It has been an emotional season for NHRA Pro Stock star Erica Enders. Despite being one of the hottest drivers in the sport, she sat on the sidelines for several races midseason, before securing eleventh-hour sponsor Husky Liners, just in time for the playoffs.
Erica Enders-Stevens added another chapter to her drama-filled season on Sunday, returning to defend her 2012 victory at Gateway Motorsports Park. The St. Louis track is the site of many milestone moments in her career, from the race where she signed her career-beginning contract with Victor Cagnazzi in 2004, to her 4th win of the 2012 season. Her luck in St. Louis continued, as she secured yet another Pro Stock victory this weekend by winning the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals with a holeshot victory over Pro Stock points leader Mike Edwards.
Enders-Stevens left on Edwards with a .021-second reaction time, and her pass of 6.540 seconds at 211.23 mph was enough to hold off Edwards' charging 6.532-second run at 212.36 mph. The win places her in the fourth position in playoff points, trailing leader Mike Edwards by just 60 points with three races to go in the Countdown to the Championship. While just a few races ago she was stuck on the sidelines, now Enders-Stevens is making her bid on the grand prize.
"The championship would have been out of reach had we exited first or second round here," Enders-Stevens said. "We have to perform well, and we can't make any mistakes. There are three races left, and that's 12 rounds of racing. We're three rounds out of first, and we've got to beat these heavy hitters. I've got all the faith in the world in my guys, and that's our mentality. This is our championship, and they're going to have to take it from us. That's the attitude we have to have. We have to remain positive and optimistic. I'm excited about it."
The victory marked her second of the truncated 2013 season, and the sixth of her professional Pro Stock career. She is now tied with Pro Stock Motorcycle's Karen Stoffer, and trails PSM Angelle Sampey and Top Fuel's Shirley Muldowney as the female with the most NHRA victories.
Enders-Stevens, crew chiefs Dave Connolly and Tommy Utt and her Cagnazzi Racing team returned to Pro Stock championship contention thanks to a partnership with Husky Liners. Company President/Founder Bob Tyler spoke with Enders-Stevens by phone not long after she celebrated in victory lane.
"I just talked to Mr. Tyler and he's really pleased with what we're doing," Enders-Stevens said. "I couldn't thank him enough. It was four days before Charlotte, the first race of the Countdown, and I thought we were going to be sitting at home watching these guys compete for the championship. That changed really quickly when Husky Liners jumped on with us, and now here we are."
Enders-Stevens started her day by beating Deric Kramer in the first round, as the race was over when Kramer left -.007 seconds too soon. Erica's pass of 6.544 seconds at 211.16 mph was quick enough to secure important lane choice against Shane Gray in the second round. There, she made a pass of 6.556 seconds at 211.06 mph to beat Gray, who slowed to a run of 28.128 seconds at 24.81 mph.
In the semifinals, Enders-Stevens got down the track with a 6.555-second pass at 210.87 mph, beating a sliding Rickie Jones, who went 14.094 seconds at 60.23 mph. Then came Edwards, who had taken over the points lead by reaching the final. But Enders-Stevens has other plans, and her eye on the points lead, too.
"We've got three races left, and we're going to do our best and let God do the rest," Enders-Stevens said. "We'll see what happens."
The next stop in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship chase takes the Husky team to Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, PA on October 3-6.
29th Annual Auto Parts NHRA Nationals
Maple Grove Raceway
30 Stauffer Park Lane
Mohnton, PA 19540-7751
Elevation: 548 feet
Tickets: www.maplegroveraceway.com; 610-856-9200
TV: 10/05/2013 Qualifying TBD (ESPN2) | 10/06/2013 Finals 8:00 PM - 11:00 PM ET/5:00 PM - 8:00 PM PT (ESPN2)