has brought this season.
Herrera, in the midst of one of the most dominant seasons for any NHRA pro at any time, officially locked up the Camping World NHRA Series championship on Saturday, following the conclusion of qualifying for the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals. Herrera entered the event with a 181-point lead over teammate Eddie Krawiec. He officially clinched the title simply by qualifying his Vance & Hines Mission foods Suzuki Hayabusa for the 16-bike field. Herrera finished in the No. 1 spot with a track record 6.661.
"This is very special. It still doesn't feel real," said Herrera. "It's hard to look back and remember the amount of stuff we accomplished this season. For me to get the opportunity to race [for Vance & Hines] the team I grew up watching, is very special. I've had a lot of highlights this year. [Sweeping] the Western Swing was special but nothing beats wrapping up this championship
"Coming into this year, I knew I had a fast bike but you never take anything for granted. I hoped to finish in the Top 10, but I never expected to dominate."
A fourth-generation racer who has experience on a wide variety of fast motorcycles, Herrera got a brief introduction to NHRA racing last season when he competed in six events with the help of Gary and Karen Stoffer. That was enough to convince team owners Terry Vance and Byron Hines to add them to their Mission Foods Suzuki team for the 2023 season.
"Honestly, that might have been the most nerve wracking thing I went through all year; sitting down with Terry Vance for a job interview," said Herrera. "He can be very intimidating but he obviously saw something he likes and I'm grateful for that."
With a unique riding style that helps get the bike off the starting line quicker, Herrera made an immediate impact when he won the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville. He went on to win in Charlotte and Chicago and didn’t suffer his first loss until the final round in Bristol, where he committed a rare red-light foul against Steve Johnson.
Herrera also went out early at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, but quickly recovered to sweep the Western Swing with titles in Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma.
During the Countdown, Herrera added additional victories in Charlotte, St. Louis, Dallas, and Las Vegas to all-but secure the title in advance of the season-ending event in Pomona.
Herrera also grabbed four victories in the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge and won the Pro Stock Motorcycle Allstar Callout event held at Sonoma Raceway in July.
With six-time world champ Andrew Hines as his crew chief and four-time champ Eddie Krawiec as a teammate and mentor, Herrera assaulted the record books, qualifying No. 1 at 13 of the first 14 races of the season. He currently holds nine of the quickest 10 elapsed times in the class including a record 6.627 set recently at the Texas NHRA FallNationals in Dallas.
Heading into the final event of the season in Pomona, Herrera holds a 46-4 record in elimination rounds this season. His only losses came at the hands of Johnson, Matt Smith, and Jianna Evaristo (twice). In Pomona, Herrera will start from the top spot, and will have a chance to make history with an 11th victory in a single season.
"I had to adjust to things like racing in front of a crowd and dealing with the media when I came over here to NHRA," said Herrera. "I just had to learn to block everything out but I'm having so much fun this year."
The Vance & Hines team now has 14 titles since the Pro Stock Motorcycle class became a part of the NHRA pro landscape in 1989 with Andrew Hines (6), Krawiec (4), and Matt Hines (3), delivering additional titles. Herrera's 10 wins equals the record set by three-time world champ Matt Hines during the 1998 season.
Competition at the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip continues with eliminations Sunday at 11 a.m. Television coverage of the event will air Sunday on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) with a qualifying show at 2 p.m. ET and eliminations at 4 p.m. ET.
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