By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
For the sixth time this year in the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series season, the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class headed out west after previously competing at the Norwalk Nationals on the east coast for their initial start of the Western Swing.
However, the beginning of the Western Swing was somewhat of a bittersweet and emotional beginning, as this would be the last time that the NHRA would compete at the Bandimere racetrack in Morrison, Colorado. For some of the rookie riders, it marked their first and only time visiting Bandimere.
As for the veterans of the class, it was Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith who shared multiple victories at the track with Krawiec having four victories his last in 2017 and Matt Smith, achieving three victories and is the most recent race winner from last year.
With the ever-competitive Pro Stock Motorcycle class, many riders were looking to get that last elusive Denver victory. At the end of the day, it was Gaige Herrera who claimed redemption after fouling too soon against Steve Johnson in the finals at Bristol and losing out to Jianna Evaristo in E2 at Norwalk.
Gaige Herrera – Winner – Herrera began the day as the No. 3 qualifier and a first-round match with Chris Bostick. It was an easy beginning as Bostick fouled too soon with a -0.004 reaction time. Herrea pulled away with a pass of 7.098 at 187.91 mph to advance to the quarterfinals and face defending race winner Matt Smith, which would be a big match-up.
During this race, Herrera was quicker than Matt with a 0.012 reaction time to Matt’s 0.022. The mph speeds were identical with Herrera going 186.72 mph and Matt 186.43 mph. However, it was the E.T. that helped Herrera get the victory with a 7.143 to 7.190. This was the first time in history, both Herrera and Matt faced each other in eliminations.
Herrea propelled to the semi-finals and faced rookie rider, Chase Van Sant. Van Sant had a victory over Lance Bonham in E1. Herrera won over Van Sant posting a time of 7.109 to Van Sant’s 7.166 despite Van Sant getting the starting line advantage of a 0.013 to Herrera’s 0.025.
Then came the finals when the Vance and Hines rider squared off another Smith, but this time, it was Angie Smith who was having a great day herself. Unfortunately, she fouled too soon by -0.003 and Herrera coasted to victory for the fourth time this season.
“I’m glad we bounced back here, especially in front of all these fans at Bandimere Speedway,” said Herrera, who now leads Arana Jr. by 219 points. “These fans are incredible and this whole weekend has been amazing. I’m glad I’m able to add my name to the list of people from Vance & Hines who have won here. It was an adjustment for sure, but the bike was running good all weekend. It makes my job a little easier when you have a bike like that.
“To be able to bounce back from (the last two races) here, of all places, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s a shame to see it go but I’m just glad to put my name as part of the last to ever win here in Pro Stock Motorcycle.”
Angie Smith – Finished Second – A great day went south in the finals to Herrera. Angie was off the line too soon compared to Herrera and that ultimately ended of what could’ve been a successful day for the Matt Smith Racing team had there not been a red light in the finals. Angie had round wins over Jianna Evaristo (no time), Eddie Krawiec, and No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana Jr before earning her second runner-up of the season and the fourth of her career.
“We did have some issues during qualifying, which kind of put us behind the eight ball going into eliminations on Sunday, but we were able to work through everything, and getting to the finals was pretty awesome,” Angie Smith said about her runner-up finish.
Especially since it was the last one on the mountain. MSR has a pretty good record at Denver, and I was glad to be a part of our success there.”
Chase Van Sant – Finished Third – The rookie rider had one of his best outings to date since the season opener at Gainesville where he was in the semi-finals and lost to Angie Smith. Since then in the last two races, he had a first-round loss to Steve Johnson in Norwalk and a quarterfinal loss to Herrera at Bristol.
Entering Denver, he qualified second and had a first-round match with Lance Bonham who was riding for Ryan Oehler. Van Sant won in E1 after Bonham fouled early and gave Van Sant an easy victory.
With a small Pro Stock Bike field of 13 bikes entered, there were some bye runs that took place during the round of eliminations. Van Sant was one of those byes, as the White Alligator Racing rider had a bye in E2. Unfortunately, his day was cut short in the semis by Herrera who earned his second career appearance in the semis.
“The Mile-High Nationals was just the rebound we needed after a couple of tough races,” Van Sant said. “This is an interesting time in the season just because we are approaching the Countdown (NHRA’s version of the Playoffs) and I think you’re really going to start to see what teams have as we approach Indy (U.S. Nationals) and round out the Western Swing.
“It’s good to get our short numbers back and go some rounds to get our confidence back up. Denver has always felt like another home to me, so to have a good outing in front of an amazing group of fans, friends, and family was really exciting for me. I’m looking forward to Seattle and seeing a new place along with being in the Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge. Bring on Seattle!”
Hector Arana Jr – Finished Fourth – After winning Norwalk, the most previous race on the motorcycle schedule, Arana Jr had a little momentum coming into Denver, especially after scoring the No. 1 qualifier for the first time this season and 23rd of his career.
Arana Jr picked up a win over Marc Ingwersen following a bye run in E1 until he was eliminated by Angie Smith, shortly after Arana Jr pulled in the clutch and let out of the gas.
“Overall, it was a good weekend,” Arana Jr said in a Facebook post. “It could have been great, but unfortunately, the conditions changed today. The Global Electronic Technology Buell was on another decent run in the semis, but the bike wouldn’t shift. The rider did his job and had a great light, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Eddie Krawiec – Finished Fifth – Won over veteran Steve Johnson in E1, but was then eliminated by Angie Smith in E2 in a holeshot.
“My last trip up to the mountain didn’t go as planned, but as a team, it was a success,” Krawiec said. “To get Gaige (Herrera, teammate) a win in Denver was something really cool.
“I had a very good and consistent motorcycle all weekend, but unfortunately, a late light brought a hole-shot loss. I will be better and really looking forward to Seattle. We have never raced at this track and believe we run well.”
Matt Smith – Finished Sixth – The defending race winner was looking to add win No. 4 at the track. Smith won here for the first time back in 2007 and then did so again for a consecutive time in 2008. The champion rider had to wait 14 years to score another victory which came in 2022.
Heading back for the last time, Smith looked to repeat those results, and he had a little momentum in doing so. On Saturday, he won the Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge for the first time in his career and the second consecutive time for the Smiths, as Angie won the challenge at the most recent race in Norwalk.
On race day, Matt won over Kelly Clontz with a pass of 7.176 at 186.43 mph over Clontz’s slowing 13.590 at 57.50 mph. In the quarterfinals, Matt was eliminated by eventual race winner, Herrera with a time of 7.190 at 186.43 mph.
“Matt was pretty happy with his success on the mountain as well since this was the first time he had raced a Suzuki there,” Angie said about Matt’s day. “I am sure that if we were going back there again next year, we would have come out and tested beforehand, so he could have been even better.”
Marc Ingwersen – Finished Seventh – Defeated Ryan Oehler in E1 before losing to the No. 1 qualifier Arana Jr in E2.
Ryan Oehler – Finished Eighth – Eliminated in the first round by Ingwersen. Oehler fell short as he fouled way too soon and had a reaction time of -0.231.
“We know we’ve got a solid bike,” Oehler said in a Facebook post. “We’ll regroup and be ready for Seattle next weekend!”
Chris Bostick – Finished Ninth – Like Oehler, it was an early exit for Bostick who also fouled early. Bostick’s reaction time was almost similar to Angie Smith’s in the final round, as Bostick was -0.004 too soon.
Steve Johnson – Finished 10th – An uncharacteristic-like day for the tour’s most recent race winner Johnson who was eliminated by Eddie Krawiec in the first round. Johnson had the starting line advantage, however, Krawiec pulled away at the 100 feet mark and ended Johnson’s day.
“We kicked off the Western Swing with a visit to WyoTech to present 2 of our BAT-man (Be a Technician) Scholarships to students Jillian Proell and Brody Storms,” Johnson said. “They each received $4,000 in Snap-on tools to help jumpstart their careers, and I was able to talk with the students about how to market themselves for jobs after graduation.
Our performance on the track in Denver didn’t compare to that experience— we never found the performance that we were looking for despite changes to our tune-up. It was a special weekend for the Bandimere family though, and we wish them all the best in their next chapter. ”
Lance Bonham – Finished 11th – Bonham had a red light of -0.308 against Van Sant and was done in E1.
Kelly Clontz – Finished 12th – Denver marked the 56th start of Clontz’s career in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Unfortunately, she was eliminated by Matt Smith in E1 after clicking off the bike.
“The Steam Fitters UALocal 602 team took one last ride on the mountain,” Clontz said in a Facebook post. “It was an early raceday exit, but a great show in front of a SOLD OUT crowd!”
Jianna Evaristo – Finished 13th – Bike couldn’t fire and was forced to sit out in what would’ve been a first round match-up against teammate Angie Smith.
Official NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Results following Bandimere Speedway
- Gaige Herrera
- Angie Smith
- Chase Van Sant
- Hector Arana Jr
- Eddie Krawiec
- Matt Smith
- Marc Ingwersen
- Ryan Oehler
- Chris Bostick
- Steve Johnson
- Lance Bonham
- Kelly Clontz
- Jianna Evaristo
Official NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Points Standings
- Gaige Herrera, 672 points
- Hector Arana Jr, -219
- Steve Johnson, -282
- Angie Smith, -284
- Eddie Krawiec, -288
- Matt Smith, -297
- Chase Van Sant, -337
- Jianna Evaristo, -399
- Marc Ingwersen, -414
- Ryan Oehler, -443
Up Next: The NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class will continue their Western Swing by heading northwest for their annual visit to the Flav-R-Pac Nationals, July 21-23.