Erica Enders is just 21 years old. She's still in college and has her entire life and career ahead of her. Her career of choice? Racing. The Houston native just started her NHRA Pro Stock rookie season and has three national events on her resume.
Erica Enders is just 21 years old. She's still in college and has her entire life and career ahead of her. Her career of choice? Racing. The Houston native just started her NHRA Pro Stock rookie season and has three national events on her resume. What's next? Her home track, Houston Raceway Park. Erica and the rest of the NHRA POWERade series will be racing in the 18th O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, April 8-10. It won't be the first time she will be racing at HRP, but it will be the first time she will be racing there as a pro. This homecoming event has been in the making for years. Erica read an article when she was eight years old and has since been in love with racing. That article was published in National DRAGSTER and it talked about the upcoming debut of the Jr. Dragster league. Erica was immediately interested. Her father, Gregg, had been racing in sportsman classes and decided to stop racing and let Erica have a turn at the wheel. Now, all these years later, Erica is a rookie driving the Cagnazzi Racing Chevy Cavalier Pro Stock entry. In this Q&A, Erica talks about coming home, how racing has exceeded her expectations and the most difficult thing about Pro Stock.
Q: What do you think about Pro Stock racing after the first three races of the season?
ENDERS: It's tough. It's a blast and a dream come true for me but it's tough. We've learned that there are no guarantees and as much as I tried to prepare myself, the competition is a lot tougher than I though. No disrespect to the other teams and drivers, I knew it was going to be difficult to qualify and compete, I just didn't know it was going to be this competitive. We have all the keys to make this car qualify. We are all working real hard and we have a great car, crew and everything else it takes to be successful. We're a new team and we're getting better every week.
Q: What has exceeded your expectations?
ENDERS: I didn't expect the driving part to be so difficult. I expected it would be tough, but nothing that I have driven in the past comes close to Pro Stock driving and how hard it really is on your body. It's a blast and I love the rush I get every pass and every time I drop the clutch. I work out almost every day that I am home, trying to work on my strength and it still takes everything I've got to make each pass.
Q: You're a junior marketing major at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas but are taking a semester off to get used to racing as a professional full-time. What's the best part about your new full-time job?
ENDERS: The best part about the new job is that I get to do what I have always wanted to do. It's crazy to think that I get to do this for a living considering this is always what I have done for fun. There are some months that we race three weeks out of four and it's a tough road schedule. But we also have some free time like March, when we have just one race. It's demanding when we are on the road, but there is also a little downtime that allows you to prepare for each race and that's great to have that break.
Q: What has been the toughest part about adjusting to your new job?
ENDERS: The travel has been tough. I have been living out of suitcase because I have been on the road constantly since the offseason. The most annoying part is the airport, having to arrive so early and getting to and from each event. It takes a lot of time to get around and we're gone all the time.
Q: The team qualified in Phoenix, but posted a DNQ at Pomona and Gainesville. How has the team dealt with two DNQs considering you have such high expectations?
ENDERS: Everybody has remained very positive. (Team owner) Victor Cagnazzi is very awesome about everything and he's writing all the checks and if he can stay positive, everyone can. It is still a huge disappointment for the entire team because we worked so hard during the offseason, preparing for the regular season. Every team out here wants to be on top and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication and this Cagnazzi team doesn't lack in those two areas. Everyone is coming together and staying positive and that's the coolest thing about our group. When someone does make a mistake there isn't any finger pointing or blame. We know we'll do better next time. We have team dinners every night and we work together and hang out together. It's a great group of people.
Q: Why does this group work so well together?
ENDERS: Because they put the team first, it's not a selfish thing. No one on this team is trying to promote himself or herself or show off what they can do. We are just a group of people focused on one goal and that's winning. Everyone is doing their part and helps everyone else. It's how we work and why we work well together.
Q: What changes have been made for this car and team to be more competitive?
ENDERS: We've done some testing and some more dyno work along with data comparison and I think all of that is going to help. The time off between Gainesville and Houston has been a huge help for us. We've made trips to the wind tunnel and there has been a lot of work going on in the shop. Everybody is up early and is going to bed late to make sure we're ready for Houston.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about racing at Houston Raceway Park for the first time as a pro?
ENDERS: It will be neat to be the hometown girl. When Tony (Schumacher, Top Fuel) races at his home track in Chicago, everyone makes it a big deal. All of my friends and family will be out there and they will see me race in Pro Stock for the first time. It's exciting because everybody that I care about will be there and I think it will help us perform better because it will put a little added pressure on us. Pressure is a great thing. I know I perform better with more pressure. It drives me to do better.
Q: What do you want to accomplish this season?
ENDERS: I want a top five finish. That is going to take a lot better performances than we've had so far, but over the past two weeks the guys have found some more horsepower and I think we'll be in a position to compete. That's exciting and hopefully this is going to be the start of the season for us. Last year with Steve Johns in the car they had three DNQs and still finished eighth in the points. I think we're capable of being in the field the rest of the season and if we can do that, we have a real shot at finishing in the top five. We have 20 races left, so we'll see what happens.
Q: What are your career goals?
ENDERS: I want to be a driver for as long as I can. I don't want to get out of the car until they tell me I stink and I'm too old to driver anymore. I think someone will have to kick me out of the car. I'm definitely blessed to be able to be a driver and hopefully I will be lucky enough to win a championship or maybe more than one during my career. I just want to drive. I love it so much and it's everything to me. I hope to do it for a long time and I want to stick with Pro Stock.
Q: What's it like being the only female driver in Pro Stock?
ENDERS: It has been a big deal to the media and NHRA because of how few woman have done it before and hopefully I can get that first No. 1 qualifying spot and the first win by a female in this category. But beyond that, it doesn't matter too much and it's really not a factor to me. It happens that I am a girl and that's great. You got to play the cards you're dealt but when it's time to race, everything is equal when you put the helmet on.
Q: How have the fans reacted to your first three rookie races?
ENDERS: The fans have been amazing. Whether or not we qualify, the pits are always packed and they are always at the T-shirt trailer and that makes me feel great about what we're doing. I've gotten out of the car a couple of times pretty upset and then I get to the pits and see all the people that want to say hello or get an autograph and that's awesome. I love the fans out here. They make the sport a lot of fun.