To date, there have been 98 NHRA Professional-class wins in the history of the sport by women, dating back to Shirley Muldowney's first win in Top Fuel June 13, 1976, in Columbus. Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car and Erica Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock, who are not only following in the footsteps of Muldowney but also blazing new paths on their own, took part in an NHRA teleconference in advance of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals as the sport approaches the milestone of 100 wins by a female racer.
Erica Enders-Stevens has continued to rewrite history books so far this season. In Las Vegas, she became the first woman to win the K&N Horsepower Challenge then went on to double-up and take home the national event, which was her first of the season in her second consecutive final round. In Gainesville, she also set the national speed record at 214.69 mph and also currently holds the Pro Stock points lead for the first time in her career.
Q: Erica, can you talk about the female aspect of it. Look at Shirley Muldowney, what she accomplished as one of the main pioneers. This success, would any of that be happening without her and what she first did back in the '70s?
Enders-Stevens: In my opinion, no. I mean, Shirley certainly paved the way for all of the females who have followed in her footsteps. She is certainly a hero of mine, a legend in our sport. She's an idol; she's awesome. I looked up to her and to Angelle (Sampey) and Shelly Anderson Payne. Those were my heroes when I was a little kid going to the racetrack. My dad drove in the Sportsman classes. I'd run around and get autographs. Those are my three favorite women, and I'm sure I stood at the back of their pits more than they wanted to see me. She's had a huge hand in us being able to accomplish the things we do now.
Q. Is there competition between you and your fellow female drivers to see who is going to record the 100th female win in NHRA?
Enders-Stevens: I didn't know we were actually so close to 100 until Vegas when Lewis Bloom, the stat guy from ESPN, informed me of that, and NHRA did some stuff with social media this week. It would be a huge honor to be the 100th, but I'm friends with Courtney (Force), Alexis (DeJoria), and Brittany (Force). We're all working towards the same goal. It was awesome to share the first double women's winner's circle with Courtney in Seattle in 2012 and then again last week with Alexis in Vegas. So I think we're all rooting for each other, but of course, we all secretly want to get that 100th win for ourselves and our team. We'll see how it goes. I'm excited about it.
Q: Erica, your dad raced in the sport so you've been around it a long time. Why have we seen the success of female racers in the NHRA, where maybe other forms of motorsports you haven't seen people breaking through as we have in this series?
Enders-Stevens: I think NHRA provides a great platform for girls, for any driver, to come in even as a spectator, like me growing up at the racetrack watching my dad drive. But all the different levels that are raced at every national event, you know, when you go there, you get to see the Jr. Dragsters make exhibition runs, all of the Sportsman classes that the drivers step through to get to the Professional ranks are all at the same facility. I think it gives us a great platform to take those steps to get to where we need to be. Of course, it's all based on opportunity. Some of it's luck, being at the right place at the right time. It's also years and years of hard work, trying to go out there and piece the sponsorship together, find a way to their dream, like my deal. I've always wanted to race Pro Stock. Nine years in Jr. Dragsters, five years in Super Comp, Super Gas, getting my license in Alcohol Funny Car, then trying to make this Pro Stock deal work for the last 10 years; I've dedicated my whole life to get to this point. I know a lot of other racers and females alike have done the same thing. NHRA is just the best form of motorsports in the world.
Alexis DeJoria has raced to her second win of the early season when she defeated Robert Hight at the finals in the most recent event in Las Vegas. It was the second time she has raced Hight in the finals and has a 2-0 final-round appearance record against the 2009 Funny Car world champion. With the win, she became the 10th woman in NHRA to win more than two races in her career. This year she also ran her career best time of 3.997 seconds, which also marked the first woman to go under four seconds.
Q: Alexis, Erica alluded to we're on the verge of 100 wins by a woman in the NHRA. We talked about Shirley Muldowney, her paving the way. Do you think any of this would have been possible without Shirley and what she was able to accomplish when she was starting out in the late '70s?
DeJoria: I mean, it's possible, but she's the first person I think we all kind of look to because she was the pioneer. She's the one who busted those doors down and did it in a very strong manner. I think all forms of motorsports have been integrated with women, but NHRA definitely takes the cake on that one.
Q. Funny Cars, the best way to define them to a fan, they're really beasts, have to be manhandled, especially at 300 mph. We have you winning half the races this year. We have Courtney out there who is competitive also. Talk a little bit about that, what that means. You have to go against all these experienced drivers.
DeJoria: We talk about manhandling these cars, but obviously, I think if you just work on your upper body strength, like Courtney and I obviously have to do to handle these things, but generally it doesn't really matter. If a cylinder goes out, you'll see some of the best, strongest guys go right into the wall. So sometimes you can get a handle on it, and other times it's just not your day, but I've been lucky pretty much throughout these last few seasons. I haven't really crossed over the centerline. I had an incident with the wall in Phoenix two years ago, but that was kind of inevitable; even my old crew chief said the same thing. He said, "When you smoke the tires and drop a cylinder, you're going in the wall; I don't care who you are." He said, "I did the same thing one year in that same lane. You do your best out there." I had my hands full in Vegas with those side winds. It was pretty intense, especially when the parachutes open. You really got to be on your toes, but we've been doing a pretty good job. They've set up my car so it handles very well. We've been front halving it. Six months they've been working on that. It's handling much, much better.
Q. One thing that makes you different from the other women who are currently racing is that you're also a mother. You're not only a role model to other little girls who want to do this but to your own daughter. What is it that you're hoping to teach her and the other little girls?
DeJoria: Actually, Shirley Muldowney was a mother, too, when she started racing Professionally. I think Shelly Payne is a mother. I think coming from that standpoint you want the best for your child, but at the same time, I would never push her into drag racing just because it's what I do. I would want her to find her own passion in life. As long as she's not hurting herself or other people, I would definitely support it, of course. But honestly being one of the few females in a male-dominated sport, I feel it's very important to teach young women that anything is possible. Just stay focused, don't give up, and don't let the little things get to you.
Q: What would it mean to you to get that 100th victory?
DeJoria: Oh, gosh, it would be a wonderful accomplishment. It would be great to go in the history books for something like that, for sure. If Erica gets it, I would be very happy for her. Same with Courtney, Brittany. I think we do support each other, but at the same time, like Erica said, we are racers at heart and very competitive. So we would love to get that for ourselves. If it goes to one of the other ones, I'd definitely be supporting that.
Courtney Force also continues to be one of the top competitors in the Funny Car category. She raced to a semifinal finish in Gainesville, qualified on the top half of the field at two of the events and was the No. 1 qualifier in Las Vegas for the fourth time in her career.
Q: Courtney, we've kind of talked about the women in racing, where they stack up, the history of that, looking at Shirley Muldowney, Angelle, some of the others. With what's going on now, would any of that be possible but for what Shirley and Angelle were able to accomplish through the years?
Force: As a female in the sport, we all look to Shirley Muldowney, Angelle. I got to take a look at that long list of wins by a female. It's pretty astounding. I mean, it is pretty amazing, but like I said before, Shirley really was the one that kind of paved the way for all the females in this male-dominated sport. She accomplished so much during the time she was racing; it's something that we all kind of look at as a female driver. You kind of strive to be, so to be a part of that list of one of the, I guess, 98 right now females to accomplish getting a win, it's pretty cool. But, yeah, who knows if it would be possible or not. She really did pave the way for all of us. We all thank her for that. It's pretty amazing. If you really take a step back and look at it, look at all the other sports like baseball and football and basketball — basketball especially — they have men's basketball, and they have women's basketball. In NHRA Drag Racing, we all get to come together and compete in a sport as an equal. I think it's pretty amazing that I get to be a part of a sport that's like that.
Q. You mentioned football, baseball, but what about reporting where males dominate that area, too? What do you think about a female moving up and becoming a great analyst for a sport like NHRA?
Force: I don't see any reason why they couldn't. If you're passionate enough about something, like for me, this is my past; I grew up around it, I know not everything, but I know a lot about the sport. I've learned a lot from my dad, watching him, learning from him. He's taught me the ins-and-outs of driving one of these cars. I live it every day of my life.
If there's an analyst, why couldn't it be a female? I think it's a little ridiculous to think they couldn't be.
Q: What would it mean for you to get that 100th victory?
Force: It would be huge. As a female in a male-dominated sport, it's funny that people can actually come up to you and be, "Oh, there are females that race in the sport?" You're competing against mainly guys. It seems surreal to them. Then they look at you, "Oh, man, I can't believe this girl won." You want to show them the sheet of paper and go, "We've been winning for a very long time starting with Shirley Muldowney, a bunch of other females." It's not just one, and it wasn't just in one class. It's pretty cool to see my sister Ashley's name on that list, to see my name on that list. But, man, to get the 100th win for women, it would be amazing. I mean, definitely going to be my goal at this point. If I had a picture-perfect world, honestly, it would be me getting 99 and Brittany getting 100 all in this weekend. Obviously, Top Fuel runs after us. That would be a picture-perfect world. I definitely hope Brittany gets on that list, too. To get the 100th, it goes down in the history books. Your name is not going to be coming off that list. It would really be a proud moment if you can have your name next to 100.