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Enders-Stevens Ready To Make Pro Stock History

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 13 2014

Erica Enders-Stevens wants to be a Pro Stock champion. Period. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

In a career marked by multiple “firsts” and one made-for-TV movie, the script for Erica Enders-Stevens’ NHRA sequel is all about celebrating Pro Stock herstory.

Enders-Stevens is poised to become the first woman to win a Pro Stock world championship during this weekend’s season-ending 50th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway. Enders-Stevens flipped a 35-point deficit into a 17-point lead over Jason Line after beating the two-time world champion in the semifinals en route to winning the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Nov. 2.

The first woman to reach an NHRA Pro Stock final round (2005) and first woman to win a Pro Stock race (2012), Enders-Stevens is anxious to shatter drag racing’s next glass ceiling.

“Yeah, it’s certainly a huge feat to accomplish,” Enders-Stevens said during a recent teleconference. “I would have my name on a list with just Shirley Muldowney (Top Fuel) and Angelle (Sampey-Drago/Pro Stock Motorcycle); those are two of my heroes, so to be able to have the opportunity to get it done is awesome in itself.

“At the same time I think any female racer will tell you that we just want to be looked at as a driver. The car doesn’t know the difference in gender, and it certainly doesn’t matter to me. But at the end of the day, I guess it would be very awesome to be able to make history and just show any other females that maybe even had a little bit of doubt that they weren’t capable or whatever that I’m a perfect example of a normal kid (who) through hard work and certainly surrounding myself with the right people and having such a solid support group that anything is possible. I hope that’s the message that comes across.”

Driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, Enders-Stevens’ support group starts with team-owner Richard Freeman and features crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones. They have collaborated with Erica on a career-best single-season five victories heading into the sixth and final race of the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

Enders-Stevens has led the point standings for 13 of 23 events in 2014, even after skipping two of three Western Swing races to prepare for the postseason. In addition to her five wins, Enders-Stevens has raced to one other final round and four semifinal appearances. She has scored six poles, including the last three in a row. In 18 of her 21 races this year, Enders-Stevens has qualified in the top three 18 times.

“I’ve spoken so highly of my team from Day One,” said Enders-Stevens, a 31-year-old native of Houston now living in New Orleans. “This is the first time in my professional career that I’ve had such a solid group of guys that stands behind me and takes my back. That makes my job as a driver a lot easier, that there’s not a whole lot of ego over there and nobody is pointing fingers. Whether we shake or we lose on a hole shot or a red light or whatever, it’s a team deal, and it’s just a really unique atmosphere. I’m really proud and honored to be their driver. They’ve shown exactly what they’re made of this year and when it comes down to crunch time, everybody pulls their weight. It’s an awesome environment to work in.”

Enders-Stevens, who is making her fourth playoff appearance, already has easily eclipsed her best point finish of fourth set in 2012. She credited her team-owner as being a difference-maker in her rise to the top.

“Richard Freeman is really great at managing people and making everyone feel important, and I mean, he’s great at communication,” Enders-Stevens said. ”We have team meetings and we all always just stay on the same page. I think that’s how you make any relationship work, whether it be business or marriage or whatever. He’s done a really great job with that, and he’s made it very evident that if we’re not having fun, we’re not going to do it. We can spend our money elsewhere and do something different.“

Dave Connolly, who trails Enders-Stevens by 84 points/four-plus rounds of racing, remains mathematically alive for the championship. Realistically, Line and Enders-Stevens are headed on a collision course for the title. Line took command of Pro Stock over the summer, winning three straight races in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro. Line, who has four wins and eight final-round appearances in 2014, held the top spot all the way to Las Vegas, where he staged opposite Enders-Stevens in a pivotal semifinal matchup won by Erica.

“This is a great opportunity to have a really cool finish to the end of the year, and everyone on our Summit Racing team is happy to be part of it,” said Line, whose 35 career victories include three at Pomona. “It isn’t really difficult to keep emotions in check and stay focused because everybody has a different way of dealing with pressure, and for me, it’s fun. The pressure makes me stay focused.

“It’s pretty simple, really. You have to go out there to win. There isn’t much more to it than that. Anything is possible and I feel really good about this weekend. All we can do is go there and do the best we can. Of course sometimes you need a little racing luck as well, but we certainly have the ability to win the race, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Enders-Stevens, who made her first Pro Stock start in the 2005 season-opener at historic Pomona Raceway, already is NHRA’s most successful Factory Hot Rod woman driver. Married to former Pro Stock competitor Richie Stevens Jr., a world championship looms as an exclamation point to Erica’s remarkable career.

“It’s definitely at the top of the list,” said Enders-Stevens, the subject of the original movie “Right on Track” on the Disney Channel. “I mean, as a kid, as a junior drag racer, moving up to Super Comp and Super Gas and racing Sportsman for five years, it’s every driver’s dream to be in this position. It’s huge. It’s a huge deal, absolutely.

“I’ve been trying to make this Pro Stock deal work for 10 years now. I’m not shy about my faith and I believe in my heart that God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle, but he also doesn’t put things in front of you if the time is not right. It’s always in His time. I’ve trusted that, and it hasn’t been an easy road by any means. I’ve gone through not qualifying and driving a car that’s not competitive to being on the sidelines because of lack of sponsorship. I guess it would be easy to quit. But that’s not part of my vocabulary. I don’t know how to do that, and I have my dad to thank for instilling that in my sister and I.

“Yeah, it’s been definitely a rollercoaster ride these last 10 years. But to be at this point with the people that I’m with, it makes all of the bad times worth it because just to be so happy and having so much fun and being able to do what I love for a living with people I love the most is a pretty awesome deal. I’ve never been happier.”

Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Rickie Jones (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of an event that once again will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, NHRA will feature many of the sport’s legends; those drivers will share some of their favorite memories from 50 years of the Auto Club NHRA Finals. “The King of Speed” Kenny Bernstein, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, “TV” Tommy Ivo, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, Ed “The Ace” McCulloch, “Cha-Cha” Muldowney and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme will be featured during the event and participate in a series of NHRA Legends Chats and an autograph session on Saturday afternoon in the popular Hot Rod Junction.

The NHRA Legends Chats will run for two hours on Saturday morning while the legends autograph session will take place between Saturday’s Pro qualifying sessions. Fans can attend the Legends Chats and autograph session by obtaining a commemorative 50th Anniversary NHRA Legends Card, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Hot Rod Junction.

NHRA fans also will play an important role in the 50th anniversary celebration as they will help decide the most iconic moments in the history of the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Fans can vote for their favorite moment from the event via interactive pages set up on NHRA.com and via NHRA’s Facebook page.

Celebrations throughout the weekend are scheduled to highlight the milestone event. Several NHRA-exclusive Cacklefests will showcase vintage dragsters from the sport’s early days. A special car corral in the Hot Rod Junction will feature a wide variety of vintage dragsters and classic race cars. Also scheduled is the SealMaster Track Walk, during which fans can walk on the famed Auto Club Raceway track prior to Sunday’s final eliminations. The SealMaster Track Walk will include several of the sport’s legends.

The weekend schedule includes world championship finishes in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series for Sportsman competitors.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday with two sessions. The four Pro 16-competitor fields will be set after two qualifying sessions on Saturday, with eliminations scheduled for Sunday. ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 3 a.m. (EST) on Sunday, and re-air the program at 3 p.m. Sunday. Three hours of final eliminations will be aired beginning at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS FAST FACTS

MOST VICTORIES _ John Force, FC, 8; Kenny Bernstein, TF/FC, 6; Greg Anderson, PS, 5; Bob Glidden, PS, 5; John Myers, PSM, 5; Warren Johnson, PS, 4; Dave Schultz, PSM, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4.

TRACK RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.721-seconds and 330.15 mph by Doug Kalitta, Feb. ’14

Funny Car _ 3.965-seconds and 324.12 by John Force, Feb. ‘14

Pro Stock _ 6.495-seconds and 213.13 mph by Jason Line, Nov. ’12

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.765-seconds by Andrew Hines, Nov. ’12; 198.29 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Nov. ’12

NATIONAL RECORDS

Top Fuel _ 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Concord, N.C.

Funny Car _ 3.965-seconds and 324.12 mph by John Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock _ 6.464-seconds and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders-Stevens, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

POINT STANDINGS

Top-10 following the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Countdown to the Championship:

Top Fuel _ 1. Tony Schumacher, 2,501; 2. Spencer Massey, 2,392; 3. J.R. Todd, 2,389; 4. Shawn Langdon, 2,367; 5. Doug Kalitta, 2,366; 6. Steve Torrence, 2,355; 7. Antron Brown, 2,324; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 2,292; 9. Brittany Force, 2,239; 10. Richie Crampton, 2,238.

Funny Car_ 1. Matt Hagan, 2,510; 2. John Force, 2,489; 3. Courtney Force, 2,389; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,362; 5. Robert Hight, 2,360; 6. Del Worsham, 2,341; 7. Ron Capps, 2,313; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 2,300; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,259; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 2,206.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, 2,513; 2. Jason Line, 2,496; 3. Dave Connolly, 2,429; 4. Shane Gray, 2,402; 5. (tie) Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,369; Allen Johnson, 2,369; 7. Vincent Nobile, 2,328; 8. Jonathan Gray, 2,312; 9. V. Gaines, 2,238; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,136.

Pro Stock Motorcycle_ 1. Andrew Hines, 2,607; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,515; 3. Matt Smith, 2,377; 4. Hector Arana Jr., 2,348; 5. Steve Johnson, 2,317; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,299; 7. Hector Arana, 2,265; 8. John Hall, 2,253; 9. Angie Smith, 2,190; 10. Michael Ray, 2,134.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 13 2014
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