The list of drivers who have won five or more NHRA Pro Stock championships is short, but it includes some of the best racers the sport has ever produced including Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, Greg Anderson, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and now Erica Enders. Enders officially wrapped up her fifth title on Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when she won her tenth race of the season. Enders has extended her lead over teammate Aaron Stanfield to 224 points, meaning he cannot catch her, no matter what happens at the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.
“We came out ready for battle this year because of the fashion in which we lost last year,” said Enders. “That’s a testament to our guys. You don’t ever give up. You dig deep, go to battle and have no fear. My team; [crew chief] Mark Ingersoll is a gutsy dude. He wants to win more than I do and I didn’t think that was possible. This Elite team, we have 42 people on the road full time. This is a huge conglomerate and I could not be more proud to be their driver. This is why you never give up. This is why you keep fighting.”
Enders has enjoyed a lot of success in her career, but nothing she’s done before can match her results in 2022. In the first 17 races, she’s delivered 9 wins and two runner-up finishes in her Melling/Elite Camaro, including three wins during the all-important Countdown to the Championship. After losing the title last year to KB Racing’s Greg Anderson, Enders and her Elite team redoubled their efforts during the off-season, and the results were spectacular as she came to Las Vegas sporting a 48-8 record this season in elimination rounds and has qualified no lower than fourth at any race this season. Enders has only been outrun to the finish line twice this season, both times by teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. in Seattle and Topeka.
Although she’s been a heavy favorite for most of the season, Enders has been around long enough to know that it’s not over until it’s over so she wasn’t about to start celebrating the title until it was official. The title became official when Enders defeated Kyle Koretsky in the semifinal round. The door that was already mostly shut, was slammed closed after teammate Aaron Stanfield lost his quarterfinal race against Cristian Cuarda. From that point forward, Enders just needed to reach the final and she did so with the sort of dominating performance that NHRA fans have grown accustomed to seeing.
Enders kicked off her season by winning the season-opener in Pomona. She suffered an embarrassing loss in Gainesville where she made the quickest pass in the history of the class with a 6.450 but lost to teammate Bo Butner’s slower 6.513. That loss seemed to light a fire under Enders who went to the next five final rounds and banked four wins in Las Vegas, Houston, Epping and Norwalk. By that point, the Elite team knew they were on the verge of accomplishing something special.
"I was pissed when we lost on a holeshot in Gainesville; it was embarassing," Enders said. "I don't think I've ever been .70 in my life. After that, we turned it around. I'm not .00 [on the Tree] like I used to be but I can still get it done. We found something in the engine department and we just had a bad ass race car all year."
An additional win followed in Sonoma, and Enders easily secured the top seed long before the regular season same to a conclusion at Indy. As impressive as they were during the regular season, the Elite team seemed to find another gear during the playoffs as Enders rolled through the Countdown by winning Reading, St. Louis, and Dallas.
Enders will rightfully take her place alongside Pro Stock’s greats, which suits her just fine. During her career, she developed a close relationship with ten-time champ Glidden, who was an early mentor while she also spent several years as a teammate to Coughlin Jr., who won five Pro Stock championships during his career and is generally regarded as one of NHRA’s best pure drivers, regardless of class.
"It means so much to be mentioned alongside those guys like Greg [Anderson] and Jeg and Warren Johnson. When I was a kid, I used to go buy their T-shirts. It's just a special feeling to finally get that fifth title."
Enders admits that she's not done yet. Five championships and a ten wins were a goal, but she's already looking ahead to the last event in Pomona and the prospect of winning again, which would give her five victories in the six race playoff.
"At the beginning of this year, I though five wins would be sufficient; that's how tough this class is," Enders said. "When we got to the middle of the season we thought why not ten. Well, now why not 11? I can go to Pomona, take a deep breath, and hopefully do what I do best."