After a frustrating 2016 season that didn’t produce a victory, Erica Enders started to show the form earlier this year that helped lead to back-to-back Pro Stock world championships. But it wasn’t until two weekends ago in Epping that Enders finally broke through, ending a winless spell that dated back to 2015.
With that confidence fully restored and one win during the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season under her belt, Enders looks to keep that momentum rolling in her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. She’ll have that chance at this weekend’s 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, races she won during her 2014 and 2015 title seasons.
“It was a great win for us because it reminded everyone why we do this and that special feeling you get when you win,” Enders said. “It also was a great reward for the guys on this team that have persevered through the last year and a half. The guys that never complained, just worked harder. You can buy a lot of things in racing but you can't buy a team that is really a big family. That's what we have here. For me to hand that trophy over to the guys was very rewarding.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 18. It is the 11th of 24 events in the 2017 season, and it’s already a far different one than a year ago for Enders.
She’s currently sixth in points in a Pro Stock class loaded with talent, and she has two final round appearances, including the victory, in the last four races. That’s a sign of where this team can go, bringing back memories of dominant runs in 2014 and 2015, but Enders knows there are improvements to be made. The other results in this four-race span were both first-round losses, including last week in Englishtown, which means the team is by no means satisfied.
“We need to stay at the top,” said Enders, who has 22 career victories. “We have the car, the motors and the people to do it but you need consistency to stay at the top. We're still doing things, big things, to get better. We aren't aiming to catch up with the current leaders; we're looking at going way past them and leading the way with all four team cars.”
Enders is also chasing the likes of points leader Bo Butner, Greg Anderson and rookie Tanner Gray, who all have two victories this season. But winning at picturesque Bristol Dragway on Father’s Day weekend provided incredible moments for Enders that she hasn’t forgotten. Coupled with Bristol’s long and storied history, adding another victory and sharing it with her father is a big goal for Enders this weekend.
“My dad means everything to me and winning those two races on Father's Day weekend and being able to share that with him was awesome,” Enders said. “He's the reason I race. He's the reason I've been able to make a career out of this crazy world out here. The older I get, the more I realize the sacrifices he's made for me. (Bristol’s) such a special place. To have raced there, won there a couple times, and go in there twice with the No. 1 on our doors is really cool. It's a race you want to win as much as Indy, mainly because of all the legends that have won there.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 16 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 17, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 18.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult on Sunday. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.