AFTER RECORD-SETTING PSM SEASON, GAIGE HERRERA RETURNS TO HIS DAY JOB AS PIPEFITTER WELDER
Gaige Herrera had a season for the record books in 2023 in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Herrera claimed his first world championship in dominating fashion aboard his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki.
Herrera, in his first season with Vance & Hines and his first full-time season in Pro Stock Motorcycle, captured 11 victories and 14 No. 1 qualifiers. Both are new single-season records in the category.
Herrera didn’t celebrate by going to Disney World not at all – he went back to work on Nov. 15 as a pipefitter welder.
“I'm just going back to work, like my normal stuff, but I'd like to do a vacation but with all the time being gone racing and having a normal day job, it's kind of tough,” Herrera said. “I'm a pipe fitter welder, and my shop is based out of Crown Point, Ind., and I run all over doing stuff. I live in Indiana and do stuff in the whole Chicago area. Right now, I'm up in Riverdale (a neighborhood in) Chicago at the steel mill working a shutdown because that's what I do on a daily basis is work.”
Herrera said he’s been working as a pipefitter welder for six years.
“Basically, when I moved here, I've welded since I was a little kid, mainly welding and building headers and chassis and stuff,” he said. “And then when I moved here, I met a few people, and they got me into the trade, and I ended up liking it.”
There’s no doubt Herrera has risen from obscurity to NHRA stardom – and some of his workers have taken notice.
“They do (know what I do), but I don't think they really realize what it all entails. They see the stuff but it's different when you don't really follow it, I guess,” Herrera said. “A lot of guys do. I've been in the mills just walking around and they're like, ‘Are you Gaige by chance?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah.’ I have had a lot of people recognize me. It's pretty cool. I'm very fortunate and lucky I have the job that I do, and I have a boss that's really understanding.”
Herrera acknowledged working outside the sport of drag racing allows him to keep his feet on the ground.
“I think it just helps me stay with reality, living out the dream,” he said. “It's just still a lot to take in really. It still hasn't fully set in, honestly. I think it's because I'm always on the go. I never really sit down and think about it.
“I'm definitely excited (for the 2024 season). It's nice to have the little break, but at the same time, I want to keep going racing.”
Herrera said he still has a hard time believing what he accomplished in 2023.
“My main goal this (past) season was to finish the top five,” Herrera said. “Never in my wildest dreams I would have thought I got as many wins as I did. And then the All Star Call Out and to win the Mission challenge deal. I never would've imagined that, especially my first season or all in one season. It's very incredible.”
With 2023 being his first full season in the PSM class, he was surprised about how fast he was able to excel.
“These bikes are, they’re unique to ride. They're difficult to ride compared to what I'm used to riding,” Herrera said. “So, I feel like I don't give myself enough credit for adapting as fast as I did. I still point out my own flaws to myself and work on that, even though it's hard to believe that I'm still having flaws, but we all have flaws. We're human, right. I definitely did not expect me to be so comfortable so soon.”
Getting to ride for the powerhouse Vance & Hines team was an even bigger thrill for Herrera.
“I grew up watching these guys. I grew up hearing stories about Terry (Vance) and Byron (Hines). I grew up in La Mirada (Calif.), which is not far from where the original shop started in Santa Fe Springs, so I had family friends that actually grew up with Byron. They'll tell me stories and this and that. And so, I've always grew up looking up to him as an icon in the sport and to be able to work with them, it's just amazing. That's like the ultimate dream to come true. You hear about someone basically all your life growing up and then actually get to meet them and work with them. It's awesome.”