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 playoff, 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).”
In Pro Stock, Dallas Glenn will open the postseason in the points lead for the first time in his young career. His advantage is currently 25 points over KB Titan Racing teammate and Indy winner Matt Hartford, and 32 points over defending world champ and event winner Enders, who is after her sixth world championship.
Glenn, though, has impressed throughout the 2023 season, winning a career-best four races this year thus far in his RAD Torque Systems Chevrolet Camaro. He’s also been remarkably consistent, something Glenn knows will be critical in this playoff run against a loaded Pro Stock field that also includes Troy Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield, Greg Anderson, Camrie Caruso, Deric Kramer and Kyle Koretsky.
“Throughout the season, my goal was to at least go to the semifinals of every race,” Glenn said. “From that point on, it’s almost like bonus time. It’s worked pretty well for me this season and I think I just need to continue that method and at least make it to the semifinals. When you come up on tough matchups and people who are close in the points, you need to be able to capitalize and take them out. You can’t rely on other people or lucky breaks; it’s going to come down to beating those tough people.”
Top Fuel’s Justin Ashley takes the points lead into Maple Grove Raceway, but he’s being hunted by a host of contenders, including Steve Torrence, a four-time world champ, Antron Brown, defending world champ Brittany Force and Leah Pruett.
Funny Car’s Ron Capps takes a 24-point lead into the playoff opener at Maple Grove Raceway, with defending event winner Hight just 38 points back. Others to watch include Bob Tasca III, J.R. Todd, John Force, Alexis DeJoria, Chad Green, Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as action from the Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown category and the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Pro Stock group. After nitro qualifying, fans can enjoy a thrilling show from “NitroMike” and his “Walking Tall” P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander.
Fans are invited to the Nitro Alley Stage all weekend, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into Nitro Alley. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets and much more. As always, fans get a pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. Fans can see their favorite teams in action and servicing their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. They can also visit NHRA’s Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, merchandise, food, and fun.
Race fans at Maple Grove Raceway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals event winners.
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. For more information on the NHRA, please visit www.nhra.com.