Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Gaige Herrera continued his dominant season on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, winning the first-ever NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle All-Star Callout as part of this weekend’s 35th annual Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
In the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and J.R. Todd (Funny Car) both won the bonus event in Sonoma. Austin Prock (Top Fuel) and Bob Tasca III (Funny Car) each qualified No. 1 at the 12th of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
In the final round of the Pro Stock Motorcycle All-Star Callout, Herrera went 6.756s at 196.42mph on his Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki to defeat Angie Smith and collect yet another win in a bonus event in 2023. Adding in his three wins in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, that gives the points leader four specialty race wins. Herrera’s Friday pass of 6.728s at 199.94mph held up to hand him a seventh No. 1 qualifier this season. On Sunday, he’ll also look to become the first rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle history to sweep the three-race NHRA Western Swing.
“It’s been amazing,” Herrera said. “I was out of breath after that. It was a big one and I wanted it really bad. There’s nothing like winning a Wally, but to win this first Callout for the class is pretty cool. It’s awesome for the whole team and I’m so happy right now. The amount of effort this team puts into these bikes is really amazing and it’s all paid off.
“This is special because a win like this takes a lot as a team. You get bragging rights and something like this is good for the sport and the class. We’re in a great position (to sweep the Western Swing). I’ve got all the confidence in the world in my team. I’m very excited and we’ll see what happens.”
Matt Smith qualified second thanks to his 6.729s at 200.23mph from Friday, while Eddie Krawiec’s 6.771s at 199.1mph put him third.
In Top Fuel, Torrence won his second straight Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, following up his impressive Seattle weekend by beating Clay Millican on a holeshot in the finals of the bonus race in his Capco Contractors/Toyota dragster. Torrence went 3.7888s at 326.08mph, using a 0.067s reaction time to best Millican’s run of 3.781mph. Torrence moved back into the points lead with his Seattle sweep and will look to continue that momentum with another double-up event on Sunday in Sonoma.
“Everything is going really well for us right now,” Torrence said. “The car has showed glimmers of hope throughout last year, mainly at the end of the year and now this year. The consistency is finally coming there. To win on a holeshot, that always makes you feel good as a driver. That was the best light I’ve had all weekend. I’ve been pretty late on the tree and I was just amped up.
“When you go up there, it’s not just another round of qualifying, it’s a race win. We’re going to try to finish this Western Swing with a win and keep this momentum going.”
Prock hung onto his first No. 1 qualifier this year in his Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist Chevrolet dragster thanks to his 3.704s at 331.36mph from Friday. He also put together a strong final run to close out qualifying on Saturday as he looks for his second win this season. Torrence finished second in qualifying with a 3.706s at 329.67mph and Antron Brown’s 3.721s at 329.75mph has him third.
“The No. 1s are very cool,” Prock said. “This is only my second in my career and this is my third season. They’re very hard to come by. When you qualify No. 1, it all goes to the race team. It shows that your crew chiefs and crew out did everybody out there and that’s very special. This was the first No. 1 qualifier for Chris Cunningham and Joe Barlam as a tandem so that was really special. Everybody is really proud of how this team is working and hopefully we can turn this into four round wins tomorrow.”
Todd enjoyed his biggest moment of the 2023 Funny Car season on Saturday, picking up his first win in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge with a run of 3.977s at 322.81mph in his DHL Toyota GR Supra. Blake Alexander broke on the starting line, but Todd made a solid pass to claim the victory in the bonus race – his first win of any kind since winning the season-opener at Gainesville in 2021. After racing well thus far on the Western Swing, including a runner-up in Seattle, Todd broke through in a major way on Saturday, al so defeating Chad Green in the bonus race. He’ll look for a double-up weekend, which would further the team’s momentum this year.
“Any win is a good win,” Todd said. “I feel let the last two slip away from us in Denver and the final round in Seattle. It’s been a while since we’ve won anything so this is good momentum headed into race day and hopefully we can finish it off tomorrow. I feel like we’ve been building momentum since with our DHL Toyota GR Supra.
“We’ve definitely been knocking on the door of a win. It just goes to show how hard it is to win in Funny Car right now. Just when you think you’ve got it where you need it and it’s going to be your day, somebody like Tim Wilkerson (Seattle winner) jumps up and snatches it from you. So, hopefully we can ride this wave of momentum into the final again at one of my favorite tracks. It would be really special.”
Tasca drove to his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season during the final session thanks to run of 3.938s at 324.05mph in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang, making a huge move after struggling during the first three sessions. He wasn’t able to make a run under the lights on Friday, but more than made up for to close out qualifying as he looks to defend his Sonoma victory on Sunday. Alexis DeJoria finished second in qualifying with a 3.942s at 326.56mph and Ron Capps’ 3.942s has him third heading into eliminations.
“That was critical data for us,” Tasca said. “Now we know we can push when we need to and we can pull back if we have to. I’m so impressed with what we’ve done and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I love racing here. It’s one of my top five tracks and I always seem to do well here. I’m ready for tomorrow and I know my guys are going to be ready. We can run on a hot and cool track and this team is just going to keep getting better and better.”
Eliminations for the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals begin at 10:30 a.m. PT on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.