Erica Enders Returns Home Third in Pro Stock Points Houston Native Looking to Become First Female Pro Stock Winner BAYTOWN, Texas, March 28, 2006 - What a difference a year makes. This time last year Houston native Erica Enders was a wide-eyed...
Erica Enders Returns Home Third in Pro Stock Points
Houston Native Looking to Become First Female Pro Stock Winner
BAYTOWN, Texas, March 28, 2006 - What a difference a year makes. This time last year Houston native Erica Enders was a wide-eyed 21-year-old Pro Stock rookie under the microscope as the only female competitor in arguably the most competitive class on the NHRA POWERade circuit. She had qualified for one of the season's first three races and was facing the expected challenges for a first-year driver with a new team. Fast forward a year and the driver of the Slammers Ultimate Milk Chevy Cobalt enters this weekend's 19th annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway third in the Pro Stock points standings with a final-round appearance at Gainesville two weeks ago already under her belt. Enders and her Cagnazzi Racing team continue to build on the success of qualifying for 10 of last season's final 11 races, including top-five qualifying efforts in the last four races and her first career final (Chicago 2). Her midseason turnaround led to her nomination for the 2005 "Road to the Future" Award for NHRA's top rookie, won by Funny Car driver Robert Hight.
"It seems like we've come a long way in a short period of time," said Enders. "It's really exciting to look back and see how I felt a year ago here at the Houston race for my Pro Stock debut in my hometown. We were really excited and I think we qualified 15th, but then I had to race Jason Line first round and I ended up red-lighting. Now that we have the horsepower in our Slammers Chevy behind us, it makes us all the more excited to go into this weekend because we have the capability of winning this race.
"My goal coming into this season was to win. Because of how we ended the 2005 season, and then coming into Pomona this season after testing, where even though your numbers aren't official, it kind of goes to show that your work is paying off. So to come into 2006 after the way we left off in '05 was really exciting. Right now we're third in points, but coming into this season not knowing how we were going to do, our goal was to be a championship-caliber team and to have a chance to run for the world championship this year. After these first three races we're in the running, our points standings show that, and our progression at the track as far as the crew goes and as far as the driver, I think we're steadily climbing up the mountain. And we're going to be good this year and definitely have a shot at winning the championship, so we're all really, really excited."
Enders qualified No. 2 at last year's season finale at Pomona, and then the Texas A&M student carried that momentum to the No. 2 qualifying spot at this season's first two races at Pomona and Phoenix. At the circuit's most recent race, the Gatornationals at Gainesville, Enders stumbled a little and qualified 15th, but the gritty 22-year-old and her team rebounded to reach her second career final round before losing to veteran Tom Martino.
"We tested for three days after Gainesville," said Enders. "It went well. We had some bugs to work out of the car, obviously, if you saw how we did in qualifying for Gainesville. We only got down the track one time, qualified 15th and kind of came up from the underdog position and got a runner-up. We didn't get down the track in the final either, so obviously we did have bugs to work out of the car. I'm pretty sure that we got them out. The guys have worked really hard, and I've been working on my reaction times and working out, so putting all of that hard work together we should be able to come together and win this deal, if not do really well."
At Gainesville Enders drove her Chevy Cobalt past Jason Line in Round 1 and Rickie Smith in Round 2, both hole-shot wins. After a red-light foul by Ron Krisher in the third round, Enders was in her second career money round. Several members of the Cagnazzi Racing team credited their driver with the team's strong showing at Gainesville.
"It makes me smile to hear that because it goes to show that my work is paying off," said Enders. "But I'll sit here and tell you that my guys are my heroes because like I said, we didn't get down the track and when Sunday came around, they were ready to go. We came to play on Sunday. I did my job and I shaved down a couple times, and they did their job. They've done their job a lot of times and I've lost the race on a hole-shot, so it's really cool when I can be there and make up for the e.t. that we're down on. Hopefully this weekend will be a good driver and crew race, and we should be able to go out there and do really well."
In a short 18 months, Enders has become the most successful female racer in NHRA Pro Stock history and the only woman to reach a Pro Stock final. Although she's setting her sights on becoming the class's first female winner, Enders is more proud of the fact that her Cagnazzi Racing team is recognized as a top-tier Pro Stock team.
"It makes me feel good," said Enders. "If you stand back and look at it, it is kind of cool to be the first female to do this or do that, and it's going to be great to be the first woman to ever win in Pro Stock, and all of those things are cool. But when I look at it, I just want to be the best driver. I don't want to be looked at as anything different because we're working just as hard as those guys are. It's like (Top Fuel driver) Melanie Troxel said, it's a double-edged sword. It's cool in one way, but in another way you just want to be looked at as a driver. To hear them say, 'Here comes the Slammers team,' not, 'Here comes the girl,' the first girl to do this or that, it makes a big difference in my mind that they're just referring to us as another competitive team.
"I'm excited to go home for this weekend's race. My family's going to be there and a bunch of my friends that I went to high school with, they're going to come out. And the racetrack is only about an hour and a half from Texas A&M, so hopefully we'll have some of my college buddies out there. It'll just be good to be at home where you've kind of got the hometown crowd behind you, kind of like when Tony Schumacher races in Chicago, so that will be really cool. And to come as far as we have as we talked about before, to come as far as we have from last year to being a competitive team this year, it will be all that more exciting to do well with all of those people behind you."
Two hours of qualifying highlights of the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, April 1, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Final eliminations will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday, April 2, starting at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.