If you’re only going to win one race in a season, it might as well be a big one, and there is no bigger one than the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Elite Performance teammates Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin met in the Indy Pro Stock final where Laughlin broke a 41-race winless streak in one of the most bizarre races of the day. When Enders left first by more than a tenth of a second, just about everyone at Lucas Oil Raceway Indy figured it was over, but Enders’ Melling/Elite Camaro was wounded and she slowed to a 6.774, just enough to allow Laughlin to stick the nose of his Havoline Camaro in front, and sneak by for a narrow victory with a 6.64 in a race that was much closer than the number would suggest.
“I can’t even talk right now,” said Laughlin, who now has three Pro Stock wins in seven final rounds in his career. “I could see that I was pulling on her, and then I saw a win light. It’s been a long time since I’ve won one of these [NHRA Wally trophies]. Thanks to Havoline. They’ve been beside me since 2015 and I couldn’t do this without them. This is just unbelievable.”
“I knew that I had to be the best I could ever be in my whole life on the Tree racing Erica. Whenever I staged I rolled in and the light flickered," said Laughlin. "As soon as she staged and we both put it on the two-step, my bulb flickered again. I don’t have a whole lot of experience in finals. I’ve been to a few of them this year, ut the pressure is on and I just about choked to be honest but she had some problems. I also didn’t drive well going down the track to be honest. I haven’t looked at the data, but I remember it well. With a little bit of luck and a little opportunity, we got it done.
“Brian ‘Lump’ Self, my crew chief is huge for me because I am my own worst enemy, without a doubt. I beat myself up pretty bad when I don’t perform well and that guy is so confident in himself, and me and the whole team. He definitely lifts the morale and I own a lot to him for this.”
Laughlin has been one of the leading contenders in the Pro Stock class for much of the season, and he entered Indy as the No. 2 see in the class behind 2017 champion Bo Butner, but he was winless since the 2017 Bristol race. Laughlin raced in final rounds in Gainesville, Norwalk, and Sonoma, and came up short in all of them but he managed to finish the job at the sport’s marquee event in Indianapolis.
Laughlin entered eliminations as the No. 5 seed in the tight Pro Stock field and worked his way to the final round with wins against Steve Graham, Val Smeland, and Deric Kramer. Laughlin was consistent with runs of 6.603, 6.622, and 6.619, while each of his opponents struggled to adjust to the warm and sunny conditions.
Enders, who like Laughlin came into the final seeking her first win of the season, was understandably dejected following her third final round loss of the season, especially after gaining a huge initial advantage against Laughlin. The winner of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in 2015, Enders has had one of the best cars in the Pro Stock class for the bulk of the 2019 season but luck, especially in late-round races, has so far eluded her. Enders made it to the final in Chicago, and again in Brainerd, where the two-time Mello Yello champ lost to Jason Line by a razor-thin margin.
Buoyed by her Brainerd success, Enders kept the pressure on at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis where she qualified No. 3 with a 6.575. Enders opened eliminations with a win against her team owner, Richard Freeman, and later got the best of Summit teammates Greg Anderson and Line. Enders squeezed past Anderson, 6.609 to 6.617 and then used a starting line holeshot to avenge her Brainerd loss against Line, 6.627 to a quicker 6.617. Despite the loss, Enders was able to move from eighth to fifth in the Countdown standings.