Erica Enders-Stevens took part in a national NHRA media teleconference in advance of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to discuss her season to date and the upcoming event.
Enders-Stevens led the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock points for the majority of the season, but she'll head to Indianapolis where she'll be looking to reclaim her No. 1 spot back before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin. After an untimely second-round upset in Brainerd, she lost the points series lead, unofficially, to Jason Line.
Q: You have had a strong season. You come into Indy knowing that after completion of the Brainerd race you'll lose that No. 1 spot. What's your mind-set coming into that event?
Enders-Stevens: My mind-set is going to be the same as it has been all year. I'm extremely blessed to be in the position I am in, with a great team at Elite Motorsports standing behind me. But it's been a dream season up to this point, and we're hopeful to carry that momentum and that confidence through the end of the year, and I'm very optimistic about what's to come.
Q: Did you and your team diagnose what happened in Brainerd?
Enders-Stevens: Yes, we immediately found our problem. It was a parts failure, and we threw it in the trash, and we're heading to St. Louis early next week to test prior to the U.S. Nationals, so everything will be fine and back to normal. It's just one of those fluke deals that happens occasionally. We've been fortunate enough to not encounter things like that very much this season. So I guess every once in a while it's everybody's turn to go through that, and it just so happened at Brainerd it was our turn.
It was unfortunate. It certainly wasn't the comeback we were hoping for after taking those two races off in Sonoma and Seattle to get our engine program up to speed as we're bringing on two team cars starting in Indy in addition to our team driven by my husband, Richie Stevens, and Shane Tucker is returning from Australia as well. So just one of those deals. But we figured the problem out, and we'll be ready to go in Indy.
Q: How do you look at Indy and how do you look at the Countdown? Indy has such an aura, but perhaps the Countdown has a little bit more for you?
Enders-Stevens: Yeah, absolutely. It's how we finish the season that's going to be important. Indy obviously is the most prestigious race of the year — the Super Bowl of drag racing — so I'm very hopeful to go out there and just have a really great weekend and get our No. 1 spot back from Jason Line to go into that No. 1 seed into the Countdown into Charlotte. I don't believe any woman in a Professional category has ever gone in in the No. 1 position so far. It's certainly at the top of our list of goals, but it's not detrimental if it doesn't happen, by any means. We'll just have to start out swinging in Charlotte as hard as we can and go from there and remain positive and continue to have fun as a team. And like I said before, I'm very optimistic of what we'll be able to accomplish.
Enders-Stevens and team owner Richard Freeman
Q: What does it mean to you to know that you are on the last step to what could be an extremely historical moment, not just in drag racing but in all forms of racing throughout the world?
Enders-Stevens: You know, it's really surreal to be in the position that we're in. But even if we aren't able to finish like we hope we can, it's been an extremely awesome season, and I'm blessed to be in the position I am to drive for [team owner] Richard Freeman and Elite Motorsports, but, too, we've led the points for, I guess, 13 or 14 races of the year, almost the entire season, and we have four wins. We own both ends of the world record, e.t. and speed-wise. We won the K&N Challenge. So our accomplishments this year have just been awesome. It's a very surreal position to be in, and I know that we'll finish strong. I know that everything's going to be fine, and I'm very excited about the end of the year. It's hard to believe that we're already approaching the Countdown as it's gone by extremely fast, but I'm looking forward to it.
Q: Entering the U.S. Nationals, what is it, if you even can name it, about that one facility that just gets everybody excited, every driver so excited about being there and having a chance to win?
Enders-Stevens: It's just got so much history and the legends that have raced there in the past. As a kid, I grew up watching all of these people that I looked up to, Shirley Muldowney and Bob Glidden and the ones after them, and it's just been one of those races and one of those facilities that's so awesome and holds so much history. NHRA held the first Jr. Drag Racing League National Championship there in 1994; I was part of that. We were runner-up at that race in the 8-9-year-old category and just holds a lot of really special memories there for me. In 2001, we got down to three cars out of 174 in Super Comp, and then in 2012, we were runner-up in Pro Stock as well. So I feel like I've got a lot of unfinished business there, and I'm hopeful we can get it done this year. But just an awesome facility and it gives you goose bumps when you walk in the gate there. It's one of those deals that's hard to explain unless you've been there and experienced it yourself.
Q: Is there that little bit of added pressure or do you kind of get hyped up knowing that it will be a Chevy car during the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals?
Enders-Stevens: I guess so. We certainly want to do well there for our time and for GM and Chevy Performance. But it's just a prestigious race, and I don't try to put any more weight on one race than another. They're all as equally important. Every one is worth the same amount of points, but the U.S. Nationals is just one of those ones that would just be an added bonus to be able to put a "W" in the win column for our team. But very excited to go back.
Q: Have you looked at other classes like Pro Mod and any options besides Pro Stock for your career?
Enders-Stevens: My heart and soul is in Pro Stock. I'm heavily invested; I really enjoy the challenge of driving a Pro Stock car. I love that all the pressure's on the driver's shoulder. Yes, you have to have horsepower and a really tremendous crew chief, but the cars are hard to drive, and I just love that challenge of it. I mean, I've driven a nitrous Pro Mod car and driven an Alcohol Funny Car, Top Dragster, Super Comp, Super Gas; I've driven a lot of different classes, and I just absolutely love Pro Stock. So I'm a partner with Richard Freeman in this deal, and I feel confident that this is probably where I'll finish my career. I mean, given the attitude, I'll probably drive anything, but I absolutely love Pro Stock.
Q: With your dominating performance from Elite Motorsports in the horsepower part, how much will heat and humidity come against you at the U.S. Nationals?
Enders-Stevens: Being that Pro Stock is naturally aspirated, they like cool, dry weather. They run better in those conditions. The past few years at Indy has been kind of a roller coaster as far as weather is concerned. One hundred degrees one day and the next day a storm came through and we're racing in 50- and 60-degree temperatures. You never really know what to expect in the Midwest, but I'm excited to go back. And I've never had crew chiefs like I have right now. [Crew chiefs] Rick and Ricky Jones are just brilliant and very methodical and analytical, and I'm really proud to be teamed up with them this year, and I have all the confidence in the world we'll be just fine in Indy. And no matter what Mother Nature gives us, I'll be excited to drive and I know that they'll do a great job for us.