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HOMETOWN FAVORITE ERICA ENDERS BRINGS PRO STOCK MOMENTUM TO HUSTON'S O'REILLY AUTO PARTS NHRA SPRING NATIONALS

Erica Enders
Erica Enders

Photo by: Ted Rossino

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Just as NHRA Legend Shirley Muldowney did several decades earlier at a racetrack near Columbus, Ohio, Houston native Erica Enders will head to ultrafast Royal Purple Raceway this weekend trying to make some NHRA history during NHRA's 60th anniversary season.

In 1976 Muldowney erased gender barriers in the male-dominated world of professional drag racing, when she claimed a monumental victory in Top Fuel. Since then, there have been 10 other female drivers who have joined Muldowney as winners in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and many more women who have enjoyed success at all levels of NHRA drag racing.

Enders, 27, who is one of only five women to ever compete in the Pro Stock category since it was introduced by NHRA in 1970, is in position to become the first female winner in the 200-mph category. She remains the only female driver to ever reach a final round in NHRA Pro Stock -- what many motorsports journalists have called the most tightly-packed competitive form of auto racing -- by posting runner-up finishes in Gainesville (2006) and Chicago (2005).

Enders will continue her quest for that milestone victory and to improve upon her sixth place position in the series point standings at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil, April 29-May 1. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.

She certainly understands the significance of what it would mean to become the first female winner in NHRA Pro Stock competition. NHRA's other three pro categories -- Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle -- feature multiple female winners.

"When I can't sleep at night, I think about stuff like that," Enders said. "I think about what I would say in my interviews and how I'd react. It'll be that one moment I've been working for my entire life. I'm sure it'll be so awesome and exciting and emotional. For people to understand is really hard to do, because this is 19 years I've been working toward this. I've really worked my butt off to get here. Raising the money to have this ride has been tough. I think it'll be the coolest moment of my life, ever."

Enders, who was the subject of the Disney Channel original movie "Right on Track" about her start in drag racing as a kid in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, had her best seasons behind the wheel in Pro Stock competition in 2005 and 2006. This season she has reunited with North Carolina-based Cagnazzi Racing and is driving a Chevy Cobalt with sponsorship from a Houston-based company, ZaZa Energy. She opened the season with a No. 1 qualifying performance at the Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals in Southern California, the second of her career. With new crew chief Dave Connolly now calling the shots for her car's setup, Enders feels like all of the pieces of the puzzle are finally in place.

"We have a lot of confidence going in," Enders said. "We've tested really well, and we've run really well all season. Sundays haven't played out the way they should have. We've definitely had one of the top-five cars out there every weekend. That will continue. I'm very excited, very optimistic."

She gained a bit of national media exposure after beating NASCAR driver Kurt Busch in his NHRA Pro Stock debut during the first round of competition at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals in Florida. Her focus behind the wheel has been very strong this season.

We've definitely had one of the top-five cars out there every weekend.

Erica Enders

"I'm doing a good job leaving, a good job shifting and driving the race car to point A to point B," said Enders, who set the national speed record in Pro Stock with a 213.57 mph run in Florida. "I know that it's right around the corner, without sounding cocky. It's gonna happen; we're gonna do it. We've all spent a lot of effort and worked really hard to get here. I think it'll pay off. I hope we're not winning yet so we're saving one up for me at Houston. That'd be awesome."

With all of her track time over the years at Royal Purple Raceway, Enders has a solid understanding of what it takes to run well there. She earned her first NHRA national event victory during her sportsman racing days there in the Super Gas category.

"It'll be our first real summer race, just because of Houston's climate," Enders said. "Usually in Houston, the challenge is getting down a hot race track on Sunday. (Royal Purple Raceway) is a good track. The Angel brothers do a really nice job with it. I've had thousands and thousands of runs there, so I know that track up and down. I think we'll be all right."

If Enders is able to become a Pro Stock pioneer and break through with her first victory, she will certainly give a part of the credit to the trail-blazing Muldowney, who will be honored at the track over the weekend during part of NHRA's 60th anniversary celebration.

"Shirley is somebody who has done a tremendous amount for the sport and for the girls in the sport," Enders said. "I know what I've been through since I turned pro, and that was only seven years ago. I can't even begin to imagine what she went through back in the '60s and '70s when it wasn't common to see a woman in a male-dominated sport. She's definitely paved the way for us. I definitely look up to her. I would love to sit down with her and hear her stories because it'd be so cool to just hear her side of everything. She's done a lot for all the girls."

In Top Fuel, longtime Funny Car driver Del Worsham is leading the way in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with two wins to his credit in the first four races. His teammate, defending world champ Dixon, a three-time winner at this track, is right on his heels, in second place in the standings. The remainder of the top 10 is loaded with talented drivers, including Las Vegas winner Antron Brown, seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals winner Morgan Lucas, and former Houston winners Brandon Bernstein, and Doug Kalitta.

Past Royal Purple Raceway Funny Car winner Robert Hight leads a strong Funny Car contingent, that also includes his teammates, Tire Kingdom Gatornationals winner Mike Neff and 15-time world champ and seven-time Houston winner John Force. Recent VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals winner Jack Beckman wants to keep his hot streak going, while two-time Houston winner Cruz Pedregon has been strong all season in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. Defending winner Hagan is looking to make a climb upward in the series standings with a great performance in his DieHard Dodge Charger. Ron Capps, Bob Tasca and Jeff Arend also are among the pre-race favorites.

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DEL WORSHAM ENJOYING HOT START TO SEASON IN TOP FUEL AS FULL THROTTLE SERIES HEADS TO ROYAL PURPLE RACEWAY

Del Worsham celebrates his victory
Del Worsham celebrates his victory

Photo by: Ted Rossino

BAYTOWN, Texas -- During his 21-year career as one of the top Funny Car drivers in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, Del Worsham held the points lead following seven races early in the 2004 season.

Prior to his quick to the front performance this season in his first full tour of duty behind the wheel of a 7,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragster, that was the only time the 41-year-old Chino Hills, Calif. driver had ever claimed the title 'points leader.'

Worsham has got off to a hot start this season by winning the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals in Florida and the recent VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C. He earned semifinal finishes at the Pomona, Calif. season-opener and at Las Vegas. With four races down in the 22-race campaign, he holds a 77-point lead over teammate and defending world champ Larry Dixon as the NHRA Full Throttle Series heads to the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil, April 29-May 1, at the always quick Royal Purple Raceway near Houston.

Dixon (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.

Worsham, a two-time Funny Car winner at Royal Purple Raceway (2001 and 2008), is pleased with his start. Now he is focused on keeping the momentum going for the rest of the season and being in the best possible position for the six-race Countdown to the Championship, NHRA's playoffs.

"It's really been a great start to the season, and we'll do everything we can to keep the Al-Anabi team where it is right now at the top of the point standings," Worsham said. "There's a lot of competition in Top Fuel, and to come out and have the kind of success we've had in these first four races really shows the kind of team we have at Al-Anabi Racing. It shows the level of excellence that (team owner) Sheik Khalid and (team manager) Alan Johnson require and expect. They expect perfection, and that's what we all want to deliver. Having the points lead hasn't really set in because we're only four races into the season, but now we've actually built a little points lead. We could certainly lose it though if we don't keep working as hard as we can. If we have a bad day, someone else can catch up to us in one race so we have to stay focused and continue to improve our race team. We're just trying to build the Al-Anabi team to be ready for the beginning of the Countdown in September. It's all about being ready for those last six races because they determine the Full Throttle championship."

Prior to this season, Worsham competed in 22 Top Fuel races over three seasons in the early '90s. Back then, he drove Top Fuel and Funny Car simultaneously. Today NHRA rules allow a driver to compete in only one professional class. Given that he last strapped himself into a dragster during the 1995 season, is he surprised that he's quickly adapted to his new cockpit in his longer and significantly faster race car?

"Top Fuel cars have changed a lot since I last drove them," Worsham said. "The Top Fuel car accelerates very hard. The sensation of speed is so great in a Top Fuel car. You can just really feel the power and how fast you're going. Dragsters are faster than Funny Cars by nature, but sitting so low, you can see things going by which gives you a reference of how fast you're actually going; Funny Cars don't give you that at all. Top Fuel is exciting. In the dragster, it's almost like someone is behind you and pushing you; in the Funny Car, it feels like you're being pulled. It's completely different."

Another thing that is different for Worsham are the faces he sees in the opposite lane. Starting with teammate Dixon, who has three career wins at Royal Purple Raceway, there are a strong cast of drivers battling Worsham for race wins and the series crown. Seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who ruled the class for most of the 2000s in his U.S. Army dragster, is a two-time winner at Houston, as is Copart dragster driver Brandon Bernstein. Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta are consistent top five contenders in the class who have also earned victories at this track in the past.

"The level of competition in Top Fuel is unreal," Worsham said. "The number of fast cars and great teams is amazing. Three of our round wins have been by a margin of less than eight-thousandths of a second. That's tight racing. Top Fuel competition this year is just extremely, extremely close. "

Three of our round wins have been by a margin of less than eight-thousandths of a second.

Del Worsham

Worsham wasted little time in joining two exclusive nitro clubs. By winning the Gatornationals, Worsham became the 15th driver to win in both of NHRA's nitro categories. With his No. 1 qualifying performance at Charlotte two weeks ago, he became the 17th driver to grab a top qualifying position in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. While each racer that fills those two elite clubs are widely recognized as the most talented pure drivers in NHRA history, Worsham doesn't necessarily feel that driving the wildly unpredictable Funny Car for so many years automatically makes his cross over to Top Fuel any easier.

"I think just 20 years of drag racing helps me with my confidence as a driver, but I don't believe being a good Funny Car driver will make you a better dragster driver," Worsham said. "The driving techniques are so different that I don't think one can prepare you for the other."

With a victory this weekend at Royal Purple Raceway, Worsham would join Mike Dunn as the only nitro drivers in NHRA history to win in both categories at Royal Purple Raceway. Worsham's crew chief, Brian Husen, says all tuners will need to keep a close eye on weather conditions to maximize their setups over the weekend.

"You're at sea level so you make good power, but when it's sunny, the track changes a lot so it gets more challenging," Husen said. "Getting your sea level power application in sync with the clutch is the key to running well at Royal Purple Raceway."

In Funny Car, 2005 Royal Purple Raceway winner Robert Hight leads a strong pack of challengers, that also includes his teammates, Tire Kingdom Gatornationals winner Mike Neff and 15-time world champ and seven-time Houston winner John Force. Recent VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals winner Jack Beckman wants to keep his hot streak going, while two-time Houston winner Cruz Pedregon has been strong all season in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. Defending winner Hagan is looking to make a climb upward in the series standings with a great performance in his DieHard Dodge Charger. Ron Capps, Bob Tasca and Jeff Arend also are among the pre-race favorites.

Several Pro Stock drivers have had great success at Royal Purple Raceway, including defending world champ Greg Anderson, who is a two-time winner in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. The 2009 world champ, Mike Edwards, has won here three times in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries GXP. The Professor of Pro Stock, Warren Johnson, is a six-time winner at Houston, his last coming in 2005. Erica Enders, who has compiled many test laps on this dragstrip, will be the favorite among the locals as she continues her quest to become the first female driver to win a Pro Stock race in NHRA history. She is currently in sixth place in the point standings after a solid start in her ZaZa Energy Chevy Cobalt. Others to watch in the 200 mph category include two-time season winner Jason Line, rookie standout Vincent Nobile and consistent weekly contender Greg Stanfield.

***

O'REILLY AUTO PARTS NHRA SPRING NATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT: 24th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil, the fifth of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories - Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle - earn points leading to 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championships. NHRA is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011 and will pay tribute to the evolution of the hot rod and honor its legendary racers as well as the sport's current stars.

WHERE: Royal Purple Raceway, Baytown, Texas. From I-10, go south on Hwy. 146, or FM 3180. Then follow FM 565 to the facility. From the south, follow Hwy. 146 to Spur 55, then east to FM 1405, then north to FM 565. For additional information about directions please visit royalpurpleraceway.com.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, April 29 -- May 1

SCHEDULE:

FRIDAY, April 29 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8 a.m.

GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 2:45 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.

SATURDAY, April 30 -- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations begin at 8 a.m.

GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 12:45 p.m. and first round of eliminations at 3:15 p.m.

FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, May 1 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

FULL THROTTLE SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION:

Saturday, April 30, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, May 1, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 7 p.m. (ET).

2010 EVENT WINNERS: Larry Dixon, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car; Jeg Coughlin, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST VICTORIES: John Force, 6, FC; Warren Johnson, 5, PS; John Myers, 4, PSM; Angelle Sampey, 4, PSM.

TRACK RECORDS:

Top Fuel -- 3.772 seconds by Larry Dixon, April '10; 323.19 mph by Dixon, April '10.

Funny Car -- 4.021 seconds by John Force, April '10; 316.08 mph by Force, April '10.

Pro Stock -- 6.539 seconds by Mike Edwards, April '10; 212.43 mph by Edwards, April '10.

PS Motorcycle -- 6.856 seconds by Hector Arana, April '10; 197.13 mph by Michael Phillips, April '10.

NATIONAL RECORDS:

Top Fuel - 3.770 sec. by Larry Dixon, Feb. '11, Pomona, Calif.; 327.03 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. '11, Pomona, Calif.

Funny Car - 4.011 sec. by Matt Hagan, Oct. '10, Reading, Pa.; 316.38 mph by Ashley Force Hood, March '10, Charlotte, N.C.

Pro Stock - 6.495 sec. by Rodger Brogdon, March '11, Gainesville, Fla.; 213.57 mph by Erica Enders, March '11, Gainesville, Fla.

PS Motorcycle -- 6.777 sec. by Hector Arana, March '11, Gainesville, Fla.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March '11, Gainesville, Fla.

TICKETS: For tickets call Royal Purple Raceway at (281) 383-2666 or visit www.royalpurpleraceway.com/buy-tickets

RESERVED SEATS (includes pit pass) - Full event: $110- $132; Daily: Friday: Adult, $37-47; Junior (12 years & under), $5-$10. Saturday: Adult, $50- $62; Junior (12 years & under), $10- $20. Sunday: Adult, $50- $62; Junior (12 years & under), $10- $20.

***

NHRA FULL THROTTLE DRAG RACING SERIES POINT STANDINGS

GLENDORA, Calif. -- Point standings (top 10) following the fourth of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel

1. Del Worsham, 389; 2. Larry Dixon, 312; 3. Antron Brown, 309; 4. Tony Schumacher, 272; 5. Spencer Massey, 262; 6. Shawn Langdon, 244; 7. Doug Kalitta, 216; 8. Morgan Lucas, 210; 9. Brandon Bernstein, 202; 10. Steve Torrence, 171.

Funny Car

1. Robert Hight, 349; 2. Mike Neff, 300; 3. Jack Beckman, 289; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 283; 5. Matt Hagan, 241; 6. Johnny Gray, 224; 7. John Force, 217; 8. Bob Tasca III, 212; 9. Ron Capps, 190; 10. Jeff Arend, 187.

Pro Stock

1. Greg Anderson, 336; 2. Jason Line, 333; 3. Greg Stanfield, 317; 4. Mike Edwards, 264; 5. Vincent Nobile, 253; 6. Erica Enders, 221; 7. Ron Krisher, 220; 8. Rodger Brogdon, 210; 9. Allen Johnson, 182; 10. Shane Gray, 166.

Pro Stock Motorcycle

1. Eddie Krawiec, 124; 2. Hector Arana, 104; 3. Karen Stoffer, 100; 4. LE Tonglet, 74; 5. Andrew Hines, 62; 6. Matt Smith, 54; 7. (tie) Shawn Gann, 53; Gerald Savoie, 53; 9. (tie) Mike Berry, 32, David Hope, 32, Angie Smith, 32, Jim Underdahl, 32, Joe DeSantis, 32.

-source: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Mike Berry , Kurt Busch , Cruz Pedregon , Greg Stanfield , Jack Beckman , Karen Stoffer , Ashley Force , Brandon Bernstein , Allen Johnson , Johnny Gray , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Rodger Brogdon , Michael Phillips , Jeff Arend , Joe DeSantis , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly , Bob Tasca III , Matt Smith , Eddie Krawiec , Mike Edwards , Angie Smith , David Hope , LE Tonglet , Shawn Langdon , Vincent Nobile , Jim Underdahl , Mike Neff , Spencer Massey
Tags full throttle, funny car, pro stock, spring nationals. enders, top fuel, worsham