A dominant and incredible regular season was one to remember for relative Pro Stock Motorcycle newcomer Gaige Herrera. Now, the second-year rider hopes to enjoy the same success in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, which opens at this weekend’s 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
It’s the first appearance in the Countdown to the Championship for Herrera, but the points leader seems eager to embrace the challenge on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. His points lead will be 29 points over reigning world champion Matt Smith to open the six-race playoffs, with a host of talented riders close behind.
Herrera, though, has plenty of confidence, thanks in part to a standout season that has included six victories in nine Pro Stock Motorcycle races thus far and eight No. 1 qualifiers. With the challenges only getting bigger starting this weekend in Reading, Herrera hopes to take his own performance up a notch.
“Going into the Countdown, I’m really excited for it,” Herrera said. “I’ve had an incredible season so far, and I think the playoffs are going to be awesome. We’ve had a stellar season to this point, and I always love close competition, which is what’s going to happen in the Countdown. But it’s also going to light a fire under me and help me push harder, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m just out there having a lot of fun, and I think that helps me a lot as well.”
Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won last year’s race in Reading, which will again be broadcast on the FOX broadcast network and FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations coverage starting at either 2 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday on FOX. It is the first of six playoff races in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and Herrera has been nearly unbeatable thus far in 2023.
He swept the Western Swing and also won three straight races to open the season, advancing to seven final rounds in 2023 as well. But there is no easy route to what would be his first world championship, facing off with the likes of teammate Eddie Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr., Steve Johnson, Angie Smith, and Chase Van Sant.
“It’s hard to believe the situation I’m in,” Herrera said. “I’m glad for the Countdown. I’ve been on an awesome bike, and I’m surrounded by a great group of people, so I’m excited for the Countdown. It’s all worked very well this season. My riding style has meshed really well with the tuning style of Andrew [Hines, crew chief].”
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2 and 5 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 15 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 17. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday, 12:30 p.m. on Sunday on FS1, and then eliminations on FOX at 2 or 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday, depending on local listings.
To purchase tickets to the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, fans can visit www.maplegroveraceway.com. All children 12 and under are admitted free in the general-admission area with a paid adult.