Gaige Herrera got the Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki team’s 2023 season off to a perfect start by riding his brand-new Gen III Suzuki Hayabusa Pro Stock Motorcycle into the winner’s circle in their debut appearances at the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.
Team crew chief and six-time class champion Andrew Hines revealed when he took notice of Herrera.
“I saw something in Gaige last year during the US Nationals. I was sitting at home with COVID watching the race on my couch for the first time in 30 years. His was the first bike I saw go down the track that weekend. I saw something special in him and he proved it today,” Hines said. “With all the work our shop put in over the winter to develop the new Gen III Hayabusa bodywork and new Vance & Hines billet four-cylinder engine cases, plus to debut a new rider, I feel like we earned this one through preparation. The way Suzuki designed the Gen III Hayabusa, this new bodywork lends itself to aerodynamic stability. We reset the fastest top speed a Suzuki has ever run, without a tailwind. This weekend couldn’t have gone much better. It’s a phenomenal feeling and a testament to how hard this team desires to be at the top.”
Herrera, a La Mirada, California, native who now hails from Brownsburg, Indiana, joined the Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki team last November and made his first runs on the recently homologated 2023 Suzuki Hayabusa during pre-season testing a few weeks ago. He immediately impressed, turning heads throughout the class, and foreshadowing the combination’s winning potential by posting fast and consistent speeds on the new bike.
Potential became reality in Herrera’s stellar debut, starting with a first career number one qualifying performance in only his fifth Pro Stock Motorcycle class start, a 6.685-second/203.49 mph run on Saturday that set the Gainesville track’s top speed Pro Stock Motorcycle record and was the sixth fastest top speed in class history.
Proving his form in testing and qualifying was no fluke, Herrera stormed through the Pro Stock Motorcycle field on Sunday, beginning with a victory over Ron Tornow. He easily advanced into the second round with a 6.704-second/201.52 mph run, the low elapsed time of the round, against Tornow’s 7.161-second/191.51 mph pass.
Round two saw an early matchup between Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki teammates. In the season’s first battle of Gen III Hayabusas, Eddie Krawiec’s 6.814-second/199.94 pass was no match for Herrera’s 6.708-second/201.73 mph blast, as the rookie again went low-ET of the round to continue his strong run through the field.
That win set up a semi-final matchup against Suzuki racers Jianna Evaristo, who upset defending champion Matt Smith in round two. Herrera advanced to his first career final round appearance with a 6.742-second/200.89 mph run against Evaristo’s losing 6.883-second/193.21 mph pass.
Herrera capped the perfect weekend by taking his first career Pro Stock Motorcycle win over Angie Smith, rocketing into the winner’s circle with a 6.706-second/202.15 mph blast that easily surpassed her 6.845-second/181.84 mph run.
“It was a surreal weekend. The new Gen III Suzuki Hayabusa is a dream to ride. There were a lot of firsts for me. My first number one qualifier, a personal best 6.68-second elapsed time, and my first win,” Herrera said. “I never thought this would be possible. I’ve got to thank the whole Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki team and Andrew Hines for seeing the potential in me. It’s amazing being on a team of this level that loves to drag race as much as I do and wants to win as badly as I do. This is a special weekend and I hope there’s more to come.”
On the Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki team’s other Gen III Hayabusa, Krawiec began his 16th season in pursuit of his 50th career win and fifth class championship with a 6.803-second/200.98 mph qualifying run that placed him into the ninth starting position. In round one, he knocked off longtime rival Hector Arana Jr. with a 6.763-second/200.20 mph run, his quickest of the weekend, to easily defeat Arana (6.858 seconds/198.17 mph). But the veteran rider ran into a buzzsaw in the second round in the form of his own Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki teammate, ending his race early.
“We struggled a little bit getting my motorcycle down the track this weekend. We had some trouble during qualifying and found out after the fourth round that it had a cracked wheelie bar,” Krawiec said. “We fixed that and went out and ran a 6.76 in the first round. It was good to see that. It was one of the best elapsed times of the weekend, but the wheelie bar problem caused us to get a little off-center with the overall setup. I know the bike is fixed now, so we’ll move on from here, get the proper tune-up and chassis setup back in it, and hopefully see its full potential at the next race in Charlotte.”
For Hines, the win was confirmation of his decision to hire Herrera and of the entire team’s hard work during the off-season.
With the win, Herrera leaves Gainesville in first place in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings with 128 points. Krawiec sits tied for sixth place with 52 points.
The Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki team will be back in action April 28-30 at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, NC.