Enders reached the finals of this race a year ago, her second trip to the final round of the Chicago event in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class.
“Chicago is one of the tracks I enjoy going to because of our previous success there,” Enders said. “We’ve been one run shy of getting a win a number of times there. We’re hopeful we can get it done this weekend.”
Last year, Enders qualified No. 3 before taking out former Pro Stock champions Warren Johnson, Mike Edwards and Jason Line in the first three rounds of eliminations. She then fell in the final round to another Pro Stock champion, Greg Anderson, but she performed well all weekend.
That came after reaching the finals in the second Chicago race of 2005, where she qualified No. 5 and then beat Ron Krisher, Edwards and Johnson before losing in the finals to Line.
What is it about Chicago that has allowed her to be so competitive?
“I’m really not sure, but I’ll take whatever it is,” Enders said. “Like Mike Edwards last week at Bristol, that was his fourth year in a row to win that race. It’s something that if you ask every driver, you can’t really explain it. It’s a great facility, the fans are awesome. Maybe it’s a little Chi-town luck, I don’t know, but I like it.”
The 2005 race was historic, because it marked the first time a female driver reached the finals of a Pro Stock race. Sunday’s final was hectic, as Enders blew an engine in the semifinals, forcing a quick change between rounds. Enders and her car hurriedly made it to the starting line, but she came up just short.
“It’s the race track where I had my first final round in 2005,” Enders said. “It was very surreal. It was my first year as a professional, and I don’t think I really grasped what was going on. It was just kind of in the moment. If I would’ve had the experience I have now, it would’ve been a lot different.
“But it was cool. We made history that weekend, becoming the first woman to ever get to a final round. It was a very cool weekend. We came out on the wrong side of the deal, but it’s something that people still talk about.”
Perhaps this weekend Enders and her GK Motorsports team can give fans more to talk about.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals get under way Friday with two qualifying sessions starting at 4 p.m. CDT. Qualifying continues Saturday with another two sessions, also getting under way at 4 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations will get under way at 11 a.m. ESPN2 will air the qualifying show at 6 p.m. EDT on Saturday night and eliminations at 6 p.m. Sunday.
By Rob Geiger
That record still stands a year later as Enders and her GK Motorsports team prepare for the 42nd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway.
Pro Stock’s best drivers took a shot at Enders’ mark throughout the 2011 season, as well as the first two events of 2012. But none have gone faster.
“We’re very proud of that record,” Enders said. “We want to hold on to it as long as possible. Weather-permitting this week, I’m sure it’ll get busted. I hope it’s by us.
“It’s been nice to hold on to it for a year. That’s something you don’t see happen a lot in this class. I was proud to carry it, and we’re hopeful it’ll stick, or that we can reset it when the weather and the race track are ideal.”
Enders and her Cagnazzi Racing team, led by crew chief Dave Connolly, are spending two days testing in Bradenton, Fla., in preparation for this weekend’s race. The memories of last year’s record-setting performance are still fresh in their minds, but they hope to make new memories this weekend.
Some may also remember Enders’ victory over NASCAR star Kurt Busch at Gainesville last year, as Enders dispatched the past Sprint Cup champion in the first round of eliminations.
“I’m excited to go back,” Enders said. “I’m hopeful we can improve on last year’s performance. We set the speed record, we beat Kurt, but we lost lane choice for Round 2 and that cost us. We’re just going to have to figure some things out in our test in Bradenton. We need to keep the consistency and go some rounds.”
It may be a little too warm at Gainesville this weekend to set any records, but the track will still be quick. That’s not the only reason why the 28-year-old Enders likes racing at the famed track.
“It’s one of Pro Stock’s favorite races because the people there are true Pro Stock fans,” she said. “They sell out the race every year, and it’s just a fun environment because the fans are really into it. I’ll probably sign 10,000 autographs this weekend.”
Gainesville was also the site of Enders’ second career final-round appearance, though she had problems that round and lost to Tom Martino in 2006.
“We blew the tires off the car – tried to rotate the Earth,” Enders said. “That was the worst tire shake I’ve ever had in my life. We broke the transmission mounts, battery mounts, bell housing, back glass. It made my gums bleed. It was terrible. We weren’t winning that race, that’s for sure.
“Still, it was a fun experience to go to the finals. We know what we’re doing now. We can definitely get it done. It just has to be our day.”
Qualifying rounds will be held at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday with eliminations slated to begin at noon Sunday. ESPN2 will show qualifying highlights from 5-6 p.m. Sunday with eliminations airing from 6-9 p.m. Sunday.
KENT, Wash. – The first career win seems like an elusive goal for every NHRA driver who hasn’t yet visited winner’s circle. Pro Stock pilot Erica Enders is currently trying to push her way through that boundary.
With two runner-up finishes and two No. 1 qualifying positions this season, Enders has shown she drives one of the baddest hot rods in competition right now, yet she hasn’t been able to get her hands on one of the 60th anniversary special edition pewter Wally trophies.
She hopes to turn that trend as the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series heads to the Seattle area for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals, Aug. 5-7 at Pacific Raceways, the final stop of the Western Swing. Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event that will be televised on ESPN2HD.
The lone female competitor in Pro Stock, the first win is so close she can taste it. A first victory would give Enders historical status in NHRA drag racing, as she would become first female to win in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock category. One of only five women to compete in the 200 mph class, Enders is by far the most successful woman in Pro Stock history and she hopes that this year she will add her name to the list of 11 females like Shirley Muldowney, Angelle Sampey and Ashley Force Hood who have broken barriers for women in NHRA Drag Racing when they became the first women to win in Top Fuel, Pro Stock Motorcycle and Funny Car, respectively. Winning in the professional category has been something she has dreamed about since she was just eight years old.
“Winning is something that I’ve been doing for a long time, but to be able to be the first woman to win in Pro Stock is something I’ve hoped to achieve since the first time I let the clutch out,” said Enders, who won many races in NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League competition and in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series sportsman ranks before moving to the professional level. “I’ve worked hard to get where I am today and I know it’ll all pay off soon.”
Like the women who came before her, Enders has no problem being a woman in a man’s world. She enjoys being able to compete on a level playing field with the guys but doesn’t see herself as a woman and her competitor as a man on the race track. Once she is strapped into her race car she is just competitor hoping to cut a perfect light, hit the shift points, keep it in the groove and cross the finish line first.
“I’ve never seen myself as any different just because I’m a woman,” Enders said. “I worked very hard to gain the respect of all of my competitors and at the end of the day we’re all racers working toward the same goal, and that’s to win. The fact that I am a woman just gives me an opportunity to hopefully put my name in the NHRA history books and lead the way for other female competitors to come.”
This season has been a bit of a homecoming for the 27-year-old Houston native who rejoined Cagnazzi Racing at the beginning of the 2011, the same place she began her professional driving career in 2005. For her, there is no other team she would want to be a part of when she collects her first win.
“I can’t say enough about my ZaZa Energy team,” Enders said. “It’s nice to be back with Cagnazzi in a car that is capable of winning week in and week out and a team that I can count on, on and off the track.”