CHARLOTTE (Sept. 12) – Two months ago, KLR Group driver Erica Enders was fresh off her first career Pro Stock victory. Now, she’s perhaps the leading contender to win the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series championship in the ultra-competitive class.
The Countdown to the Championship – NHRA’s playoffs – begins this weekend with the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway, and no one has more momentum than Enders. She’s been to three consecutive finals, winning two of them, and has two consecutive No. 1 qualifiers. Going back to that first win, at Chicago on July 1, shows that Enders has won three of the last seven races.
And with the rankings reset for the Countdown, Enders finds herself just 50 points out of the lead, in fourth place.
“I’m excited to be in the position I’m in,” Enders said. “To be less than three rounds of eliminations out of the points lead is the closest grasp I’ve had on it in my career. I’m not going to let it slip away.”
This is Enders’ second appearance in the Countdown, so she and her GK Motorsports team have learned some lessons from last year.
“We’ve prepared a little better this year,” Enders said. “Time will tell, but we’ve got a really good, consistent race car, and I’m going to do my best to out-drive everyone. That’s confidence, not cockiness.”
Crew chief Dave Connolly, who is also entered as a driver at Charlotte, says Enders is the favorite for the title.
“She’s got the car to beat right now,” Connolly said. “We’re going for a championship with that flat-black GK Motorsports car.”
That may be added pressure, but Enders welcomes it.
“I don’t change my mindset,” Enders said. “Yeah, these races are the most important six races of our lives, and we’ve got to capitalize on our momentum and our consistency and make it work. Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure, but I like it.”
Enders also is coming off a final-round appearance at Charlotte in April, when she finished runner-up in the 4-Wide Nationals. She knows the importance of a fast start in the Countdown to her championship hopes.
“It’s extremely important to get off on the right foot,” Enders said. “It’s easy to start off that way than to work backwards. Statistically, eight out of the last 12 event winners at this first Countdown race went on to win the championship, so it’s proven we have to start off on the right foot.
“We test at Charlotte a lot, so I’m hopeful all of that hard work is going to pay off this weekend.”
POMONA, Calif. – John Force put the band back together. That could mean the blues for his Funny Car brothers.
Force brought three former John Force Racing team members back for 2012, improving his “brain trust.” And what does Force do the first race out? He wins the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Force joined Top Fuel’s Spencer Massey and Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson as the winners in NHRA’s season-opener.
Force beat teammate Mike Neff on a holeshot in the finals to secure his 134th career victory – but his first win since Denver last year.
“We got the group back the way it used to think, the way it used to function,” Force said. “We’ll just see what happens to it. But a good start.”
Force brought back Dickie Venables and Danny DeGennaro to work on daughter Brittany’s dragster, but that also allowed Force to concentrate on his own car. Then, former Force team crew chief John Medlen returned late last month. Medlen’s son Eric was killed while testing a JFR car in 2007, creating a large void in Force’s life.
But John Medlen came back two weeks ago, telling Force, “I want to come home.”
“The thing that really mattered to me was getting right,” Force said. “People left for reasons. I didn’t have a car for John, Dickie Venables left earlier because he wasn’t in line to get his own race car. I’m getting back, I’m filling a hole in me. …
“Robert (Hight) and I sat over the winter with the guys who were missing: ‘Get the people back so we can focus.’”
Force was clearly focused Sunday, taking out Alexis De Joria, Tim Wilkerson and Gary Densham before squaring off against Neff in the finals.
“I said, ‘What are we going to do Guido?’” Force asked crew chief Dean Antonelli before the finals. “He said, ‘We can’t race him the way we are. We’re going to have to go after it, and if it smokes the tires, we go home.’ It wasn’t quick enough to beat him, but he was late, and we got the win.”
Neff was asleep at the lights, as Force gained a huge advantage at the starting line, .067 seconds to Neff’s .175 light. Force’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang made a pass of 4.080 seconds at 315.64, beating Neff’s quicker run of 4.036 at 316.82 mph.
“I went after him,” Force said. “He said something distracted him. He goes, ‘Did your motor come up?’ I said no.”
Massey was simply dominant Sunday in Don Schumacher Racing’s Prestone Top Fuel dragster. He was low of the round (3.782 seconds at 325.53) in the opening matchup against Steve Faria and second-low of the second round (3.776 at 326.79 mph) in beating Clay Millican.
But that was just a start.
“After second round, we didn’t have any data on the computer,” Massey said. “(Crew chiefs) Phil (Shuler) and Todd (Okuhara) tuned that thing like it was an old Top Fuel car from 1968. They looked at the plugs and the bearings, and it went a .74 at 328 mph.”
Massey’s run of 3.745 seconds at 328.62 mph was the second-quickest pass in Top Fuel history, as well as the fastest Top Fuel run ever.
In the finals, he out-ran teammate Antron Brown with a run of 3.750 seconds at 325.77 mph, beating Brown’s 3.794 at 320.43 mph.
Not a bad way to start the season after falling short of the 2011 title.
“It makes you that much more hungry, that much more motivated to want to win a championship,” Massey said. “This winter, we all sat around and focused and acted like it was not an off-season. We put that new race car together, went and tested, and the car ran very well. We came here, and it shows. It shows these guys know what it takes to get the car down the race track.”
Anderson’s Summit Racing team knows how to get down the track, too, winning for the 71st time and the fifth time at the Winternationals. After beating teammate Jason Line in the semifinals, Anderson turned back Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the finals with a pass of 6.549 seconds at 210.87 mph. Coughlin was returning to the sport after a year off and rallied from the 14th qualifying position to a spot in the finals.
“The outcome was great,” Anderson said. “If you want to be greedy, I didn’t qualify where I need to qualify. I like to qualify on the opposite side of the ladder from Jason. We qualified fifth and ended up having to race (Line) in the semifinals. That’s the only bummer of the weekend.
“It seemed like we had the two strongest cars today, and they had to tangle in the semifinals. … We closed the door. We stopped that big yellow Mopar that came flying right back into the scene.”
Listen for Rob Geiger’s Phoenix preview on the Saturday, February 18, 2012 In Wheel Time radio show at 7:30 AM or visit www.Go2Geiger.com. – Don
Award winning writer and former editor of www.NHRA.com, Rob Geiger, is the newest contributor to join the In Wheel Time team. Rob is a wonderful addition to IWT and will be a great asset in expanding the coverage of our Toy Time segment including NHRA Drag Racing, SuperCross and other motorsports events as well as human interest stories about the competitors.
After eight years as senior editor of NHRA.com award-winning journalist, Rob Geiger, founded his www.go2geiger.com website in the spring of 2008. His goal was to provide drag racing enthusiasts with an unbiased news outlet. Featuring a staff of respected and pedigreed journalists, go2geiger.com strives to deliver clear, concise, and well-researched stories on all aspects of drag racing.
Geiger became well known in the drag racing world through his daily work on NHRA.com, his meticulous stat-keeping, the Associated Press stories he supplied to the general media, the content that filled event programs, and his numerous regular appearances on radio programs across the country. He remains the drag racing editor for AutoWeek magazine and SPEED.com, which he has partnered with through go2geiger.com.
Geiger also is the managing partner of geiger media LLC., a turn-key media and sponsor relations firm serving drag racing, motorcycle racing, angling, and winter sports. Clients of geiger media include GEICO, Lucas Oil, JEGS High Performance, FireIce, ZaZa Energy, Royal Purple Raceway and the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
An honor graduate at the University of Houston, Geiger resides in Kingwood, Texas, with his wife Lori, daughter Sara, and son Rob Jr..