Heartland Park Topeka
Enders returns to site of her greatest Pro Stock triumph
TOPEKA, Kan. -- Erica Enders made history at Heartland Park Topeka six years ago. At this weekend's NHRA Summer Nationals, the ZaZa Energy-sponsored Pro Stock driver hopes to make some more.
During her second season in Pro Stock in 2006, Enders earned the first No. 1 qualifying spot of her career, simultaneously becoming the first female to earn a No. 1 qualifier in the ultra-competitive category.
She clearly has fond memories of that weekend in America's heartland.
"Because we qualified well (in earlier sessions), we were running at the back of the pack in the final qualifying round, so we actually knew we had stayed No. 1 before we made our last pass," Enders said. "Even though it was just qualifying, it was a really big milestone for us and for the sport. It was very exciting. I remember the end-of-the-track celebration. Everyone was going crazy. That's something I'll remember forever."
Running for Cagnazzi Racing – her current team, too – Enders had been fast in prior races in 2006, so it wasn't totally unexpected. But it was still special, even though Enders doesn't normally like the "first woman to..." label.
"We had been running very well," Enders said. "We were No. 2 at Pomona and we went to the semis in Houston that year. Our car was very strong. We had a couple of No. 2 qualifiers where we were just a couple thousandths away from being No. 1. Still, going to Topeka and clinching it and putting it in the books forever meant a lot to me.
"I know it's just another 'girl record,' but it's something cool. No one can ever take it away from me."
Enders, 27, has matured as a person and a driver since that race, but is humble enough to know she still learns something every pass down the track. In the six years since making history, she has certainly become a much better driver.
"The difference is night and day," Enders said. "I have a lot more experience and seat time. I've learned so much. This is my seventh year of driving. Just a few days ago in Atlanta, I had something happen to me that I've never had happen to me before. That's the way it is; every run in the car is a learning experience.
Hopefully Topeka is holding one for me ...
"To have seven years of experience – which is still considered a rookie compared to a lot of guys in this class – I've got a lot of learning left to do. But I've progressed so much, and I feel I'm a night-and-day different driver than 2006."
Enders is seventh in the NHRA Full Throttle points standings coming off her quarterfinal appearance at Atlanta Dragway last weekend. Enders was fast in the final qualifying session and fast in both rounds of eliminations. Couple that with her fondness of Heartland Park, and Enders carries a lot of confidence into the weekend.
"I'm feeling good, very confident," Enders said. "I've got a tremendous team behind me. The people on this team are what make a program work, and I've definitely got the people and the brains and the race car and the horsepower. As long as I keep driving well, the stars are going to line up, and I'm going to get a win very soon.
"Hopefully Topeka is holding one for me and will still be good for me this week."