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Herne: 2024 make-or-break for American career

WHEN it comes to 2024, Nathan Herne is all in.

The Lismore product, who only turned 21 in August, headed to the United States for a full-season shot at the 2023 American Trans Am Championship.

What followed, he admits, was an underwhelming year.

Herne finished 11th in the points but did not contend for victories and the title quite like he had expected.

A controversial incident in the Austin season finale ensured he ended the year winless.

“I look back on 2023 with very mixed emotions,” he told V8 Sleuth after making an S5000 cameo in Adelaide.

“To head to America was obviously a dream, it was awesome to get there. I had a lot of races where at the front we were really fast but it takes the whole package to really go well.

“In America I had some really good people behind me; I also struggled a lot with some key parts of that aspect. But look, we survived the year and I have just got to look forward to 2024.

“For me, I realised about midway through the season, it was just about survival and making sure I had something for next year.”

Herne’s American Mustang. Pic: Nathan Herne Racing

Elaborating on why it was such as frustrating campaign, Herne pointed to his stunning fourth on American debut late last year and fast start to 2023 which had fuelled high hopes.

“At the start of the year we were fastest, we were the one to beat. So midway through the year it was very hard to go from being the man to beat to being ‘let’s aim for top 10’,” said Herne, a two-time Australian Trans Am champion.

“That was the hardest part for me and luckily towards the end we sort of turned it around a bit, but for next year I’m hoping to regain what I had in 2022.

“Because coming off the high of 2022 where I think I won more than half the races I started in, which was unreal, and to come into 2023 and leave it winless after such high expectations when we moved over there, that was the hardest thing.

“I’ve learnt a lot about dealing with the off-track stuff as well, because when you go from the highest of highs and you move to the other side of the world and everything just seems to go not so smoothly, it can wear you down and it definitely did for me at some points.

“I’m proud of how the year finished, even though we got sent by Thomas Merrill (at Circuit of the Americas) but that’s life. I think everyone saw that for what it was and knew that we deserved that win.

“We’ll come back next year and see what we can do and just try to move forward in the career over in America.”

So, what’s next?

Herne plans to return to the American Trans Am scene, although it’s not yet confirmed whether it will again be with Stevens-Miller Racing or another team.

He’s also eyeing some dirt racing as well as late-model outings on asphalt ovals, ideally totalling 25 race weekends for the calendar year.

It’s part of a big push to make 2024 count enough to keep his American foray firing on all cylinders.

It was a tough Adelaide S5000 round for Nathan Herne last month. Pic: Supplied/Race Project

“I have raced against a lot of the NASCAR kids and I can definitely hold my own against them. It’s just budget,” said Herne.

“America is a lot better than Australia in ways to make it, because you have a lot of sponsorship opportunities. To make that next step into NASCAR, it’s ridiculous money. You have just got to hustle really hard.

“I’m going to give it a red-hot crack. For me, I said this to myself in 2021, ‘I have two years to make it’, which was 2021 and 2022, and luckily for me I did.

“For me now, I have got 2024 and I have just got to give it everything I’ve got. Hopefully it all sticks.

“I’ve made it further than I ever thought I would. In 2020, I thought that was me done, and I have got to this point.

“But I look back on things and I realise, I think it has taken such a tough year of 2023 to look back and say ‘I’ve made it further than I thought’ – but I’m not finished yet.

“I need to get a bit further just to satisfy my own ego, for lack of better words, I guess.”

And if Australia ends up being where Herne’s future lies, perhaps he’ll now have enough runs on the board – especially internationally – to be given the green light to race in Supercars…

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