Erica Enders hopes Bristol is on the path to second championship
Defending champion at Thunder Valley wants to repeat.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — In her quest to win a second straight NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock world championship, Erica Enders has started down an incredibly familiar path.
Enders claimed her historic world championship a year ago on the strength of six victories, becoming the first female to win a series crown in Pro Stock. Two of those early-season wins came in Las Vegas and Houston, something Enders repeated again during the 2015 season.
She added a victory in Topeka this year, but next on the list is Bristol Dragway and this weekend’s 15th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Enders won a year ago at the famed facility, and a third repeat win to open 2015 would keep her impressive streak – and championship quest – going.
"I'm excited to go back (to Bristol)," said Enders, who has 15 career victories. "So far this year, we've won at the same tracks we won at last year, so hopefully that trend continues at Thunder Valley. I've never been shy to say that Bristol's one of my favorite tracks on the tour, and the fact that it's been good to us in the past makes it even more fun to go back. It's an awesome part of the country. The fans are kind to us, and the facility is beautiful. Plus, Bruton Smith and his staff treat the competitors well."
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) join Enders as the defending winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN and ESPN2, including live final eliminations coverage on ESPN. The race is the 11th of 24 events during the 2015 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and also takes place on Father’s Day weekend for the sixth straight year.
That makes the weekend at the historic venue a special time for Enders, who has advanced to the final round in Thunder Valley each of the past two years. A second straight win in her Racing in Red/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro would be meaningful and keep Enders, who is currently second in points, close to points leader Greg Anderson, who is red hot and heads to Bristol in search of a third straight and fourth overall victory this season.
Fathers Day gift
"My dad (Gregg Enders) means the world to me," Enders said. "He's been a huge support in my racing career, and I certainly wouldn't be where I am without him. We will do our best to bring him home another Wally this year on Father's Day.
"He gave up a lot for (sister) Courtney and I to be able to race. From the Junior Dragster days to Super Comp and Super Gas to funding a Pro Stock team on his own, he provided all the steppingstones to get me where I am today. Now, I'm with a team that takes great care of me, and we have a blast together. Every challenging moment was worth it to get where I am now at Elite Motorsports."
Enders and the Elite Motorsports team have thrived over the past two seasons and she has been completely in sync with the father-son crew chief tandem of Rick and Rickie Jones. Enders has only two first-round losses in the rugged Pro Stock class in 2015, qualifying seventh or better in nine of the 10 events.
She advanced to the semifinals last weekend in Epping, posting impressive runs throughout the weekend and taking plenty of momentum into Bristol.
“(My team) are the best guys out here, and I have complete faith in them all,” Enders said. “We’ll be back in Bristol and we’re the defending champions there, so our heads are held high.”
A second straight win in Bristol won’t be easy, as Anderson has four Bristol wins and is back in championship form at the controls of his Summit Racing Camaro. Other Pro Stock standouts include Anderson’s teammate, two-time world champ Jason Line, Phoenix winner Rodger Brogdon, who beat Enders in the 2013 Bristol final, rookie sensation Drew Skillman, Epping No. 1 qualifier Chris McGaha, Shane Gray, local favorite Allen Johnson who has posted runner-up finishes at the last two events, Charlotte winner Larry Morgan and New Yorker Vincent Nobile.
Despite the stable of stout competition, Enders will lean on a team that continues to prove itself at each event.
“Everything's been clicking for us," Enders said. "We even switched to a new car a few races back but really didn't miss a beat. In fact, we got even better. It speaks to the quality of work these guys put in every day. We expect the best from each other and they deliver it time after time.
"Our team owner, Richard Freeman, is really good at getting the best out of people and that attitude spreads throughout the team. We're not cocky; we just know what we're capable of, and we feel a huge responsibility to prove ourselves every weekend."
In Top Fuel, Langdon is the defending winner of the event, defeating eight-time and defending world champ Tony Schumacher in the final. Schumacher has five wins at Bristol Dragway and won last weekend in Epping, while other class standouts include Doug Kalitta, who has three wins in Bristol, two-time Bristol winner Larry Dixon, points leader Antron Brown, two-time season winner Richie Crampton, 2013 Bristol winner Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, J.R. Todd, Brittany Force and Atlanta runner-up Leah Pritchett.
Funny Car has always been a competitive category at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals with a different winner every year since 2011. Last season, Tommy Johnson Jr. drove to the win and John Force, the 16-time world champ who won last weekend in Epping, is the winningest Funny Car driver in Bristol Dragway history with four wins. Ron Capps has three wins at Bristol and other major contenders in the Funny Car category include two-time race winner Del Worsham, defending world champion and points leader Matt Hagan, Courtney Force, Robert Hight, Charlotte and Topeka winner Jack Beckman and Atlanta winner Tim Wilkerson.
The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will take to the track for its fifth stop of the 2015 season. The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals also will feature thrilling side-by-side competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as 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 get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 19, with sessions at 5 and 7:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 20, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 21.
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