Erica Enders-Stevens enters the first race of her Pro Stock career with the “No. 1” on the side of her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.
POMONA, Calif. — Erica Enders-Stevens put together a history-making 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, finishing off her banner year by becoming the first female Pro Stock champion in NHRA history.
With the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals approaching at historic Auto Club Raceway, Feb. 5-8 at Pomona, it might be hard for Enders-Stevens not to look back and re-live all of the magical moments that made up her thrilling 2014 championship season.
But it also serves as motivation as she enters the first race of her Pro Stock career with the “No. 1” on the side of her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.
"We're the defending world champions, and it's a pretty awesome place to be,” Stevens said. “I guess it really hasn't completely sunk in because some days it'll just cross my mind, and I can't believe it. It's pretty cool. I've never been in that situation before, and we're really excited and honored to carry the No. 1 this year. It'll be a memorable year, and we're going to go to Pomona and give it our all and hopefully carry No. 1 into 2016 also. That's everyone's goal."
I haven't gotten unfocused, what we accomplished last year doesn't change anything ever. It's a great accomplishment and really cool, but you can go from hero to zero really quick, week-in and week-out.
Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the race that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2.
For Enders-Stevens, she returns to the scene of where the Pro Stock championship was decided in unbelievable fashion. With the world title on the line in the final round of the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Enders-Stevens defeated Jason Line to cap off the most impressive season of her career.
It was the sixth win of her 2014 season and all of the emotions of that exciting final round will surely come back to Enders-Stevens when she arrives back in Pomona. But as a productive off-season proved, she will have no problem getting back to work.
"I haven't gotten unfocused,” Stevens said. “What we accomplished last year doesn't change anything ever. It's a great accomplishment and really cool, but you can go from hero to zero really quick, week-in and week-out. I learned that a long time ago. We've got our work cut out for us, and we're going to swing for the fences just like we did last year.”
That method couldn’t have worked any better when Enders-Stevens stayed atop the points standings for most of the season in a loaded Pro Stock class. She claimed six No. 1 qualifiers and won four times during the regular season.
But Enders-Stevens, who now has 12 career wins with all of them coming in the last three seasons, showed championship moxie in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. She won the final two events of the season, posting clutch performances in Las Vegas and Pomona. As impressive as Enders-Stevens was, she also credited her hard-working team, which is led by crew chiefs Rick Jones and Rickie Jones.
"It's a very unique environment here just because of the people who are involved,” Enders-Stevens said. “It's the same core group this year, and we added two-time world champ [crew chief] Mark Ingersoll to our program, and it's going to be great."
Enders-Stevens will again face massive challenges in the Pro Stock class coming from the likes of Allen Johnson, Shane Gray, Jonathan Gray, Vincent Nobile, Greg Anderson and Line. But major challenges are nothing new for Enders-Stevens, who is embracing the latest one heading into the 2015 season.
"We know the target is on our back, for sure, but to be honest, it's been on our back,” Stevens said. “I don't know if anything's changed. Last year, we had a very dominant car, and when some people would race us, they'd swing for the fences – both performance-wise and from the driver's seat.
"I don't think anything will change from our angle. We're going to stay focused on racing our car and our lane."
The star-studded Top Fuel class is led by reigning world champion Tony Schumacher, who claimed his eighth world championship in 2014. Former world champions Antron Brown, Larry Dixon and Shawn Langdon as well as top challengers J.R. Todd, Spencer Massey, Doug Kalitta, class newcomer Dave Connolly and 2014 NHRA rookie of the year Richie Crampton will aim to prevent a ninth world title for Schumacher. Last season’s Top Fuel winner, alBalooshi, is reportedly planning a return to NHRA Pro Mod competition, where he is a past world champion.
In Funny Car, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan claimed his second world championship at the season-ending race last season, dethroning 16-time world champion John Force in Pomona. Hagan, who won his first championship in 2011, will try to thwart off a list of perennial stars in the loaded class, including John Force, Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham and Tim Wilkerson.
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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Feb. 6, with sessions at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Feb. 7, at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 8.