A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Herrera sweeps West Coast; Todd, Ashley nab Sonoma wins

Michael Combs
(Left to right) JR Todd, Justin Ashley and Gaige Herrera win in their fields at the DENSO NHRA Sonoma Nationals on Sunday, July 30, 2023 in Sonoma.

Gaige Herrera was the buzz of Sonoma Raceway as he completed his three-track sweep of the West Coast with a win in Pro Stock Motorcycle at the DENSO NHRA Sonoma Nationals Finals Sunday. 

Herrera credited his win to his team and his mentors, Gary and Karen Stoffer. “[They] are the ones that got me out here last year. None of this would’ve been possible. I wouldn’t be out here if it wasn’t for them,” he said. 

In Herrera’s semi-final round, he had to face Stoffer herself. “I was pretty nervous about her,” he said. “It’s like when you’re teaching someone, you don’t always teach everyone all your tricks.”

Herrera was victorious over Soffer and Matt Smith, who dealt with engine problems at the start of the strip.

“This has been amazing. Anytime I get to race in Sonoma, I’m all for it. This is a beautiful facility, the whole track, the view. I mean, you can’t beat it. I love racing here,” Herrera said.

In the Funny Car category, JR Todd nabbed his fourth career Funny Car win at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday. The path to victory, however, wasn’t easy. Todd raced and won against Bob Tasca III and Matt Hagan to earn his spot in the finals and beat Chad Green. “As soon as you cross that finish line and get the [para]shoots out, the first thing you do is look and see that the win light is on,” he said. “Sure enough, it came on four times today.”

Todd took his win seriously. “We’re not out here to play games. We’re here to win races,” he said. “I kind of keep to myself and stay in my pit area, head down. It’s all business. This is what I do for a living.” Todd’s laser focus paid off as he held up his Wally Trophy Sunday afternoon.

Top Fuel Driver Justin Ashley went through the gauntlet to earn his first Sonoma win on Sunday. He faced Doug Kalitta, first-seed Austin Prock, Josh Hart, and he ultimately beat Antron Brown in the final run. “The competition is so difficult. Just the margin of error is so small,” Ashley said.

Ashley was especially excited to win on his father’s birthday. “I think I already got him a gift,” he said referring to his Wally Trophy. Ashley’s vision to repeat remains the same. “We’re focused on our approach and being the best version of ourselves that we can be, and all we can do is try and win round after round and go as fast as we can.”

The NHRA Camping World Series continues August 11-13 for the Menards NHRA Nationals in Topeka, Kansas.

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About the Contributors
Michael Combs
Michael Combs, Editor
Michael Combs (he/him) is in his fifth semester writing for The Oak Leaf, and his second as co-Editor-In-Chief. He began taking natural resources management classes at Santa Rosa Junior College to pursue his love of nature and the environment but has shifted toward journalism so he can share those passions with the world. Besides the environment, Michael also likes to write about politics, social justice and mental health. He has a bachelor’s of science in neuroscience and mammalian physiology from the University of California, San Diego, and hopes to get back to his roots with more science journalism as well. In his off time Michael likes to read, write and hike as often as possible in beautiful Sonoma County and beyond.
Nick Vides
Nick Vides, Photo-Editor
Nicholas “Nick” Vides (he/him) Is a seasoned breaking news reporter dedicated to making sure every shutter click of his camera captures a moment worth sharing. Nick's itch for chasing fires has kept him busy over the past seven years, covering every major fire event in Northern California from the Paradise Fire to the Caldor Fire. Nick currently splits his time as a photojournalist with The Oak Leaf and as a Contract Photographer with The Press Democrat. He has more than nine years of experience with photography, has been director of photography for multiple short films with the SRJC Media Arts Center, directed numerous student-led broadcasts with his Media 19 class, and interned for The Sarah and Vinnie Show on Alice 97.3. In the little free time left, he works for Highway 12 Winery in Sonoma, California as a Cellar Hand.  

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