The dream season that unfolded for Gaige Herrera was a tremendous surprise to everyone, but no one was more surprised than Herrera himself. After racing six Pro Stock Motorcycle events at the end of 2022, Herrera caught the attention of one of the most successful teams in the history of the sport, and he was tapped to ride the Mission Foods Suzuki for Vance & Hines in the 2023 season.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #185, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in Nov/Dec of 2023.]
The events that transpired over the course of the year were the stuff dreams are made of; the team dominated immediately and unabashedly with Herrera on the bike and Andrew Hines on the tune, and with 10 wins in 14 events claimed heading into the NHRA Finals, they had only to break the beams in the first round of qualifying to lock down the championship.
For Herrera, his passion for two-wheeling it through life started at the age of three, when he began putting around on his first dirt bike. His adventures in Motocross were intense from the age of seven through 15, but after breaking his leg twice, he decided to put all his focus in another arena: racing on the dragstrip. Herrera competed in the Jr. Drag Racing League for three years (from 13 to 16) and then transitioned to bracket racing motorcycles locally. He also raced on four wheels in a Super Comp car, Super Gas, and A/Gas in his grandfather Phil’s Camaro.
“My great-grandfather, John Herrera, started the whole drag racing thing to get his four sons off the street,” explains Herrera. “They had Austins and Opels back in the day, Gassers. My grandfather, he got a ’68 Camaro to get my dad off the street and try to keep him off motorcycles, so it’s kind of funny how it all worked out. But my grandparents, Jacque and Phil, have always been involved, and they are very supportive. They moved to Indy to travel with me, and they really push me to keep doing better and better.”
Racing was for sure in his blood, just like his dad, Augustine, who was on a dirt bike at the age of two and was racing go-karts eight years later. Augustine made his mark in the motorcycle world with an NMRA/Prostar championship in Super Street and was the 2009 Summit ET Race of Champions winner in Pomona, as well as the Division 7 champion. He was the Summit ET National Champion that year in Super Pro Motorcycle. His son comes by it naturally, and Herrera’s true love was always motorcycles.
“I’ve been hooked since I was a little kid. My dad, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather all drag raced,” he says. “My dad was the first one to go to motorcycles, and I was very eager to get from Jr.’s to motorcycles. I was very involved with my dad, as far as building them and tuning them. I was just intrigued. My dad talked about doing a Jr. and it was like one of those things, ‘Here’s a motorcycle, or do you want me to go buy a Jr.?’ I picked the motorcycle, and I would pick the motorcycle a hundred times.”
Originally from La Mirada, California, Herrera now resides in DeMotte, Indiana. Herrera followed his father who was working on an NHRA Pro Mod car, and once there, the younger Herrera built a motorcycle and started heads-up racing in the XDA’s Pro Street and Outlaw racing classes. He still holds the national record for the fastest nitrous Suzuki Hayabusa at 6.45 at 210 mph.
“That’s a pretty good accomplishment for us and for our business,” says Herrera with a nod to the family business, Herrera Racing, which specializes in dyno tuning, maintenance, and high-performance builds. “I’ve won Pro Street, but the record is the biggest thing to me. I’m the only nitrous bike in a pool of turbo bikes – I’m the oddball, but I like the hard route.”
Herrera, who also won NHRA’s E.T. Bracket Finals in Bakersfield in 2012, entered the world of Pro Stock Motorcycle by way of a friendship with Gary and Karen Stoffer. Gary suggested that they run the U.S. Nationals, just for fun.
“It went from running one race to the last six of the year,” recalls Herrera. “It was an awesome time. We started out with a small motor, got a new big motor – a competitive two-valve – and that’s what led me to here. I had a lot of people backing me, which was awesome. It’s very overwhelming, the amount of people who had confidence in me to do this and got me to this point. I can’t thank Gary and Karen and all those guys enough.”
The twist of fate came when Hines saw Herrera ride and decided to give him a call.
“I didn’t expect it,” says Herrera. “I had tested for them [after] Las Vegas on Monday last year, they had come to me wanting to try a few things with a lighter rider on Ed’s [Eddie Krawiec] bike, and I just looked at it as an opportunity to ride one of the top-tier bikes. I didn’t think anything would come of it, but about a week after Pomona, I was driving through a blizzard and Andrew called me and offered me the ride. I was speechless. He was like, ‘Are you still there?’ I just didn’t know what to say, and I’ve been living the dream ever since.”
Herrera hit the ground running at Gainesville with his first No. 1 qualifier and his first win. His unique riding style, perfected in the world of grudge racing, merged with the skill of six-time world champion rider-turned-tuner Hines to create a Pro Stock Motorcycle supernova, and as part of the iconic team formed by motorcycle legends Terry Vance and Byron Hines, Herrera blazed through the season alongside teammate Krawiec, who might have been champ had it not been for his friendly rival.
In addition to raking in the bulk of national event trophies available in 2023 season, Herrera was the first Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to sweep the notoriously challenging Western Swing (Denver, Sonoma, Seattle) and he also claimed all but one low qualifier award and the coveted title in the Pro Stock Motorcycle All-Star Callout. He set multiple track records and reset the national record to write his name in the record books time and time again. The future is bright, but Herrera’s tinted shield is pointed straight down-track.
“I’m not one to really look ahead,” he admits. “I go into each race and look at the present time. But you never know what can come in the future. You can’t take stuff for granted because it can end any moment. I would love to keep doing this in the future, and I hope I do. I feel like I have a good future ahead of me, but we’ll just see what happens.”
The post DI 30 Under 30 2023: Gaige Herrera first appeared on Drag Illustrated | Drag Racing News, Opinion, Interviews, Photos, Videos and More.