By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
The final stop of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Western Swing took place Sunday at Sonoma Dragway in Sonoma, Calif., home of the 35th annual DENSO Sonoma Nationals. It featured the usual Top Fuel and Funny Car class, but the race also featured the Pro Stock Motorcycle class closing out their first ever Western Swing trip in class history.
Not only were riders racing for the overall Wally, but, the event also featured a race within a race that included the first-ever, Pro Stock Motorcycle All-Star CallOut where eight riders had a shot at collecting a check for $15,000 on Saturday during the final rounds of qualifying. The eight riders that participated were the husband-wife duo of Angie and Matt Smith, Vance and Hines riders Eddie Krawiec and Gaige Herrera, rookie Chase Van Sant, and Marc Ingwersen.
However, even with the CallOut and the race itself, Herrera was the one rider standing tall by the end of the day ending a historic Western Sweep with three straight wins from Denver to Sonoma.
Gaige Herrera – Winner – Stop me if you heard this before, but Herrera is once again a winner, this time sweeping the first-ever Western Swing for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. He began the weekend with a win in the CallOut and picked up a $15,000 check in the process, as well as earning the No. 1 qualifier for the seventh time this season.
In E1, the Vance and Hines rider squared off against No. 16 Ryan Oehler. It was an easy run for Herrera, as Oehler crossed over into Herrera’s lane, which is a no-no in Drag Racing and causes an automatic disqualification. Herrera rolled to E2 with a pass of 6.729 at 199.11 mph. For E2, he competed against Marc Ingwersen, but again won, as Ingwersen fouled too soon.
The semi-finals featured a special race for Herrera though. The Pro Stock Motorcycle racer raced against longtime motorcycle rider, Karen Stoffer. Stoffer was the first to give Herrera a shot in motorcycles last season before Vance and Hines swopped him up for the ’23 season.
Stoffer, herself, was having a solid day with round wins over Chris Bostick, and Fred Camarena. While it looked as though she could potentially play upset, Stoffer was eliminated by Herrea in a close race. Herrera earned the victory with a pass of 6.793 to Stoffer’s 6.926 to propel him to the finals to face motorcycle champion, Matt Smith.
In a highly anticipated matchup between Smith and Herrera, problems unfortunately rose for Smith and his Suzuki. As the riders rolled up to the staging lanes to do their burnouts and get ready for the final round, Smith’s bike was unable to start.
The Vance and Hines team waited for him to get fired, but due to the live TV window by FOX, the finals were in hurry-up mode and Herrera was ordered to start his bike while Smith had to get off his motorcycle and watch Herrera win from afar. The victory was the seventh of the season by the La Mirada, Calif. native.
“I can’t even put this into words,” Herrera said. “To be able to do this and accomplish what we have over the past three weeks, it’s incredible. The Denver win got us the momentum and the drive to keep pushing forward to get the sweep, and to do it, I never thought I would add my name to that part of history.
“I try to focus on the big picture, but as soon as go on the starting line, I’m focused on what I need to do. The class is tough, but I’ve got one bad machine right now. The team has my back and I was able to do my job today. I’m not a big person to show emotion, but when that win light came on, I was screaming and yelling in my helmet, and all that. To do what all of this, I’m out of words. I don’t talk much as it is, but this is just an incredible feeling.”
Matt Smith – Second – An unfortunate runner-up for the former Pro Stock Motorcycle champion who didn’t even get a chance to race with Herrera in the final round. Last week during a semi-final race, the cam sensor went out on Smith’s bike causing him not to race against Hector Arana Jr.
Unfortunately, it appears as though, it was the same issue again this week that didn’t allow Smith to race in the finals. The runner-up was the 37th of the North Carolina native career after earning round victories over Bonham, Johnson, and Krawiec.
“I would bet that it was the same thing that happened in Seattle, we had a cam sensor that went out,” Matt Smith said on the starting line after his bike wouldn’t fire. “Frustrating, really frustrating. We try to keep all the best parts in this thing and a $100 little sensor, costs us a tenth to beat Gaige. Don’t know if we could’ve, but we had a good bike and just couldn’t get it done.”
Eddie Krawiec – Third – Another quality outing for Krawiec who earned a third-place finish after being eliminated by Smith in the third round. Krawiec was also the runner-up last weekend in Seattle and it appears, a Wally could be going in his collection soon should the momentum keep going. The longtime Vance and Hines rider qualified third and won over Hall and Angie Smith before being eliminated.
“The track kind of got us in that round,” Krawiec said. “I wouldn’t say the surface went away, but it wasn’t as good as it was in the earlier rounds and my bike rattled the tire off the starting line. Usually, if I have someone by four-hundredths on the tree, I expect to get the win, but unfortunately, my opponent had a good run at the wrong time.”
Karen Stoffer – Fourth – It’s been quite the past two weeks for the returning Stoffer. Stoffer announced at the end of the 2022 season, she was retiring from full-time racing in Pro Stock Motorcycle after a long career since making her debut in 1996 in Denver.
However, despite her retirement, Stoffer made a brief return after racing in Seattle and continued this week with Sonoma. Stoffer entered race day as the No. 5 qualifier and competed against veteran Bostick. Entering this match, both riders had never competed against each other, and marked the first time match up. Despite the unique round, Stoffer was victorious with a pass of 6.868 at 193.99 mph.
She continued to move rounds with a win over Camarena before being eliminated by Herrera in the semis. Stoffer posted a time of 6.926 at 191.97 mph to Herrera’s 6.793 at 195.28 mph.
Angie Smith – Fifth – Angie had some momentum heading into Sunday’s day of eliminations and looked for redemption herself. She was one of the eight riders who participated in the All-Star CallOut on Saturday and faced her husband, Matt in the first round during that race. She was victorious over Matt in E1, and again over Krawiec before her day was done in the finals by Herrera.
As for Sunday, she started the day out with a first-round match against rookie Chase Van Sant. Van Sant’s bike was unable to start and therefore, Angie went on to victory with a 6.781 at 200.62 mph pass to round two. Despite going 200 mph in E1, she was eliminated by Krawiec in E2, red lighting -0.002 too soon.
“Well, I ended my day on Sunday by going red,” Angie Smith said. “We as drivers never intend to go red, but in this class of PSM, everyone is tough. I knew Eddie (Krawiec) was going to be tough. I probably staged the bike an inch more than I usually do and it cost me. My fault.
“The CallOut was awesome. I feel like the Vance and Hines strategy was for me, and for me and Matt to race each other, and that’s exactly what happened. Matt gave me a great motorcycle first round and unfortunately, he came up on the other side. The positive side is there was a DENSO bike in the second round.”
“I got passed by Eddie, only to fall to Gaige Herrera in the finals of the CallOut. I shut off in third gear because we had a stout crosswind and the bike was going right. It’s better to be safe than to wreck a motorcycle trying to get the win. That’s my philosophy.”
Marc Ingwersen – Sixth – Ingwersen’s day was going well with a victory over Clontz in E1 until he fouled against Herrera in E2. Ingwersen’s reaction time was -0.016 on the tree.
Freddie Camarena – Seventh – Camarena doesn’t often compete in the motorcycle class as he is a part-time rider in the latter years of his career. However, when he does, he’ll try to make some noise himself by being a dark horse contender. That happened Sunday afternoon when he eliminated fan favorite Hector Arana Jr in E1 with a pass of 6.913 at 195.48 mph to Arana Jr’s 6.940 at 199.91 mph.
Sadly, he was eliminated by Stoffer in E2 by fouling too soon. His reaction time was -0.157 too quick.
“We were finally able to get the Pro Stock bike out to a race and we had a good weekend,” Camarena said in a Facebook post. “If the rider was better, we could have had a great weekend. We qualified 13th after four rounds of qualifying.
“We got passed in the first round and then we had to race our good friends, Gary and Karen Stoffer, that is where our day ended. I red-lit to Karen. Looking back on the weekend, we actually had a really good weekend. The motorcycle is getting better with every pass.”
Steve Johnson – Eighth – First-round win over Scrappers Racing Jianna Evaristo until he was eliminated by Matt Smith in E2. Though there was more to the story, as Johnson’s bike ended up quitting on him despite leaving first off the starting line.
“Learning how to tune motorcycles from drag racing can be fun,” Johnson said. “Making mistakes during the learning process can be expensive. We had an air shifter issue in Sonoma that prevented us from winning the second round (against Matt Smith) in Sonoma.”
Jianna Evaristo – Ninth – Evaristo’s day was cut short in Round 1 by Johnson. While she may have been off the starting line first with a reaction time of 0.039 over Johnson’s 0.045. Johnson made up ground over Evaristo and eventually passed her shortly after leaving the Christmas tree. Evaristo mustered a 6.820 at 196.56 mph to Johnson’s 6.785 at 196.16. mph.
“And that concludes the Western Swing,” Evaristo said in a Facebook post. “We didn’t have the weekend we were looking for, but we are leaving with our heads held high. My team and I have made great progress over the last couple of races, and we can’t wait to see what we accomplish at our next race.”
Chris Bostick – 10th – Bostick made his 44th start in Pro Stock Motorcycle on Sunday, but was out early with an E1 loss to Stoffer. Bostick’s time was 6.916 at 194.16 mph to Stoffer’s 6.868 at 193.99 mph. He also had a great reaction time of 0.010 until he was eliminated.
Hector Arana Jr -11th – An unfamiliar first-round loss by Arana Jr. This is the first time in the 2023 season that a motorcycle rider suffered a first-round loss. In fact, you have to go back to the final race of the 2022 season at Pomona where Arana Jr lost to Joey Gladstone in the first round in order to see a stat like that.
The Miami, FL native was off the starting line first with a 0.049 to Camarena’s 0.060. Despite being quicker, Arana Jr’s bike bogged, which allowed Camarena to score the round victory.
“Not the weekend we were looking for in Sonoma, I was really hoping to bring a trophy home,” Arana Jr said in a Facebook post. “We’re going to back home and work hard, hopefully, get some testing in before the Big GO and get ready for the Countdown (NHRA’s version of the Championship).
“We’ve been running well and having a lot of success going rounds, so best to have the tough times now and fight hard for the Countdown.”
Kelly Clontz – 12th – Eliminated by Ingwersen in E1 for the second time this season.
Lance Bonham – 13th – Eliminated by Matt Smith after fouling -0.334 too soon.
“While I was in Sonoma, I was able to accomplish my first 190+ pass in Q3,” Bonham said. “I have been riding Pro Stock Motorcycles for over 11 years and after losing a lot of weight and now riding for Ryan Oehler’s El Bandido Yankee Taquila team, I finally achieved my initial goal.
“There are more goals to come since I’m still not as old as John Force. I still plan on racing at Charlotte, Las Vegas, and the finals at Pomona this year.”
John Hall – 14th – Hall had a brief advantage over Krawiec in E1, but was passed by the Vance and Hines rider at the 500 feet mark and was eliminated by Krawiec.
Chase Van Sant – 15th – An unfortunate outing for Van Sant who’s had a good rookie season so far in 2023. Unfortunately, as he was slated for his E1 match-up with Angie Smith, his bike was unable to fire as well, and was forced to sit out.
“Unfortunately, our weekend in Sonoma wasn’t quite what we had hoped,” Van Sant said. “It was a big weekend with the All-Star Callout race and I had a lot of fun with that whole deal, but just came up short against Gaige (Herrera) in the first round.
“I was really hoping to get a shot to race against Angie (Smith) too, but a fuel pump issue shut the bike off right before we could stage. That was really unfortunate because I think we would have had something for that round, but we’ll regroup and get ready for the U.S. Nationals!”
Ryan Oehler – 16th – It’s been a season to forget for the veteran. Oehler has seen five first-round losses including three consecutive losses dating back to Norwalk. The streak continued Sunday in Sonoma losing out to eventual race winner, Herrera.
“This was a tough weekend for us, but that’s what happens in racing,” Oehler said in a Facebook post. “We have four weeks off and we plan on doing some testing to get the gremlins out of our setups, and we can get back to where we were of getting A to B. We’ll keep digging and you’ll see us in Indy.”
Official NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Results following Sonoma
- Gaige Herrera
- Matt Smith
- Eddie Krawiec
- Karen Stoffer
- Angie Smith
- Marc Ingwersen
- Freddie Camarena
- Steve Johnson
- Jianna Evaristo
- Chris Bostick
- Hector Arana Jr
- Kelly Clontz
- Lance Bonham
- John Hall
- Chase Van Sant
- Ryan Oehler
Official NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Points Standings
- Gaige Herrera, 924 points
- Hector Arana Jr, -359
- Eddie Krawiec, -361
- Matt Smith, -375
- Angie Smith, -418
- Steve Johnson, -444
- Chase Van Sant, -504
- Marc Ingwersen, -580
- Jianna Evaristo, -583
- Kelly Clontz, -630
Up Next; With the Western Swing now complete, the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle will take a few weeks off from the tour before returning to the historic U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, August 30- September 4.