Is Gaige Herrera the Rick Mears of Pro Stock Motorcycle?

It’s May, and it’s the 50th anniversary of my first Indianapolis 500, so excuse me for looking at the world through Wing & Wheel shaped glasses. As I was driving back to Indy from last weekend’s NHRA event at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, it occurred to me that Pro Stock Motorcycle phenom Gaige Herrera is following a Rick Mears character arc.

First off, Herrera and the 4-time Indy 500 winner Mears are both California-raised, and display a certain California cool as they go about the business of winning in speed sport. Both men keep their cool in the strategic heat of battle, then display an even keel when the result at the end of the day is exactly the one they were working toward—a win.

Retired 4X Indy 500 winners Rick Mears (left) and A.J. Foyt before the start of the 2016 race.

Both found their professional Mecca in Indianapolis—Mears at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Herrera at the nearby Brownsburg headquarters of Vance & Hines.

While Herrera spent his first year of Pro Stock Motorcycle racing learning the ropes part time with the Gary Stoffer/Greg Underdahl team, Mears’ first year of Indy Car racing was with Bill Simpson and Teddy Yip. Just as Mears moved on to Team Penske in his second year, Herrera moved on to Vance & Hines—the Team Penske of PSM.

Gaige Herrera on his way to his third straight win last weekend at Route 66.

Both found immediate success with these powerhouse teams, outshining their more experienced teammates as soon as the green light flashed.

Mears retired at the pinnacle of his career, and those four Indy wins could easily have been more. Herrera has yet to be beaten or out-qualified this year, and seems on-track for the championship. He could, eventually, win four or more.

So is it just me, or does Gaige’s storyline seem set to echo that of Mears?

story and photos by Tim Hailey

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