Pro Stock driver has shown success at Charlotte.
Erica Enders-Stevens has put together a list of strong showings during the annual NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. This year the Pro Stock star is hopeful that a return trip to the state-of-the-art Charlotte dragstrip yields just as much success.
Enders-Stevens has made it to the final foursome each of the past three seasons at the Four-Wide Nationals, but her efforts at the kickoff to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship hasn’t been quite as productive over the years at zMAX Dragway.
Sitting in second place in the points standings, Enders-Stevens knows she needs to reverse that trend and start the Countdown in strong fashion at this weekend’s seventh annual Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals.
"It is crucial to start off on the right foot in Charlotte,” said Enders-Stevens, who hasn’t advanced past the semifinals at the fall playoff race in Charlotte. “The last couple of years, we've not exactly started the Countdown off well, but I'm hopeful we can this year. We're only 30 points behind first, so that's a round-and-a-half that we've got to make up. We've got our work cut out for us. We've got to be consistent; we've got to not make mistakes."
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals, a race that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. The race is the first of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Enders-Stevens has plenty of positives to take into zMAX Dragway, which could be beneficial in trying to put together her best showing to start the NHRA playoffs. She was the Pro Stock points leader for much of the season in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, winning four races and advancing to five final rounds.
Line leads the class
She trails Pro Stock top seed Jason Line by 30 points heading into the most crucial point of the season and feels confident starting the Countdown in the best position of her career.
"I'm proud of where we are right now, and I'm hopeful that we can move up the ladder,” Enders-Stevens said. “Being a competitive, goal-oriented person, I can only hope we can continue to progress and do better as the Countdown goes on."
Solving zMAX Dragway during the Countdown has been a difficult animal for Enders-Stevens to conquer, but her talented team, led by crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, has worked hard to have her Camaro primed for a strong start.
Enders-Stevens raced well at the Four-Wide Nationals in April, qualifying second and advancing to the final round. That comes on the heels of finishing as the runner-up in both 2013 and 2012 at the one-of-a-kind event at zMAX Dragway. The next step is getting that success to carry over in September.
"I thoroughly enjoy racing at zMAX,” Enders-Stevens said. “We've had a lot of success there, getting to the finals three times since 2012. The track's been good to me, and I'm hopeful we can go that one extra step. It is an awesome facility and (owner) Bruton Smith's done a tremendous job with it. I'm excited to go back."
Along with trying to get past Line, Enders-Stevens will also have to contend with a championship lineup in Pro Stock that includes reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin, 2012 champ Allen Johnson, recent Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Dave Connolly, V Gaines and Chris McGaha.
It certainly makes for a stout Countdown lineup, but that won’t faze Enders-Stevens, who will enter the final stretch of the season as prepared as she has ever been.
"I certainly feel like this year has been more competitive than any,” Enders-Stevens said. “There are a lot of great teams out there, and we've got our work cut out for us. Having said that, I'm optimistic about what's to come. This is where it all starts to matter. Teams are starting to perform better, and everyone is bringing out what they've worked on all year for the Countdown. We've got to stay focused and keep working hard together."
In Top Fuel, Kalitta's consistency could be a factor
In Top Fuel, nobody has been more consistent than Doug Kalitta, who has advanced to nine final rounds during a banner 2014 season and is the current points leader. Big challenges at zMAX Dragway will come from Antron Brown, who won at Charlotte in 2011, defending world champion Shawn Langdon, who won the Countdown-opening event in 2012, Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey, Richie Crampton, who won the recent Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Khalid alBalooshi, Brittany Force, J.R. Todd and Steve Torrence.
In Funny Car, Hight took home the victory last season and will enter Charlotte ready for a run at a second world championship. He will have to get past teammate, reigning world champion and current points leader John Force, who has advanced to six consecutive final rounds. The list of championship talent reads long and includes Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria, who has three wins in 2014 including the recent U.S. Nationals, Tommy Johnson Jr., Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon.
Hines, the class of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field in 2014, is after his third straight win at the Countdown-opening event. Hines’ teammate Eddie Krawiec is second in points and won the event in 2011, and also comes off his first victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Other standouts in the two-wheeled category include Hector Arana, Hector Arana Jr., reigning world champ Matt Smith, 2008 Charlotte winner Steve Johnson, Angie Smith, John Hall, Michael Ray and Scotty Pollacheck.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Sept. 12, with sessions at 12:45 and 3 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Sept. 13, at 1 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, Sept. 14.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call zMAX Dragway at (800) 455-FANS or visit www.zmaxdragway.com. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.