Enders, Herrera look to close out championship NHRA seasons in Pomona preliminaries

As the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series comes to a close at this weekend’s 58th annual NHRA Finals, the Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle championships have a chance to be decided before eliminations at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.

Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Gaige Herrera (pictured above) has been nearly perfect in the class this season with 10 wins and 13 No. 1 qualifiers to his credit on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. He has led the points all but one event of the 2023 season.

To claim his first NHRA championship, Herrera must make a qualifying attempt at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip. With his 181-point lead of his teammate Eddie Krawiec, Herrera can clinch his first career world championship during qualifying.

“It doesn’t feel real. Like I told Andrew (Hines, crew chief), I haven’t even woken up from the beginning of the season,” Herrera said. “I think it started to sink in leading up to Vegas. I posted a year ago that I was looking for sponsors, to basically make it out there. I didn’t plan to do more than Indy, Reading and St. Louis last year and I was able to find some funding to come out West so that was a big deal.

“It’s hard to believe me being out here and getting a ride with Vance & Hines. I can’t thank Andrew and Eddie enough for seeing what they did for me and putting faith in me that I could ride the motorcycle to their standards.”

Herrera’s championship will give the Vance & Hines racing team its 14th championship. Herrera joins the likes of Krawiec, a four-time champion, and brothers Andrew Hines, a six-time title holder, and Matt Hines, with three championships, under the Vance & Hines umbrella.

“It really is unbelievable,” Herrera said. “Terry (Vance) and I were talking, and he said just don’t change, just keep being yourself and have fun with it. It’s awesome working with all of them: Terry, Byron (Hines), Andrew and Eddie. It’s like a family. Everyone says it’s all business but at the end of the day, they’re almost like big brothers to me.”

After a tough start to the year, Enders has built the inside line to another Pro Stock title…but she’s staying wary.

In the Pro Stock ranks, Enders is on the verge of her sixth NHRA title in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro, holding a 114-point lead over longtime rival Greg Anderson. To clinch her championship in qualifying, she needs to gain seven more points in qualifying than Anderson, who also has five titles. If Enders is able to gain that advantage in qualifying, she’ll secure the title on Saturday for Elite Motorsports. If not, she’ll need to win first round on Sunday to clinch her fourth world championship in five seasons.

“They asked me about having one hand on the trophy and I definitely don’t feel like it’s ours,” Enders said. “We have to go out there and continue to earn it. If they asked me that 12 races ago, I’d told them they were nuts if they said we were going to contend for our sixth championship this year because we were absolutely horrible.”

Early this season, Enders suffered three first-round losses but has rebounded in the second half of the year in a major way and especially in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. She has four wins on the season, including back-to-back wins in the playoffs in Dallas and Las Vegas. Already the winningest female in NHRA history, if she is able to clinch the title, she’ll tie Warren Johnson for second most championships in the category at six, behind Bob Glidden at 10.

“Pomona is points and a half and a lot can happen, and a lot can change,” Enders said. “I just try to put that out of my mind. I know that sounds silly and cliche, but I just try to focus on what’s right in front of me. I don’t want to get the bigger picture in my mind too far ahead but at the same time, I believe that we can do it and we’re capable.”

The In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals will also crown champions in the nitro categories. Top Fuel’s Steve Torrence leads Doug Kalitta by only 15 points with Leah Pruett just behind in third at 34 points back. The Funny Car class is even tighter with Matt Hagan leading Bob Tasca III by 15 and Robert Hight by 17.

Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Anderson (Pro Stock) and Angie Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won last year’s event, while Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) claimed world championships. The event will air on FS1, including eliminations at 4pm ET on Sunday.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12 and 3pm PT on Friday, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday at 12 and 3pm. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11am PT on Sunday. Television coverage begins with qualifying action on FS1 at 2pm ET on Sunday, leading into eliminations at 4pm.

Story originally appeared on Racer