There is a new car and a new team, but the one thing that didn’t change for Erica Enders-Stevens heading into the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season was the belief in herself.
That mental fortitude and strong performance of her Elite Motorsports Pro Stock team has formed a lethal duo and led to a blazing start to the season. Enders-Stevens has posted one win, two final-round appearances, and a victory in the K&N Horsepower Challenge and takes the points lead into her home event, this weekend’s 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway.
All in all, Enders-Stevens could not have asked for a better start to a season that has her thinking world championship.
“There are so many variables in getting the car down the racetrack, but in my opinion, it’s the 6 inches between your ears that’s most important,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s all in your head and having a positive outlook, having faith in your team, and having confidence in yourself. We’re having a successful run at the moment, and we hope to carry it as long as we can.”
Bob Vandergriff Jr. (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were winners of last year’s event at one of the circuit’s quickest and fastest tracks. The event, the sixth of 24 during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, will once again be televised on ESPN2.
All eyes at Royal Purple Raceway will also be on Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock, Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force in Funny Car, and Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, as the landmark 100th win by a professional female driver will be within reach in Houston. Female drivers currently have 98 NHRA victories, and Enders-Stevens can bring the total one closer to the magical mark with an impressive performance in Houston.
It would also mark Enders-Stevens’ eighth career victory and first at her home track. She has been fortunate enough to be a part of historic achievements before, becoming the first female winner in Pro Stock history, and has learned to handle the spotlight that comes along with it. That spotlight grows larger at her home track, but Enders-Stevens remains focused on the task at hand.
“Racing in front of your home fans is fun, and that makes it great, but there can be a lot of distractions and you have to learn how to handle it,” Enders-Stevens said. “I think I’ve learned to do that. It should be a really good weekend. Hopefully, there’s some on-track success that keeps them happy all weekend.”
There has been plenty of success at recent events for Enders-Stevens. Led by the father-son crew chief duo of Rick Jones and Rickie Jones, she has advanced to the second round or further at all five events to start the year. After a runner-up finish in Gainesville, Enders-Stevens had her memorable double-up winning weekend in Las Vegas before advancing to the final foursome at the recent NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte.
Enders-Stevens might not have predicted this kind of success to open the year, but she was confident in what her team was capable of doing from the outset.
“Things came together right away, and we jelled from the start,” Enders-Stevens said. “I was very optimistic about what we could do, and we’ve been fortunate to piece together some really good weeks. As an athlete, you have to believe in what you’re doing, and I certainly believed in this team from the start. It’s been very satisfying.”
But Enders-Stevens is far from content and knows she can’t let up against a loaded and talented Pro Stock class. Defending event winner Line won the season-opening race in Pomona, and reigning season champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. has four wins at Royal Purple Raceway. Other marquee challengers include Allen Johnson, two-time event winner Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha, Dave Connolly, Shane Gray, Greg Anderson, and V. Gaines.
“In my time, it has always been a very competitive class, but I believe this year is the toughest yet,” Enders-Stevens said. “There are a lot of drivers capable of winning a championship, and it’s going to be a battle to the end. Qualifying is very crucial, and keeping lane choice is huge.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers because 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.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, April 25, with sessions at 4 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 26, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 28. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, April 25, at 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 26, at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 9:45 a.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.royalpurpleraceway.com or call Royal Purple Raceway at (281) 383-RACE (7223). Tickets for children 13 and younger are free in reserved sections on the spectator side with paid adult tickets.