As if the lure of heads-up competition between stock appearing 170-mph Chevy, Dodge, and Ford modern muscle cars wasn’t enough, the upcoming School of Automotive Machinists and Technology and Factory Stock Showdown will have plenty of star power with the addition of NHRA Mello Yello Pros Leah Pritchett and Erica Enders. When qualifying begins for the special event on the first day of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, two-time Pro Stock world champion Enders will be racing her Omaha Track COPO Camaro while current Top Fuel championship contender Pritchett will be driving a Mopar-backed dodge Challenger Drag Pak entry. Enders and Pritchett are two of the more than 20 drivers expected to compete in the event, which highlights the latest automotive technology from the Detroit auto makers.
Enders debuted her COPO Camaro earlier this season and has been very competitive in each event. She is a teammate to engine builder Todd Patterson of Patterson/Elite Racing, who also races an Omaha Track COPO.
“We feel like we’ve made a lot of progress with this car this year but lately I’ve been so tied up with Pro Stock and the Western Swing that I haven’t devoted a lot of time to it,” said Enders. “That being said, the Elite guys took both of our cars to the [Lucas Oil Series event in] Topeka and ran them. They’ve been working on that program so just because I’ve been busy with Pro Stock, the work hasn’t stopped. I’m very optimistic. It’s a fun class and I want to do well.”
Although her Factory Stock COPO is nearly two seconds and more than 30-mph slower than her Elite Pro Stock Camaro, Enders is quick to point out that driving the COPO is not necessarily easy. Limited by rules to a nine-inch tire, the COPO demands a completely different driving technique and finesse is the name of the game.
“For one, the COPO is a footbrake car so you have to earn how to launch it properly,” said Enders. “You also have to be careful because it can spin the tires almost anywhere. In Norwalk, we qualified very well and blew the tires off it in the semifinals. It’s hard to believe but this car is even more temperamental than a Pro Stock car. I’d have never thought that you could get through low gear and then blow the tires off and get that car sideways but it has done that. I’m sure if we had more time to devote to htis we’d be doing a bit better but I’d have confidence that my crew and the guys at Patterson/Elite will provide a competitive car for Indy.”
The U.S. Nationals will mark the first Factory Stock Showdown race for Pritchett, who has four Top Fuel victories this season in her Papa John’s dragster. Pritchett has gotten some valuable seat time this season in a Drag Pak Challenger as part of her “Beauty vs. the Beast” promotion along with Papa John’s founder John Schnatter. At select events, Pritchett races her Challenger against Schnatter’s prized gold ’70 Camaro.
“I think I’m starting to get a feel for this car,” she said. “It certainly isn’t as fast as a Top Fuel dragster but it’s a very different car to drive. It does big wheelstands and with a small [nine-inch] tire, you have to be very careful in the way you drive it.”
For Pritchett, there is no doubt that she takes the SAM Tech Showdown seriously. Juggling her already hectic race week schedule, she’s willing to shuffle or even postpone personal appearances to make sure she has a chance to make all the necessary qualifying and elimination runs in her Mopar-backed Challenger Drag Pak entry.
“I want to do whatever I can to make this car competitive and to give us the best chance of winning,” Pritchett said. “On Wednesday, we start our qualifying runs but that’s also the day that we have the Fan Fest [in downtown Indianapolis] and we draw for the Traxxas Shootout. I’m trying to figure out how to make it work. I might have to borrow Papa John’s helicopter for the day.”
Enders and Pritchett both expect to be competitive in the special event, but they also understand that the competition level continues to improve with each passing event. The Indy field is expected attract more than 25 entries for a 16-car field including David Barton and Chuck Watson, who are tied for the lead in the Factory Stock standings.. Other favorites include 19-year old Pete Gasko Jr., the winner of the Charlotte race, Mopar racer Geoff Turk, Kevin Skinner, and Ryan Herem, who is driving a COPO Camaro owned by two-time Comp national champ and Fox Sports television commentator Bruno Massel.
Qualifying for the School of Automotive Machinists and Technology Factory Stock Showdown will begin on Wednesday, August 30. The field of 16 drivers will be set during class eliminations on August 31. The first round of eliminations is scheduled for Sunday, September 3 with the final round set to run with the rest of the pro and sportsman finals on Monday afternoon, Sept. 4.
For a complete list of SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown competitors, click here.
SAM TECH FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN TIPSTER
|David Barton||Wolkwitz Racing COPO Camaro||3-1|
|Hasn’t forgotten about the bitter disappointment of losing last year’s final round. Determined to make amends.|
|Chuck Watson||Watson Racing Cobra Jet Mustang||4-1|
|Still riding high after his impressive victory in Norwalk a couple of months ago. Car should be even quicker this time around. Tied with Barton for series points lead.|
|Kevin Skinner||Columbus Joint & Clutch Cobra Jet Mustang||5-1|
|Struggled a bit to get up to speed with his new Cobra Jet Mustang, but he did manage to reach the final round in Norwalk. He’s also one of the class’ better drivers.|
|Peter Gasko Jr.||Gasko Racing COPO Camaro||6-1|
|Remember that this is the guy who destroyed the field in Charlotte with his Barton-powered COPO entry. Also remember that he’s just 19-years old.|
|Erica Enders||Omaha Track COPO Camaro||8-1|
|Two-time Mello Yello Pro Stock world champ is serious about getting a win in the Factory Stock class. This car is very quick, albeit a bit inconsistent.|
|Ryan Herem||Autogeek.net COPO Camaro||9-1|
|Powerful team here with two-time Comp champ Bruno Massel as an owner and veteran Pro Stock crew member Adam Drzayich turning wrenches. Herem is also a solid wheelman.|
|L. Scott Libersher||COPO Parts Direct COPO Camaro||12-1|
|New 2017 model COPO that has already put up impressive numbers. Also won the recent NMCA Factory Supercar event at Route 66 Raceway.|
|Geoff Turk||Blackbird Challenger Drag Pak||16-1|
|So far, he’s been the leader of the Mopar brigade but he’s looking for much more. Has been a solid qualifier at the Factory Stock events.|