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Enders, Stealth Cobalt Ready For An Uphill Battle

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 20 2012

Erica Enders hopes to sneak a few more victories out of her stealth-black Pro Stock Cobalt, starting this weekend in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

In its next life, the “stealth black” Chevrolet Cobalt Erica Enders drove into the NHRA history books likely will end up as a museum piece – perhaps fit for the Smithsonian.

But not so fast. While Enders became the first woman to win a National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock final at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals on July 1, the inevitable corporate switch by her GK Motorsports team to the Chevy Camaro will unfold at a pace decidedly under 200 mph.

“We’ve run this car the last couple years,” Enders said during a recent teleconference. “It takes a lot of time to break in a car and get the data on the new chassis. We do plan on switching over to the Camaro, and it is the decision of my team – not mine – and GM’s, as well. We do plan on switching over, but if I had to bet I would say that we wouldn’t bring it out until the 2013 season just due to testing and figuring out the car.”

Team-owner Victor Cagnazzi and sponsor Gaston Kirby joined crew chiefs Dave Connolly and Tommy Utt in celebrating Enders’ victory over four-time world champion and nemesis Greg Anderson at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill. A six-time national event runnerup, Enders earned her first Wally with a quarter-
mile pass of 6.627-seconds at 207.40 mph to Anderson’s 6.641-second lap at 208.36 mph in his Summit

Erica Enders won her first NHRA Pro Stock Wally this year. She did it by beating four-time champ Greg Anderson in Joliet. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Racing Equipment Camaro.

Enders, 28, said her preference would be to retain the unique “stealth” paint scheme on her Camaro.

“I’ve got a really cool sponsor (Kirby) who loves the flat black and the black wheels and what-not,” said Enders, preparing to kick-off the annual Western Swing today at the 33rd annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. “He asked me last year at the end of the season if I won the lottery and got to have whatever car I wanted what would I paint it like, and I told him flat black with black wheels. I just think it looks really mean, and our plan is to carry that through, and I’m sure we’ll run it next year, as well. It will probably look even meaner on a Camaro.”

The Western Swing widely is considered the most demanding segment of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule, featuring three races in three weeks. After dealing with the high-altitude conditions of Colorado, teams will head further west to California for the 25th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals July 27-29 before wrapping up with the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash., Aug. 3-5.

Only seven drivers have swept the Western Swing, the last being Top Fuel ace Antron Brown in 2009. The three-race swing is critical for teams trying to qualify among the top-10 in points for the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. Countdown fields for the NHRA’s six-race playoff will be set at the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Clermont, Ind., over Labor Day Weekend.

Unlike the nitro-powered pros competing in Top Fuel and Funny Car, Enders and her Pro Stock peers will have to adjust to the effects of the Denver area’s thinner air on their naturally aspirated 500 cubic-inch engines – which rely on air to produce horsepower. Morrison is located 10 miles west of Denver.

“Because of the altitude and how much slower our cars are and how we have to gear them and set up the clutch, driving the car is completely different than anywhere else we go to,” said Enders, sixth in points after 12 of 23 national events. “The clutch goes from being completely difficult to feeling like a street-car clutch. We go from shifting pretty much at the same time in every run everywhere else in the country to the

Erica Enders ended her trip to Route 66 this year with a historic Pro Stock run.

1-2 gear change coming almost a half-second later. It’s different shifting, different leaving, different everything. You pretty much throw everything you know about driving a Pro Stock car out the window when you go to Denver.

“A lot of drivers will go up – and I’m included in this – and just because there’s such a routine and time and sound and feel to when you’re normally supposed to shift, and then it doesn’t come, you’re like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ You’ve just really got to focus on the shift light and the feeling in your butt for what the race car is doing. The first run, I guarantee you, nine out of 10 drivers out there will pull it out of low pretty early.”

Meanwhile, Enders admitted that three weeks on the road presents some nagging logistical problems. “I guess the hardest part would be living out of a suitcase for three weeks,” Enders joked. ”Being a girl and trying to have to pack everything you’re going to need for three weeks sucks.”

Defending event champions are Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle). Qualifying sessions are set for 4:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. today and 12:45 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. on Saturday. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 5 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday, and two hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday.

Point standings (top-10) heading into today’s qualifications at Bandimere Speedway:

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, 1,033; 2. Jason Line, 998; 3. Allen Johnson, 974; 4. Mike Edwards, 835; 5. Vincent Nobile, 810; 6. Erica Enders, 728; 7. Ronnie Humphrey, 550; 8. Shane Gray, 498; 9. Rodger Brogdon, 492; 10. Ron Krisher, 437.

Top Fuel _ 1. Spencer Massey, 984; 2. Tony Schumacher, 955; 3. Antron Brown, 941; 4. Steve Torrence, 877; 5. Morgan Lucas, 729; 6. Doug Kalitta, 684; 7. Shawn Langdon, 650; 8. David Grubnic, 593; 9. Brandon Bernstein, 567; 10. (tie) Clay Millican and Bob Vandergriff Jr., 514.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, 1,001; 2. Ron Capps, 914; 3. Mike Neff, 807; 4. Jack Beckman, 738; 5. Johnny Gray, 729; 6. Bob Tasca III, 623; 7. Cruz Pedregon, 622; 8. (tie) Jeff Arend and Courtney Force, 608; 10. John Force, 569.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Eddie Krawiec, 597; 2. Andrew Hines, 571; 3. Hector Arana Jr., 484; 4. Hector Arana, 467; 5. LE Tonglet, 326; 6. Karen Stoffer, 324; 7. Michael Ray, 302; 8. Scotty Pollacheck, 277; 9. Matt Smith, 274; 10. Shawn Gann, 253.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 20 2012
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