The 67th annual Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals are already proving to be memorable for the hundreds of racers on the property, but for 34-year-old Ryan Herem, this race is truly special. It marks his return to NHRA’s respected Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, a home-away-from-home from which the avid drag racer has been absent for a year and a half.
Herem, a resident of Huntington Beach, Calif., is a six-time NHRA Sportsman winner on the national event tour and a former Division 7 champion. He has diverse experience behind the wheel of a racecar with victories claimed in three different super classes, but that experience was of little matter when he crashed his Super Gas Corvette roadster at the NHRA Arizona Nationals last February in Phoenix.
The crash was a rambunctious affair, and Herem was alert but transported to the hospital. Ultimately, he suffered bruises and broken bones, but for the past 18 months, he’s been healing. This weekend at the U.S. Nationals, a race he won in Super Gas in 2011, he was back in action in a Super Comp car.
“The first question I asked when I was at the hospital was, ‘did I win,’ ” recalled Herem, who was an awesome .006 on the tree but did not, in fact, get the win light in his third-round match with Marko Perivolaris before the terrible top-end tumble.
“I also made it very clear that there was no way that this was going to be how I stopped racing,” he continued. “If I decide I don’t want to race anymore, that’s fine. But this wasn’t going to be the reason.”
Just before Christmas last year, Herem was able to get back in the driver’s seat for some 1/8th mile bracket racing at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida. He made 30-40 runs over the course of the weekend and it took a few days to recover.
“I was so sore from not being in the car for so long,” he said. “It kicked my butt and took me three or four days to get back. But I’ve raced five or six weekends since then – just 1/8th mile bracket racing – and I’m good now.
“I’m just happy I finally got clearance from the doctors and from NHRA. There isn’t anything major that I’m suffering with right now, but there is a lot of hardware in my back now. Things are definitely a little different, but I have a full range of motion, and everything is good.”
Herem wasn’t planning to race at the U.S. Nationals this year, but when good friend Troy Williams Jr. called him a month ago and told him he had an extra car, Herem knew he was ready.
After the first round of qualifying on Wednesday and getting that first quarter-mile pass under his belt, Herem was awash with a very distinct feeling.
“Relief isn’t quite the right word, but I really knew that this is where I want to be,” he said. “I have more appreciation for it now. When you have an accident like I did, you may be 100% sure you’re going to come back, but you never know if the doctor is going to tell you that you can. When you go through that, and you think that maybe you won’t be able to race again, it makes you appreciate it more.”
Although Herem was unable to advance from the first round in Super Comp eliminations, he is already eyeing the future. He still has two racecars at home that are ready to go, and he may be back in NHRA competition as soon as next weekend for the Phoenix double division race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Whether he races Phoenix or not next weekend, his plan is the finish the year by racing the last NHRA events of the season in Las Vegas and Pomona.
“I’m thankful to be here,” said Herem. “When you’re young, you don’t appreciate it enough. But this is definitely where I want to be.”