After a dominating regular season in which he rode his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki to six wins in nine starts, won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge championship, and gained a huge points lead, people wondered how Gaige Herrera would handle his first adversity.
Very well, it turns out.
After losing his season-long points lead to Matt Smith after an unexpected semifinal exit at the Countdown to the Championship playoff opener last weekend, Herrera almost seems happy to be in second place.
“I love it,” he said. I’d rather be the chaser than the one being chased. It’s kind of lit a fire under me to where I’m only going to push harder. Same with Andrew [Hines, crew chief]. He’s very determined right now to have a very consistent motorcycle but fast at the same time, so he's been working hard and studying data nonstop.
“I'm just trying to keep my cool and go A to B and have respectful lights. We're not off to a bad start in the Countdown — you know, we're second — but we're going to try to get every little [qualifying-session bonus] points we can catch back up to Matt. There’s less than a round between us, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I'd rather be in a dogfight than win by a mile.”
Herrera says he also has no problem tuning out the blockers hired by the other teams, the head games, whether that be his opponents saying it’s his championship to lose or the expected starting-line games that no doubt will come. And he’s got two past world champions in his corner to offer advice and support.
“Eddie [Krawiec, teammate] told me to just treat this like you've been racing all your life and don't let people get in your head. He said, ‘If anything, you're in everyone else's head.’ Andrew just wants me to go out there and repeat. He always says ‘Rinse and repeat,”
“As far as all the head games, I'm ready. I know there's gonna be some games played on the Tree, especially if it's me against Matt. I'm actually very excited for that. It's gonna be fun.”