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Enders’ 20-Year Quest Pays Off At Route 66

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 1 2012

Erica Enders won her first NHRA Pro Stock Wally on Sunday. She did it by beating a former champ. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Erica Enders’ quest to earn respect in the male-dominated sport of drag racing was the subject of the inspirational Disney Channel movie “Right on Track,” which chronicled her rise through the ranks of the NHRA’s Jr. Drag Racing League.

Twenty years later, Enders entered a league of her own with a victory in the Pro Stock final of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Ill. Enders defeated four-time world champion Greg Anderson in Sunday’s rain-delayed event at Route 66 Raceway to become the first woman to win a Pro Stock national event in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

“It’s awesome,” said Enders, 28, who became the 12th female to win an NHRA pro category race. “I think that if I could have planned it, I would have asked to run Greg in the final. You know that he made it very clear that he didn’t want to lose to me. He’s a very competitive guy and I love him to death, but I couldn’t wait to beat him. I’m glad (the win) came here in Chicago. I had my first final in Pro Stock here in 2005, and so it was nice to circle back around and get it done here.”

Enders drove her “stealth black” GK Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt to a winning quarter-mile performance of 6.627-seconds at 207.40 mph to hold off Anderson, who trailed in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro at 6.641-seconds and 208.36 mph.

One of only six women to ever compete in the 200-mph “Factory Hot Rod” category, Enders raced past Kurt Johnson, Vincent Nobile and V. Gaines to advance to her seventh career final round. From there, the Houston native led season point-leader Anderson from start-to-finish to finally post the victory she

Erica Enders ended her day Sunday with a historic Pro Stock run.

had been seeking since launching her Pro Stock career in 2005.

“Pro Stock is tough,” said Enders, who drives for car-owner Victor Cagnazzi. “It will humble you in an instant. When you think you’ve got it figured out, you go to Bristol (Tenn., Dragway) and blow all your (engines) up. I can’t say enough about my guys (crew). They’re amazing and I love them.”

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jeff Arend (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners in an event that saw rookie Funny Car driver Courtney Force advance to her first career final.

“(This is) for pioneers like Shirley Muldowney and Shelly Anderson-Payne, they were my heroes growing up, and all the women who paved the way,” said Enders, who lost to Anderson in the Route 66 final last summer. “There are a lot of little kids who look up to me. I’m blessed enough to be in the position to be a role model for them through the Disney movie. I hope that they see me win and know that no matter what, anything is possible. You’ve just got to set your mind to it and follow your dreams. With hard work, anything’s possible.”

Capping off the day, longtime boyfriend and former Pro Stock regular Richie Stevens proposed Sunday night – and Enders accepted. A December wedding is planned.

Enders began racing at the age of 8 after convincing her father, Gregg Enders, to buy her a Jr. Dragster to run in the new class NHRA created for aspiring youngsters. Enders moved up the ranks into NHRA Sportsman classes, winning a Super Gas national event in 2004. The next year, she moved to Pro Stock with Cagnazzi Racing, becoming the first woman to reach a final round at Joliet in 2005.

After reuniting with Cagnazzi’s team in 2011, Enders raced Anderson in the final round at Joliet _ one of her three finals last season. Anderson said after the race that he didn’t want to be the first driver to lose to Enders in a Pro Stock final.

But Enders acknowledged that Anderson was gracious in defeat. “He grabbed my shoulder and said, ‘Well-deserved,’ ” Enders said. “That means a lot coming from an eight-hundred-billion-time champion and somebody I’ve been trying to beat for eight years since I first let the clutch out in one of these cars. To have him in the other lane when I got my first win is awesome. Steve Torrence had Tony Schumacher in the other lane when he got his first (Top Fuel) win. Two Texas kids who dreamed of doing this our entire lives, to be able to beat the best in the finals like that, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”

Enders’ career has had many difficult moments. She raced part-time in 2007-2010 while looking for sponsorship and the right team situation. Sponsor Gaston Kearby helped by backing an effort with Cagnazzi for the 2011 season, with Enders emerging as one of the sport’s top talents.

Enders, who moved to fifth in the Pro Stock standings, has one win, two final-round and four semifinal appearances this season while working with crew chief and former Pro Stock regular Dave Connolly. She has won at least one round in the last five races and reached the semis in the last three.

“My guys back at the shop have been really working their butts off to get us power, and we’ve been trying some new R&D stuff that we’ve been trying to figure out for forever,” Enders said. “We did a last-minute test at Rockingham (N.C.) last week with over 100-degree weather. I guess it was good that we went there and prepared for this hot mess. The testing is really paying off.

“When I hit my chutes – I hit them before we crossed the finish line – I went straight from focusing on the end of the track to the wall where the win light is. When I saw that thing come on, I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ My guys are screaming in my helmet. I’m like, ‘Thank you guys so much.’ They’re the reason why I’m able to do what I do.

“When I came around the track, the guys who are turning us off are all pumping their fists – all the Safety Safari guys were lined-up around the corner, and the NHRA employees. It was just like everything came together. I dreamed of this day my entire life. When I can’t sleep at night, I think about winning and planning my speeches. It’s so awesome that it finally came true.”

Asked where her first Wally trophy will go, Enders didn’t hesitate. “That one goes to my dad, who’s been my rock and my best friend,” Enders said. “He’s the reason I am who I am and why I’m in this position.”

In Top Fuel, Brown raced to his second victory of the season behind the wheel of his Matco Tools dragster when final round opponent Torrence fouled at the start in his Capco Contractors dragster. Brown covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.784-seconds and 322.88 mph. It was Brown’s 33rd career victory and his third win at Route 66, where he claimed two titles in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

“It doesn’t get better than this,” Brown said. “Coming here to Route 66 Raceway is always special and goes beyond words because our team owner Don (Schumacher) will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and what he’s done for the sport and our teams is amazing. Right now you look at Top Fuel and see how competitive that the class is. It’s as tight as Pro Stock car. We’re running ET’s that are neck-and-neck, winning by 12 inches or less at over 320 mph.”

Brown moved to second in the point standings behind series leader and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher, the event’s No. 1 qualifier who was upset in the first round. Brown outran Morgan Lucas, David Grubnic and Shawn Langdon to advance to the final.

“When you get a race win now with the competition that we have to go through, it’s just remarkable,” Brown said. “The team is doing a great job, and it’s all worth it. The blood, the sweat, and the tears. The heat was like a sauna, I mean I’m 10 pounds lighter than I was on Wednesday. It just feels good to knock one out of the park again, to gain some points and get it done because the Countdown is right around the corner. We have just six races left. So we have to get some momentum going for the Western Swing, Indy, and the Countdown. It’s crucial right now, and we’re going to have some hot races in the Countdown.”

Veteran driver Arend claimed his first Funny Car win of the season and fourth of his career by defeating Courtney Force in the final. Arend powered to a 1,000-foot performance of 4.131-seconds at 309.20 mph in his DHL Toyota Camry to hold off the 24-year-old Force, who finished in 4.454-seconds at 272.67 mph in her Traxxas Ford Mustang after it lost traction.

“This was a real team effort this weekend,” Arend said. “I didn’t do the best job as a driver, at least not with my lights, but we were able to get it done. My crew got this car turned around faster than I’ve ever seen them do it and that made all the difference in the world. This is the first win for the new Toyota Camry so that makes it even more special. I got to the final (here) last year and didn’t win so this also makes up for that. I like to make the most of second chances.”

Arend raced past former world champion Tony Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Jack Beckman to get to the final. He said the three-hour rain delay, which forced teams to have quicker turnaround times in the pits between rounds, actually helped him stay focused.

“We have some new guys on our team this year and they really stepped it up especially after it rained and we had to turn the car around quicker than usual,” Arend said. “I call them the “Yeller Fellas” and they did a heck of a job this weekend. That 4.10 in the semis was a great run but we were solid all weekend. We ran good numbers every time. In the semis we had Jon O. (Oberhofer, crew chief) Connie (Kalitta) and Del (Worsham) in our trailer and they make the right call and the car responded.”

Arend jumped from 10th to sixth in the point standings and locked up the seventh starting position in the lucrative Traxxas Funny Car Shootout at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Former world champion Robert Hight, who lost to John Force Racing teammate Courtney Force in the second round, remained at the top of the point table, while second-place Ron Capps saw his six-race final round streak come to an end with a first-round defeat to rookie Alexis DeJoria.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three-time world champion Hines claimed his second win of the season on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod when final-round opponent LE Tonglet turned on the red light at the start aboard his Nitro Fish Suzuki. It was Hines’ 27th career victory.

“As soon as I popped the clutch I saw LE’s red-light and I knew I’d won,” Hines said. “Then, it was a nice comfortable ride. I saw him in front of me and paid more attention to his bike than mine and I think I probably missed high gear.”

Earlier, Hines defeated Scotty Pollacheck, Chip Ellis and Hector Arana Jr. The victory continued the Vance & Hines team’s dominance this season as Hines and teammate/reigning world champion Eddie Krawiec have won all five bike races. Hines, however, was looking for a get-healthy weekend after back-to-back second-round losses during the last two events.

“We came in here with a new mindset,” Hines said. “I’ve been down on myself the last few weeks and after Englishtown (N.J.) we took the bike and changed all the wiring and then went testing. I rode my bike and then rode Eddie’s bike and I ran pretty much the same on both so I came in here with a lot of confidence. Matt (Hines, crew chief and brother) has a good tuneup for hot and muggy conditions and that made the bike a joy to ride.”

With the victory, Hines cut Krawiec’s series lead to 75 points heading into the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, July 5-8.

Final finish order (1-16) at the 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Route 66 Raceway. The race was the 11th of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series:

TOP FUEL _ 1. Antron Brown; 2. Steve Torrence; 3. Shawn Langdon; 4. Hillary Will; 5. Spencer Massey; 6. T.J. Zizzo; 7. David Grubnic; 8. Doug Kalitta; 9. Brandon Bernstein; 10. Clay Millican; 11. Khalid alBalooshi; 12. Terry McMillen; 13. Tony Schumacher; 14. Morgan Lucas; 15. Bob Vandergriff Jr.; 16. Cory McClenathan.

FUNNY CAR _ 1. Jeff Arend; 2. Courtney Force; 3. Alexis DeJoria; 4. Jack Beckman; 5. Tim Wilkerson; 6. Robert Hight; 7. Johnny Gray; 8. John Force; 9. Mike Neff; 10. Matt Hagan; 11. Cruz Pedregon; 12. Tony Pedregon; 13. Dale Creasy Jr.; 14. Ron Capps; 15. Terry Haddock; 16. Bob Tasca III.

PRO STOCK _ 1. Erica Enders; 2. Greg Anderson; 3. Mike Edwards; 4. V. Gaines; 5. Allen Johnson; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Larry Morgan; 8. Rodger Brogdon; 9. Jason Line; 10. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 11. Greg Stanfield; 12. Kurt Johnson; 13. Warren Johnson; 14. Shane Gray; 15. Ronnie Humphrey; 16. Ron Krisher.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE _ 1. Andrew Hines; 2. LE Tonglet; 3. Hector Arana Jr.; 4. Hector Arana; 5. Eddie Krawiec; 6. Chip Ellis; 7. Karen Stoffer; 8. Shawn Gann; 9. Scotty Pollacheck; 10. Matt Guidera; 11. Mike Berry; 12. Steve Johnson; 13. Matt Smith; 14. Angie Smith; 15. Michael Phillips; 16. Michael Ray.

Sunday’s final results from the 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Route 66 Raceway:

Top Fuel _ Antron Brown, 3.784-seconds, 322.88 mph def. Steve Torrence, foul.

Funny Car _ Jeff Arend, Toyota Camry, 4.131, 309.20 def. Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.454, 272.67.

Pro Stock _ Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.627, 207.40 def. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.641, 208.36.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.940, 192.69 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, foul.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Jim Whiteley, 5.294, 270.05 def. Randy Meyer, 5.332, 268.28.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Frank Manzo, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.597, 259.66 def. Cassie Simonton, Monte Carlo, 9.027, 98.00.

Competition Eliminator _ Bruno Massel, Chevy Cobalt, 8.941, 104.96 def. Al Ackerman, Dragster, foul.

Super Stock _ Michael Lund, Chevy Camaro, 10.515, 100.83 def. Joe Santangelo, Camaro, foul.

Stock Eliminator _ Daryl Bureski, Olds 442, 11.396, 112.94 def. Bo Butner, Ford Mustang, 9.291, 133.54.

Super Comp _ Tom Stalba, Dragster, 8.920, 163.63 def. Rusty Cook, Dragster, 8.930, 173.43.

Super Gas _ Sherman Adcock, Pontiac Trans Am, 9.902, 161.00 def. Tommy Phillips, Chevy Corvette, 9.943, 144.92.

Super Street _ Ricky Shipp, Chevy Nova, 10.867, 139.60 def. Trevor Larson, Chevy Corvette, 10.849, 147.31.

Final round-by-round results from the 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Route 66 Raceway:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ David Grubnic, 3.842, 316.45 def. Brandon Bernstein, 3.834, 318.99; Steve Torrence, 3.859, 318.99 def. Cory McClenathan, 5.258, 133.13; Shawn Langdon, 3.829, 318.62 def. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 4.588, 167.84; T.J. Zizzo, 3.872, 311.20 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.144, 210.21; Antron Brown, 3.820, 319.98 def. Morgan Lucas, 4.321, 229.94; Spencer Massey, 3.815, 324.98 def. Terry McMillen, 3.863, 315.71; Doug Kalitta, 3.812, 320.97 def. Clay Millican, 3.847, 311.27; Hillary Will, 3.852, 313.58 def. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.857, 316.30.

QUARTERFINALS _ Will, 3.858, 311.05 def. Zizzo, 4.009, 267.00; Brown, 3.801, 323.04 def. Grubnic, 6.184, 101.38; Torrence, 3.833, 320.36 def. Massey, 3.836, 323.27; Langdon, 3.826, 319.14 def. Kalitta, 6.803, 128.40.

SEMIFINALS _ Torrence, 3.817, 319.37 def. Will, 7.780, 76.85; Brown, 3.794, 321.04 def. Langdon, 3.803, 319.37.

FINAL _ Brown, 3.784, 322.88 def. Torrence, foul.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _ Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.231, 283.13 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.299, 287.66; Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.116, 310.13 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 8.761, 79.60; John Force, Mustang, 4.172, 300.60 def. Terry Haddock, Impala, 5.754, 120.72; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.093, 308.00 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.176, 301.60; Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.087, 312.50 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.182, 275.96; Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.120, 306.81 def. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.164, 299.46; Jeff Arend, Camry, 4.112, 307.44 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.295, 236.88; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.320, 226.70 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.728, 177.98.

QUARTERFINALS _ DeJoria, 4.168, 302.96 def. J. Force, 6.934, 116.79; Arend, 4.162, 305.56 def. Wilkerson, 4.281, 264.29; Beckman, 4.099, 306.60 def. Gray, 5.751, 124.12; C. Force, 4.147, 306.40 def. Hight, 4.929, 181.23.

SEMIFINALS _ C. Force, 4.123, 305.49 def. DeJoria, 4.191, 306.88; Arend, 4.106, 306.95 def. Beckman, 4.213, 292.71.

FINAL _ Arend, 4.131, 309.20 def. C. Force, 4.454, 272.67.

PRO STOCK

ROUND ONE _ Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.649, 207.88 def. Ron Krisher, Pontiac GXP, 6.696, 206.92; V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.649, 206.29 def. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.644, 207.24; Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.646, 207.30 def. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.685, 206.35; Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.678, 206.23 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.625, 207.62; Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.621, 207.21 def. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.660, 207.18; Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.618, 207.94 def. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Avenger, 6.643, 208.20; Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.634, 207.88 def. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.665, 205.66; Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.652, 207.56 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.679, 206.45.

QUARTERFINALS _ Gaines, 6.658, 206.61 def. Morgan, 6.697, 207.11; Edwards, 6.629, 207.18 def. Brogdon, foul; Enders, 6.607, 207.53 def. Nobile, 6.634, 208.17; Anderson, 6.634, 208.46 def. A. Johnson, 6.612, 209.04.

SEMIFINALS _ Anderson, 6.637, 207.91 def. Edwards, 6.641, 207.62; Enders, 6.622, 207.27 def. Gaines, 6.653, 206.57.

FINAL _ Enders, 6.627, 207.40 def. Anderson, 6.641, 208.36.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

ROUND ONE _ Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.985, 190.51 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.041, 188.83; Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.073, 188.10 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.253, 159.42; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.984, 190.22 def. Angie Smith, Buell, foul; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.944, 190.75 def. Matt Guidera, Buell, 7.017, 188.02; Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.921, 191.81 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.022, 187.47; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.934, 192.49 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.007, 189.04; Hector Arana, Buell, 7.005, 189.79 def. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 7.099, 188.91; Chip Ellis, Buell, 7.003, 190.11 def. Matt Smith, Buell, 7.057, 188.65.

QUARTERFINALS _ Arana, 6.955, 191.87 def. Stoffer, 7.092, 189.39; Tonglet, 6.993, 190.75 def. Krawiec, 6.971, 192.03; Hines, 6.959, 192.66 def. Ellis, foul; Arana Jr., 6.954, 191.70 def. Gann, 7.136, 187.94.

SEMIFINALS _ Tonglet, 7.023, 188.65 def. Arana, foul; Hines, 6.969, 192.71 def. Arana Jr., 7.002, 191.19.

FINAL _ Hines, 6.940, 192.69 def. Tonglet, foul.

Point standings (top-10) following the 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals:

Top Fuel _ 1. Tony Schumacher, 879; 2. Antron Brown, 876; 3. Spencer Massey, 868; 4. Steve Torrence, 775; 5. Morgan Lucas, 698; 6. Doug Kalitta, 656; 7. Shawn Langdon, 616; 8. Brandon Bernstein, 536; 9. David Grubnic, 521; 10. Clay Millican, 490.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, 950; 2. Ron Capps, 854; 3. Jack Beckman, 701; 4. Johnny Gray, 687; 5. Mike Neff, 686; 6. Jeff Arend, 556; 7. Courtney Force, 554; 8. Bob Tasca III, 549; 9. Cruz Pedregon, 545; 10. John Force, 536.

Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, 995; 2. Jason Line, 893; 3. Allen Johnson, 888; 4. Mike Edwards, 783; 5. Erica Enders, 695; 6. Vincent Nobile, 694; 7. Ronnie Humphrey, 519; 8. Rodger Brogdon, 461; 9. Shane Gray, 427; 10. Larry Morgan, 403.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Eddie Krawiec, 522; 2. Andrew Hines, 447; 3. Hector Arana, 383; 4. Hector Arana Jr., 381; 5. LE Tonglet, 292; 6. Michael Ray, 270; 7. Karen Stoffer, 267; 8. Matt Smith, 243; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, 225; 10. Shawn Gann, 222.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 1 2012
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  • larry davis says:

    Congratulations to Erica. Pro Stock started in the late 60’s at IHRA. A woman has finally broke through in this toughest of classes. The final frontier.