Erica Enders becomes the first female Pro Stock winner in NHRA history
The finals of the NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Illinois were delayed by more than three hours by Sunday afternoon rain, but drag racing history appeared content to wait.
It had waited eight years already anyway.
Erica Enders became the first female driver ever to win an NHRA Pro Stock event today as she bested Greg Anderson by four feet in a rematch of the 2011 Joliet Pro Stock final. Enders got her Victor Cagnazzi-owned Chevrolet Cobalt down the strip in 6.627 second to beat Anderson by four feet for her first NHRA win.
“Twenty years from the time I was eight years old I have been dreaming of this and now we are here,” Enders said. “Victor Cagnazzi gave me the opportunity to come out here and drive and I had never even let out a clutch before. This win is for everyone that has helped me and supported me.”
Twenty years from the time I was eight years old I have been dreaming of this and now we are here
Enders joined Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jeff Arend (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) as Joliet winners during a final round that saw two classes determined by red lights.
Brown made the most of his opportunities today as his second event win of the year allowed him to move to within three points of the series lead, held by Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher. He got a walkover in the final as Shawn Torrence red-lighted, and made up a ton of ground on his points-leading teammate as Schumacher lost in the first round for the only time all year when the engine on his dragster grenaded halfway during his run against T.J. Zizzo.
The win was even bigger for Brown and his team because it came in his team owner’s hometown and also came on the weekend that Don Schumacher was notified that he would be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame as part of the 2012 class.
“This is incredible. That’s a tough race track,” Brown said. “We’re pushing so hard in this class and you are pushing so hard on the tree. I’ve done it (red-lighted). It feels good to get this for the boss. Don Schumacher getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, it’s big for us.”
Enders was nearly joined by another female in the winner’s circle Sunday as Courtney Force advanced to her first NHRA final, lining up against Canadian Jeff Arend. Force got off the line ahead of the Kalitta-fielded Toyota of Arend, but had a slight wiggle that forced her to lift, which was all Arend needed to power past for the win.
The victory was the first of the year for Arend as he hung up a strong 4.131-second run for the win. Arend battled all day just to get to the final, coming from behind to run down second-seeded Tim Wilkerson in the second round, then snapping off a 4.106 to put Jack Beckman on the trailer.
“Fantastic win,” Arend said after the victory that moved him up four spots into sixth place in the series standings. “This car is hauling the mail. The guys built a very competitive car, we’ve been trying to get to this point all along, and it feels great to get there.”
Although her first final-round appearance ended in defeat, Courtney Force was energized by the performance.
“Getting to the final round here was a huge accomplishment,” she said. “It shook on that run. I tried to pedal it as quick as I could, I wish I could have won it for all my sponsors, but it gives me hope that I can get back out there next week and win.”
Hines made a little history of his own in Pro Stock Motorcycle on Sunday, becoming the first rider to ever defeat LE Tonglet at Joliet, taking the Wally when Tonglet red-lighted by a microscopic .004 seconds.
The Harley-Davidson rider benefitted from a red light in the second round against Chip Ellis as well, but Hines put up some big numbers when he needed it as well – numbers that came only after Hines spent the last week totally rewiring his mount.
“Confidence was everything. But every now in then I don’t have the greatest confidence in my bike,” Hines admitted. “Last week we figured out we had an electrical problem Tuesday when we got back to the shop and I ripped every piece of wire off the bike and put it back together. We did some test runs and it was fast, which gave me the confidence I needed to come out here to get the win.”
Enders got no quarter on her march to her first NHRA win as she dispatched Kurt Johnson, Vincent Nobile and V. Gaines on her way to the final. She had the quickest pass of the first round, and never trailed in the second and third round before besting a chagrined Anderson in the final.
“Now I’m in the record books for the wrong reasons,” chuckled Anderson. “I don’t want to be that guy that’s on the wrong end of it, but we knew all along that she was going to win, she’s a great driver, she does a great job, she was going to win a race.”