How is it that there have been six different winners in ten Pro Stock races this season and Erica Enders is not one of them? Pose that question to the two-time champion and she instinctively shrugs her shoulders because even after 15-year as a full-time pro, she’s hard-pressed to come up with a suitable answer.
“I don’t know; I think it’s just a matter of luck mostly,” she offers. “I mean, I think my driving has been pretty good, and I’ve got a good car, and the best crew in the business. I don’t know. I think that, especially in the Pro Stock class, things run in a cycle. We had two great years in 2014 and 2015 and it’s been a struggle ever since. It’s like driving into and out of a valley. I want to think that we’ve been to the lowest part of the valley and now I’m ready for the upswing.”
Enders’ left foot certainly isn’t the culprit. She is once again Pro Stock’s reaction time leader, although a red-light start did cost her a potential win against Deric Kramer in the Chicago final. At the same time, three of her 12 rounds wins have come via a holeshot. Statistically, she’s as good as she’s ever been, but she acknowledges that there is always room for improvement.
“I do feel good about my driving, but nowhere near as good as I was the two years where we won the championship,” said Enders. “I mean I missed it really badly in Pomona and was .70 on the Tree to start the year, and that never happens, but I put that behind me. Some of it is in the race car. We leave at a lower rpm now and that hurts our lights. It’s not just me, but across the board. It’s harder to cut a light and to be consistent.”
Enders can point to early losses in Gainesville and Norwalk, where she didn’t make a competitive run on race day, and also to more recent events in Sonoma and Seattle, where she left on both opponents, and suffered a mechanical failure on both runs.
“That was really frustrating,” she says. “I was .014 against Alex [Laughlin] in Sonoma, and .009 against Greg [Anderson] in Seattle, and we had a main bearing failure on both runs. That’s just one of those issues that you have to fight through. Our Elite team is meticulous, especially when it comes to how we cycle parts but obviously we’ve got an issue there. We too some steps to address it this weekend [in Brainerd] and it seems like we’ve got a handle on it but still frustrating to leave on someone, feel like you’ve got it in the bag, and then have them drive right by you. You never get used to that feeling. It sucks.”
For all of her early-season struggles, Enders remains a prime candidate to win a third Pro Stock championship. Heading into Brainerd, she’s in eighth place, but with a strong regular season finish, fifth remains a realistic goal and as history has shown, any driver who makes the top ten can win the title, especially in a class as unpredictable as Pro Stock can be.
For all the ups and downs of her career, including some genuinely trying personal difficulties, Enders remains hopefully optimistic that some of the best days of her career lie ahead. At 35, she’s technically in the prime of her career where youthful athleticism runs parallel with more than two decades of wisdom and experience. Quite frankly, there’s little reason to think she couldn't own the Pro Stock class for the next decade or so.
“I’ll admit that it’s hard sometimes, but I still have all the fight in me,” Enders said. “It's Pro Stock. It's not supposed to be easy. Some days it's a lot harder than others and it can beat you up mentally. Honestly, I don’t know what else I’d do, and I don’t’ want to do anything else. I'm sitting here saying that but I'm sure I'd feel a lot more upbeat about the whole thing if we can go out an win a race. That tends to cure a whole lot of things."
As an aside, Enders isn't ready to close the book on her career in the Pro Mod class, but she’s also not expected back in the E3 Pro Mod series anytime soon. Most remember that she managed to escape a huge fire in Norwalk largely without injury, but Enders admits the harrowing experience caused her to step back and re-evaluate a few priorities. Her turbocharged Elite Camaro was also nearly a total write-off, and it’s not expected to be race-ready for a while.
“That whole deal definitely scared me,” Enders said. “I won’t say I’m done with Pro Mod because I do enjoy a challenge, but the bottom line is that Richard [Freeman, Elite team owner] isn’t going to put me in a situation where I might get hurt. We’ve talked about a number of ways we can make Pro Mod cars safer and we’ve had a lot of productive conversations, both among ourselves, and with NHRA. The bottom line is that I don’t want to see anyone have to go through what I went through, and I feel like I’m lucky because it could have been much worse.”
With Pro Mod on the back burner (at least for now), that leaves Enders in another predicament. She still loves to race, and would love the opportunity to run more than one car. After all, fellow Pro Stock racers Bo Butner and Jeg Coughlin Jr. regularly compete in Super Comp and Super Gas, and even rival Jason Line is going to dust off his trusty Buick Stocker for the upcoming Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Why should they have all the fun?
“I’d love to have something else to drive at Indy,” said Enders. “I’m not even too picky about what it is. Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Stock, Stock; my license is good for almost anything. As long as it’s safe, I’ll drive it. So, if you know anyone with a car, send them my way.”