Houston’s Enders Beats Caruso; Can’t Beat Bulldozers at HRP

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 26 2022

Collecting the final Wallys at doomed Houston Raceway Park over the weekend were Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle). (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

In a moment worthy of a second Disney Channel movie, hometown heroine Erica Enders helped close-out Houston Raceway Park’s 35-year tenure in Baytown with a victory in the first all-female final in NHRA Pro Stock history.

Enders, a four-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion, defeated rookie No. 1 qualifier Camrie Caruso in the “Factory Hot Rod” final of Sunday’s 35th annual NHRA SpringNationals before a sellout crowd celebrating three-plus decades of nitro and nostalgia.

HRP, which opened in 1988 as a sister-track to Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex in Ennis, will be bulldozed to make room for an industrial park owned by Katoen Natie, an Antwerp, Belgium-headquartered international logistics service provider and port operator. The 500-acre facility is located in the vicinity of the Trinity Bay.

In an open letter issued pre-race, HRP General Manager Seth Angel spoke of the “immense pride” his family has experienced bringing NHRA Championship Drag Racing to the greater Houston market.

“Now, as the sun sets on 35 years of countless world-class performances here at Houston Raceway Park,” Angel said, “we wanted to take a moment to convey our enormous gratitude and humble appreciation to all of our friends, fans, racers and sponsors for creating so many special and historic memories here in Southeast Texas.

“Together with the Gay Family of Dickenson, my late father Glen, along with my uncles Greg and Gary Angel, made the transition from drag racing fans into track-owners in the late 1980s by building one of the quickest and fastest facilities on the NHRA circuit. They later bought-out the Gay Family in 2004, making Houston Raceway Park even a larger part of our lives. We’ve kept the pedal to the floor ever since.”

No native Texan has benefitted more from HRP than Enders, whose journey has taken her from wide-eyed fan to NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League participant to most successful female Pro Stock driver in NHRA history.  

Enders added to that history Sunday by trailering Caruso in the championship round. Enders earned her class-leading third win this season and 36th of her career with a quarter-mile pass of 6.568-seconds at 210.24 mph in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro SS. The victory was Erica’s third in Pro Stock at HRP, site of her first national event win in Super Gas in 2004. Enders’ rise through the Sportsman ranks _ she also competed in Super Comp in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series _ formed the basis for Right on Track, a gender-breaking Disney Channel original movie.

Enders prevailed in Pro Stock at HRP in 2014 against 2012 world champion Allen Johnson, a feat she repeated in 2015 against fellow-Texan Chris McGaha.

“I grew up drag racing here and I don’t know if I can put this into words,” said Enders, a 38-year-old resident of New Orleans. “I made my first passes down the racetrack when I was 8-years-old and prior to that my sister and I grew up watching our dad (Gregg) race Sportsman out here. My first Wally (trophy) came here and to do this here in Houston means the world to me.

“This is so epic. I watched the Sportsman finals before Pro Stock and I think there’s like seven people from Houston that won today. H-town wrecked shop today!”

Enders scored round victories against Cristian Cuadra, Matt Hartford and Kyle Koretsky to set up a memorable final in which Erica tracked down Caruso at the finish line. The win also moved Enders into the championship point lead over Aaron Stanfield.

“We were able to execute perfectly today and I’m so proud of this team,” said Enders, who qualified second. “It was just an unbelievable day. It was challenging to get focused and get my emotions under control, but I tried to put all of that on the backburner and get it done. To be able to execute and have such a great team and great car today, this is one of my proudest moments.”

Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won the fifth of 22 races during the 2022 season as the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series enjoyed consecutive days of sellout crowds.

“I said in my interview at the top end that my day did not start out stellar for me, but we turned it into something epic,” Enders said. “I was watching on the big screen in the final round as Camrie muffed her burnout twice and I’m like, ‘Just go green! Maybe she doesn’t have fourth gear. Just make a nice, clean, smooth run.’ Hats off to Mark Ingersoll. I’m so proud.”

Enders recalled she initially was headed for a career in the nitromethane ranks after winning her Super Gas Wally in 2004. “I just graduated from Frank Hawley’s Funny Car Alcohol school,” Enders said. “Robert Hight was in my class and it was a super-cool experience. I was working with a nitro Funny Car team to go nitro Funny Car racing. We came out here, won this home event in Super Gas for my first national event Wally.

“Raced my best friend at the time in the final and I go up in the press room and say I want to drive Pro Stock. (PA announcer) Bob Frey, (team-co-owners) Victor Cagnazzi and Steve Johns all heard that and that’s what got me my start in Pro Stock. Here we are 18 years later with so many people’s help.”

Caruso also enjoyed a breakout weekend, advancing to her first career final with victories against Fernando Cuadra, 2017 world champion Bo Butner and five-time/reigning world champ Greg Anderson.

Driver of the Sand Haulers of America Chevy Camaro SS, Caruso secured her first No. 1 qualifier in her fifth race to tie 2021 NHRA Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn for quickest to that honor. She also became the first female to qualify No. 1 in Pro Stock at the track.

Caruso, a resident of Denver, N.C., dispatched Anderson and his HendrickCars.com Camaro SS on a hole-shot while Enders defeated Kyle Koretsky in the Lucas Oil Camaro SS in her semifinal.

“First round was nerve-wracking because we hadn’t made a representative pass in a few races,” said Caruso, who moved from 11th to seventh in the point standings. “Unfortunately, the final round didn’t go as planned. I’m confident in my car every run. My guys do whatever they can to give me the best race car.

“My guys are amazing. I’m just happy that we’ve come so far for a team that was put together just 60 days before the first race of the season.”

Enders said Caruso continues to impress during the early portion of the schedule. “Camrie is doing a really good job in the car,” Enders said. “These cars are not easy to drive. She worked for us a little bit at Elite Motorsports and her family put her behind the wheel. You have to pay your dues and you have to work really hard and you have to learn how to handle these (competitors). They are pretty tough on you.”

Angel, meanwhile, noted the list of drag racing royalty to have raced at HRP includes Fort Worth’s Gene “Snowman” Snow, who broke the 4-second barrier for the first time in NHRA Top Fuel competition during the 1988 fall event.

“We all shared the emotion of icon John Force’s 100th career Funny Car victory, as well as Erica Enders’ first national event win,” Angel said. “Fellow-superstars Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Scott Kalitta also broke through for the first time in their professional careers at Houston Raceway Park. 

“There was the unforgettable ‘Burndown’ between heated (Pro Stock) rivals Warren Johnson and Scott Geoffrion, who both sat in the pre-stage beams for more than a minute trying to unnerve one another. We also savored Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Michael Phillips becoming the first African-American to win in a pro category in 1997.

“It’s been great to work with the NHRA all this time, dating back to initial conversations with NHRA founder Wally Parks on through to the current leadership group. It’s also been a blessing to help put a gold star by the City of Baytown and Chambers County as a go-to destination in the great State of Texas. 

“We’ve been flattered to have become close friends to so many racers and crew members who, year after year, give it their all for the love of the sport. The greatest compliments come from these daredevils because they have seen it all, so when they tell you they love and appreciate your facility it means so much.

“Most of all, we offer our utmost thanks to the masses of fans who have come through the gates since that very first event in 1988. We hope you never forget the great times you spent here with your family because you have certainly become a part of ours.

“Here’s to one final glorious NHRA national event race weekend. Thank you all, once again, from the entire Angel Family.”


In Top Fuel, Brittany Force rolled to a second straight victory with a 1,000-foot blast of 3.767-seconds at 321.42 mph in her Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac dragster. In what was the final NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series pass at HRP, Force beat Justin Ashley on a hole-shot, posting an 0.041-second reaction time to hold off Ashley’s run of 3.763.

To reach the final, Force knocked off Josh Hart and Shawn Langdon and Billy Torrence, capping her remarkable day with a third _ and final _ win in Houston and the 13th in her career. The victory also gave Force, of John Force Racing, the Top Fuel point lead after five races.

“I felt confident coming in and it was an incredible day for our team,” said Force, a 35-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “To close-out Houston with a win is just incredible for us. Justin is one of the best leavers in the class, so I knew we had to step it up. I really wanted it in the final round, so I had to do my job. Getting back-to-back wins is huge for us, and we’re back in the seat next weekend so we’ll try to do it again in Charlotte.

“My Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac boys always have my back and they’re the reason we got here today. Luckily, we got the job done in the final round. It wasn’t easy. It was a lot of me sitting down and trying to figure (things) out before going into the final round because it was a tough day for me. But we battled it out and got it done in the final when it mattered.

“I knew (tuners) David Grubnic and Mac Savage, all the boys, would figure it out; they always do.”

Ashley advanced to his sixth career final and second this season after victories against Doug Foley, Austin Prock and four-time/reigning world champion Steve Torrence of Kilgore, Texas.


At the site of his first career Funny Car victory, Matt Hagan denied Bobby Bode the chance for his first win with a 1,000-foot run of 3.982-seconds at 326.63 mph in his Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat fielded by Tony Stewart Racing. The win was point-leader Hagan’s second this season and 41st in his career. Hagan reached a final for the fourth time in 2022 on the strength of round-wins against 16-time world champion John Force, No. 1 qualifier and two-time/reigning world champ Ron Capps and J.R. Todd.

A three-time world champion, Hagan chased down Bode in the final when his Ford Mustang suffered a massive engine explosion near the finish line.

“This has been a special place for me,” said Hagan, a 39-year-old resident of Christiansburg, Va. “This is where I got my first win, so this race means a lot to me and to close it out here, that’s huge. It was another good weekend and I feel like we’ve been making a statement. There’s a lot of heavy hitters in this class and there’s no easy runs.

“To keep doing what we’re doing says a lot about the team that (crew chief) Dickie Venables has assembled. It’s a great team and this win is just a statement to how good these guys are. Tony Stewart has instilled such a winning mentality in this team and that’s what I love.”

Bode’s first career final round came after he knocked off Alexis DeJoria, two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon and Chad Green, who was seeking his first final-round berth.


Popular veteran Steve Johnson exited Texas with his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the season. Johnson covered the quarter-mile in 6.720-seconds at 199.91 mph aboard his Slick 50 Suzuki to beat longtime rival and five-time/reigning world champ Matt Smith in the final.

Johnson was dominant during eliminations, making the quickest run in HRP history in the opening round and then setting both ends of the track record a round later with a pass of 6.711-seconds at 201.55 mph. He knocked off four-time world champ Eddie Krawiec to advance to the final, where he put together another strong run to earn his 10th career win and first in Baytown.

“A win like this all starts back at the shop,” said Johnson, a 62-year-old native of Granada Hills, Calif. “This is a huge accomplishment for us. We didn’t run well at Gainesville. I really felt like I had a good bike, but we couldn’t show it. It was a huge setback for our team, so to come here and get a win was big. It’s nice to get a win early in the season and this race is also so special to us because it’s where I got my first sponsor. There’s a lot of good memories here.”

Smith advanced to the final for the first time this season and the 66th time in his career via victories against Kelly Clontz, Chris Bostick and No. 1 qualifier Karen Stoffer.

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns next weekend with the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).


Final finishing order (1-16) at the 35th annual NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown, Texas. The race was the fifth of 22 events in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and last in the track’s NHRA national event history.

Top Fuel _ 1. Brittany Force; 2. Justin Ashley; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Billy Torrence; 5. Austin Prock; 6. Shawn Langdon; 7. Clay Millican; 8. Mike Salinas; 9. Doug Kalitta; 10. Buddy Hull; 11. Tony Schumacher; 12. Josh Hart; 13. Leah Pruett; 14. Doug Foley; 15. Alex Laughlin; 16. Antron Brown.

Funny Car _ 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Bobby Bode; 3. Chad Green; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Cruz Pedregon; 6. Jim Campbell; 7. Robert Hight; 8. Ron Capps; 9. Paul Lee; 10. John Force; 11. Terry Haddock; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Tim Wilkerson; 14. Bob Tasca III; 15. Alexis DeJoria.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders; 2. Camrie Caruso; 3. Greg Anderson; 4. Kyle Koretsky; 5. Matt Hartford; 6. Rodger Brogdon; 7. Bo Butner; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Cristian Cuadra; 10. Mason McGaha; 11. Deric Kramer; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Fernando Cuadra; 14. Aaron Stanfield; 15. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 16. Dallas Glenn. 

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Steve Johnson; 2. Matt Smith; 3. Eddie Krawiec; 4. Karen Stoffer; 5. Angelle Sampey; 6. Jim Underdahl; 7. Joey Gladstone; 8. Chris Bostick; 9. Jerry Savoie; 10. Michael Ray; 11. Kelly Clontz; 12. LE Tonglet; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. David Barron; 15. Marc Ingwersen; 16. Angie Smith. 

Final Pro and Sportsman results from the 35th annual NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park:

Top Fuel _ Brittany Force, 3.767-seconds, 321.42 mph def. Justin Ashley, 3.763-seconds, 329.58 mph.

Funny Car _ Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.982, 326.63 def. Bobby Bode, Ford Mustang, 4.046, 282.95.

Pro Stock _ Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.568, 210.24 def. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.624, 209.26.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.720, 199.91 def. Matt Smith, Suzuki, 6.811, 200.47.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Joey Severance, 5.239, 276.35 def. Julie Nataas, 5.358, 278.69.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Doug Gordon, Chevy Camaro, 5.534, 266.16 def. Bob McCosh, Camaro, 5.765, 244.65.

Competition Eliminator _ Greg Kamplain, Dragster, 6.758, 196.90 def. Mike DePalma, Pontiac G5, 7.780, 173.96.

Super Stock _ Harvey Emmons III, Chevy Cavalier, 9.711, 134.44 def. Brenda Grubbs, Chevy Camaro, 9.216, 145.11.

Stock Eliminator _ Jerry Emmons, Chevy Camaro, 10.197, 123.41 def. Brandon Bakies, Camaro, Foul/Red Light.

Super Comp _ Michael Holcombe, Dragster, 8.902, 179.37 def. Christopher Dodd, Dragster, 8.911, 176.19. 

Super Gas _ Keith Purvis, Pontiac Firebird, 9.903, 158.74 def. Austin Williams, Chevy Camaro, 9.917, 153.11.

Super Street _ Chris LeBlanc, Chevy Corvette, 10.968, 142.70 def. Don Snow, Corvette, 10.955, 144.30.

Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Chris Arnold, Chevy Cavalier, 6.902, 201.52 def. Darian Boesch, Chevy Camaro, 6.355, 219.51.

Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Mark Jones, Dragster, 6.291, 222.80 def. Wayne Landry, Dragster, 6.156, 227.77.

Final round-by-round results from the NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park:


ROUND ONE _ Austin Prock, 3.743, 328.70 def. Alex Laughlin, 5.125, 146.19; Billy Torrence, 3.726, 319.07 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.772, 323.89; Brittany Force, 3.740, 329.42 def. Josh Hart, 4.925, 146.65; Steve Torrence, 3.711, 325.92 def. Buddy Hull, 4.041, 234.53; Justin Ashley, 3.740, 329.26 def. Doug Foley, 5.078, 139.65; Clay Millican, 3.754, 321.42 def. Antron Brown, 5.439, 136.12; Shawn Langdon, 4.774, 197.48 def. Leah Pruett, 4.973, 201.04; Mike Salinas, 4.192, 297.42 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.860, 170.34; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Ashley, 3.792, 326.79 def. Prock, Foul/Red Light; Force, 3.773, 330.47 def. Langdon, 5.589, 128.73; B. Torrence, 3.799, 322.19 def. Millican, Broke; S. Torrence, 3.744, 327.90 def. Salinas, Broke;

SEMIFINALS _ Force, 3.848, 317.19 def. B. Torrence, 3.924, 310.77; Ashley, 3.760, 327.51 def. S. Torrence, 3.778, 323.43; 

FINAL _ Force, 3.767, 321.42 def. Ashley, 3.763, 329.58. 


ROUND ONE _ J.R. Todd, Toyota Supra, 4.008, 322.65 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 5.475, 132.37; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.937, 324.05 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.078, 287.05; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.004, 281.36 was unopposed; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.925, 319.67 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.979, 323.43; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.026, 311.05 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.190, 152.33; Bobby Bode, Mustang, 3.957, 314.68 def. Alexis DeJoria, Supra, Foul/Outer Boundary; Chad Green, Mustang, 3.987, 314.24 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 4.341, 224.62; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.954, 325.77 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.010, 328.06; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Todd, 4.004, 322.19 def. Campbell, 4.074, 311.34; Bode, 3.991, 315.05 def. Pedregon, 4.030, 318.69; Green, 4.090, 267.16 def. Hight, 4.240, 227.04; Hagan, 3.933, 326.87 def. Capps, 8.017, 95.44; 

SEMIFINALS _ Bode, 4.034, 308.35 def. Green, 4.160, 305.29; Hagan, 3.937, 323.97 def. Todd, 10.851, 81.82; 

FINAL _ Hagan, 3.982, 326.63 def. Bode, 4.046, 282.95.


ROUND ONE _ Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 9.917, 96.07 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, Foul/Red Light; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.607, 209.23 def. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, Broke; Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.628, 208.23 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.619, 209.17; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.595, 207.72 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.616, 208.88; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.585, 209.07 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, Foul/Red Light; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.625, 208.78 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 13.118, 66.19; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.578, 209.95 def. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.587, 208.81; Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.609, 209.17 def. Fernando Cuadra, Mustang, Foul/Red Light; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Koretsky, 6.664, 208.71 def. C. McGaha, 19.274, 41.97; Caruso, 6.624, 208.81 def. Butner, 9.771, 93.61; Anderson, 6.578, 208.84 def. Brogdon, 6.619, 207.66; Enders, 6.598, 209.23 def. Hartford, 6.587, 209.56; 

SEMIFINALS _ Enders, 6.596, 209.56 def. Koretsky, 6.636, 209.17; Caruso, 6.607, 208.84 def. Anderson, 6.578, 208.62; 

FINAL _ Enders, 6.568, 210.24 def. Caruso, 6.624, 209.26.


ROUND ONE _ Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.814, 201.19 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.908, 188.28; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.822, 197.74 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 7.000, 195.79; Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.822, 198.00 def. Marc Ingwersen, EBR, Foul/Red Light; Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.937, 194.52 def. Angie Smith, EBR, Broke/No Show; Eddie Krawiec, Suzuki, 6.786, 198.96 def. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 7.058, 191.78; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.718, 200.71 def. Michael Ray, Victory, 6.923, 194.97; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.869, 196.07 def. David Barron, EBR, 8.608, 107.85; Matt Smith, Suzuki, 6.818, 198.12 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.968, 193.05;

QUARTERFINALS _ M. Smith, 6.938, 195.96 def. Bostick, 7.059, 191.54; Stoffer, 6.832, 197.33 def. Sampey, 6.852, 201.07; Krawiec, 6.772, 199.17 def. Gladstone, 6.917, 197.42; Johnson, 6.711, 201.55 def. Underdahl, 6.896, 199.11; 

SEMIFINALS _ M. Smith, 6.988, 194.60 def. Stoffer, Foul/Centerline; Johnson, 6.765, 198.96 def. Krawiec, 6.802, 197.10; 

FINAL _ Johnson, 6.720, 199.91 def. M. Smith, 6.811, 200.47.

Point standings (top-10) following the NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park:

Top Fuel _1. Brittany Force, 420; 2. Steve Torrence, 388; 3. Justin Ashley, 367; 4. Mike Salinas, 349; 5. Clay Millican, 281; 6. Austin Prock, 253; 7. Tony Schumacher, 227; 8. Josh Hart, 220; 9. Doug Kalitta, 206; 10. Antron Brown, 198.

Funny Car _1. Matt Hagan, 507; 2. Robert Hight, 447; 3. Ron Capps, 420; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 282; 5. John Force, 249; 6. (tie) Alexis DeJoria, 241; J.R. Todd, 241; 8. Chad Green, 237; 9. Bob Tasca III, 229; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 217.

Pro Stock _1. Erica Enders, 471; 2. Aaron Stanfield, 389; 3. Kyle Koretsky, 345; 4. Dallas Glenn, 305; 5. Greg Anderson, 291; 6. Mason McGaha, 279; 7. Camrie Caruso, 272; 8. Bo Butner, 247; 9. Troy Coughlin Jr., 223; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 220.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Karen Stoffer, 196; 2. Steve Johnson, 173; 3. Angie Smith, 128; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 127; 5. (tie) Joey Gladstone, 124; Matt Smith, 124; 7. Jerry Savoie, 102; 8. (tie) Angelle Sampey, 83; Jim Underdahl, 83; 10. Marc Ingwersen, 82.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 26 2022
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