HERRERA BRINGS TO VANCE AND HINES A RIDER OF THE FUTURE
Gaige Herrera is so new to the Vance & Hines team that his name isn't even lettered on the hauler when it rolled into Gainesville Raceway for this week's testing. And to hear his mentors speak, the drag racing world will soon know his name very well... lettered or not.
"I think Gaige is going to help us understand some things," multi-time champion Eddie Krawiec, who is both a teammate and mentor to Herrera. "I think he's at the top of the class, like elite riders. He is really good."
At least in Krawiec's assessment, the most immediate comparison he draws is Joey Gladstone, a rider who, like Herrera, came from an outlaw bike background.
"There's two people that stick out in my mind that ride, and it's him and Joey Gladstone," Krawiec said. "They're just really composed riders on the motorcycle. I think Gaige is going to teach me a thing or two, so I'm excited to learn. I want to be better; I think I can be better. I know how to race, I know how to get that done, but I want to get more ET out of it, and Gaige is one of those guys that he's just really good. It's awesome to have him on our team and to help us along as well because I think we're going to complement each other along the journey here."
Andrew Hines, who stepped away from riding at the start of last season to focus on being crew chief for the team's bikes, shares the same vision as Krawiec. Herrera caught the eye of the Vance and Hines team last season in his brief stint riding with Stoffer Racing. They tested together for the first time following the NHRA Vegas 2 event, and it became clear he was destined to join the team.
"He caught my eye last year by riding the way he was on Stoffer's bike, so we tested him in Vegas on Monday after the national last year, and everything went good when he rode Ed's bike," Hines explained. "I knew he was my first choice when it came time to select a new rider."
The team was in Gainesville this week, eliminating the unknowns such as the new billet cases, as well as a new body on Krawiec's bike and, of course, Herrera.
"Right now, everything is clicking," Hines confirmed.
Herrera, along with Gladstone, just may represent a new breed of rider permeating the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Herrera brings forth his heritage of riding as the fourth generation of his family but even more vital, he brings experience and composure associated with racing in an outlaw element.
Herrera is a former XDA racer and excelled in two-wheeled drag racing without the security of a wheelie bar. He's been as quick as the 6.30s and has run faster than 200 mph on more than one occasion. He still holds the record for the fastest nitrous Suzuki Hayabusa run in the United States.
Herrea is certainly a different rider style than the Pro Stock Motorcycle class has seen over the years. In keeping the sanctity of a private session, a few runs that were close to a 6.69 on Tuesday dot the i's and crosses the t's for the Vance & Hines team when it comes to confirming their choice.
"He's got the different mentality up there on the starting line from what he used to race," Hines explained. "He's been involved in situations where there's more money flying around than these NHRA guys have ever seen as far as the bike class. So, the pressure's been on him in different situations to race, and he's constantly riding a bunch of different bikes for guys when he goes to those events. He's adaptable, and he's proven he could just hop right on this thing and go right down the track, and heck, he almost skipped over the 70s. He hadn't even been in the mid-680s. He went 85 on Ed's bike in Vegas. He comes here two short runs, and he almost goes .69, so we'll take it."
Herrera is clearly in a win-win situation with two of the most seasoned riders all too willing to take them under their wing. Whose wing gets more prominence?
"I'd like to say it's probably more Andrew," Krawiec admitted. "Andrew focuses on that bike a hundred percent of the time. Gaige is there. We both give him ideas, but you also don't want to bombard somebody with two different views. The nice thing is Andrew, and I could sit on separate ends of the room, and by the end of the weekend, we're back to the same area on tuneup. We're back to the same way that we're tuning the motorcycle on each bike, especially going into Sunday, and we're the same way with riding."
Hines isn't sure how much counsel he will need to provide, adding Herrera is already well ahead of schedule in being able to convey the feel of the bike to his tuner.
"He gives good feedback, and for his few runs he actually has on a bar bike, it's really, really good," Hines said. He's very coachable and knows where he needs to improve. He's made those corrections on these runs, and when we came here, we estimated how much weight we had to take off the bike and ran it across the scales, and it was within three pounds. So, we put three more pounds back on it and went out there and went to almost the best ET this bike's ever seen."
And for Hines, he understands his new rider can only improve.
"He'll get better the more runs he gets," Hines said. "He'll be able to fine-tune each, or he'll be able to nitpick each gear, so we can fine-tune each gear, whether it's struggling at the bottom or third year or the top or fourth gear, he's going to get to the point where he'll be able to feel that and give us that input. He's got all that background from the other stuff that he's raced, so he doesn't blow up his own equipment when he's racing with his dad. So, it goes a long way."
And by the time the team returns to Gainesville for the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals, his name will be lettered on the hauler, even though it won't need to be... the word is already out.