Enders: From ‘Little Crew Chief’ To Big Talent

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 6 2012

Erica Enders has become a bona fide Pro Stock threat this season. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

For Erica Enders, drag racing comes naturally. After all, her father, Gregg, raced in Super Comp and Super Gas, and during her childhood years she was his “little crew chief.” At least, that’s what she thought as she ran around with a shop rag in her pocket assisting him with various tasks.

“He’s definitely the person I look up to most in the world,” Enders said about her 58-year-old father, who’s always been a bit of an entrepreneur. “I’m very blessed to have a strong father figure. He’s my best friend and my business partner. I think I probably talk to him 10 or 15 times a day. He’s definitely taught me a lot and is the reason I’m where I am in my career.”

For Enders, that point in her career is vying for the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock championship with Victor Cagnazzi’s Mooresville, N.C.-based team. It’s her second straight year in the Countdown to the Championship. However, this time she entered the title battle with a history-making season.

Enders, who began her career at age 8 in Junior Dragsters, became the first woman to win a Pro Stock event in July at Chicago. She followed with August back-to-back victories at Seattle and Brainerd, Minn., sharing the podium with Funny Car winner Courtney Force at Seattle.

The Houston native’s regular season performance left her seeded fourth, 50 points behind leader Allen Johnson, entering the six-race Countdown to the Championship. She stumbled in the opening event last month at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., losing to Warren Johnson in the first round. That left her tied for fifth in the standings with Mike Edwards. Since then she has rebounded, with two straight Countdown final-round

Erica Enders qualified second fastest at Maple Grove on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

appearances. Her victory last weekend at St. Louis provided her with her first-ever win in the Countdown and fourth of the season. Entering this weekend’s Auto-Plus Nationals at Reading, Pa., she is third in the standings, 126 points behind Johnson.

“My crew chief and I have a meeting before every round of eliminations on race day and we strategize how we’re going to go about racing our competitor,” says Enders, who will celebrate her 29th birthday Monday. “We’ll definitely discuss what kind of racer the person is next to us. We never sit down and talk about what we can do to throw them off. It’s what the things are that they’re going to throw at us. There are a handful of racers that do play mind games, but 75 percent of them are honest racers.”

Battling for victories isn’t the only challenge Enders has faced. Since beginning her Pro Stock career in 2004 she has had to contend with those who don’t believe women should compete in that NHRA class; from the “guys who work out here to the Internet faceless, nameless cowards.”

“There is no reason why women can’t drive these cars,” said Enders, the only woman competing in the class. “They’re very challenging to drive and it takes a lot of seat time to be good at it. I don’t know (why more women don’t drive Pro Stock). I don’t know if it’s based on the lack of opportunities for women to get involved in it or just the pure mindset and how tough you have to be to do it. I would be totally lying if I didn’t tell you there are some days that I am so frustrated I would just like to put my head down on my desk and cry, but you have to motor through them or as my dad says, ‘man up.’”

The pressure Enders faces in the highly competitive environment doesn’t bother her; in fact, she believes she performs well under pressure. However, the pressure she now faces is different from the type that existed prior to her first victory. Before Chicago, the personable Enders was always asked when she would acquire a victory. When the win finally came, she felt a tremendous burden had been lifted. Now, the pressure is to continue taking her GK Racing Chevy Cobalt to victory.

“I try to come into every event with the same mindset; to do my best and my guys are giving me a bad hot rod,” explains Enders, who enjoys the challenge of driving a Pro Stock car, constantly changing gears as it streaks down the dragway. “I need to do a tremendous job. There is a lot of pressure that comes along with driving such a competitive car and being in the chase for the championship.”

Prior to the title run’s beginning, Enders and her crew chief spent a couple of hours on the telephone, discussing how they believed things should progress.

“We have the bigger picture in mind, but you can’t get ahead of yourself,” Enders said. “You have to win round-by-round to rack up the points and get to that end goal. At the end of the day, it’s me, my car and my guys and we all work together.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 6 2012
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