You win some, you lose some.
And sometimes, others win some for you by losing.
In the season finale of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders entered Sunday’s race knowing that she had her work cut out for her. A poor qualifying effort on Saturday left the defending class champion behind the eight ball, while her championship rivals all found themselves with favorable paths to victory in the top half of the ladder.
But races aren’t run on Saturday, and a string of upsets in the opening round of Sunday’s Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil handed Enders the opening she needed and she took full advantage, racing to her fourth victory of the season and winning her fourth NHRA Pro Stock world championship at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“To be able to secure our fourth world championship and become the winningest female, that’s pretty awesome,” Enders said. “A goal that I set as a child was that I wanted to be the best race car driver on the planet, not just female. But this is a really big step for me to be ahead of two of my idols, Shirley Muldowney and Angelle (Sampey). And I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near done yet.”
With the title secured, Enders drove her Melling/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to the final round where she faced first time finalist Kyle Koretsky. Facing a giant in the sport, Koretsky was the first to blink, going red in his first career final round to hand Enders her fourth Wally this season and 29th of her career.
Enders had a 6.643-second pass at 206.39 mph in the winning effort.
While the win was certainly a perfect cap to a wild and crazy year in the sport, the championship itself proved rather anticlimactic.
After qualifying 12th the day prior, Enders was prepared for a slugfest on Sunday. Instead, she watched as both of her championship rivals went down in monumental first round upsets.
First, Enders’ Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin fell to Aaron Stanfield in the first pairing of the day on a hole shot – a 6.687 to a 6.667. Then, in the next-to-last pairing of the round and with Enders having already advanced, Jason Line fell to No. 15 qualifier Cristian Cuadra in another holeshot as Cuadra posted a .002 reaction time and ran a 6.691 at 204.98 mph. Line posted a 6.653 at 205.51 mph in the losing effort.
The losses by Line and Coughlin – both in their final drives after announcing that they would retire at the end of the season – sealed the title for Enders, who went on to add wins over Alex Laughlin, Troy Coughlin and Greg Anderson to reach her fourth final round of the year.
“I can’t speak highly enough of both of those guys,” Enders said. “They are legends and they will be hall of famers for sure. It was an honor to race alongside them for much of my career. Jeg has helped me tremendously and it’s been an honor to be his teammate.”
With her fourth championship, Enders entered elite company as one of the winningest competitors in Pro Stock history. She joins a short list of greats, including Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, Jeg Coughlin, Greg Anderson, and Lee Shepherd as drivers with four or more titles in the class.
“On one hand it’s surreal, but on the other I have to give all of the credit to the people that surround me,” Enders said. “The biggest part of the puzzle are the people that you have and that is something that wasn’t part of my career until I got here. I had some really great people that I worked with before and it just didn’t gel the way it did when I got here to Elite.
“I have had the same core group of people from the beginning. This is my seventh season with these guys. To have my name even mentioned with the Jeg Coughlin’s or Jason Line’s it means a lot to me. But I want to keep it going, that is the competitor in me.”
While all of her round wins were important on Sunday, none was bigger than her semifinal matchup with Greg Anderson.
With the title already decided, Enders wanted to end the season with an exclamation mark and that included a win over one of her chief rivals. With her car down on power, Enders used a sizable advantage on the tree to make up ground and win on a hole shot – a 6.642 at 206.42 to a 6.625 at 207.66 – in one of the closest races of the season.
“I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that I had a ton of doubt after qualifying yesterday,” Enders said. “All of us, my crew chiefs included, we were stumped as to why our car was so slow. We swapped engines thinking maybe something was hurt that the dials in our computers weren’t showing, but the next run showed us that we have a deeper issue. Greg outran us by .005 – that’s a huge margin.
“But that is why we race on Sunday. My guys went up there, all of my crew chiefs were working together, crunching numbers, running data, and made the best call that they possibly could because we knew we had to swing for the fence to beat Greg Anderson and I knew I had to get up on the wheel.
“The team, they are big competitors and they are awesome at what they do. So any time that we can load someone up that has a performance advantage is pretty substantial. That was obviously our round of the day.”
Enders added a big round one win over teammate Alex Laughlin and bested Troy Coughlin in round two in another hole shot win – a 6.677 to a 6.673.
Enders noted after the race that she was especially pleased with her eventual race victory given the optics of a seemingly easy round one win over her teammate and higher qualifier, the win that would ultimately secure the championship.
“I know what people are going to say about the first round matchup with my teammate Alex Laughlin,” Enders said. “Regardless, we won there and won the race. So no matter what scenario some internet jockey can come up with, we earned this and got it done. I just wanted to make that little note because I anticipate the comments and the emails that are forthcoming.”
Enders finished the year with four wins in 10 races and led the standings for much of the year. She slipped to third at the halfway point of the season, but a big win at the U.S. Nationals sparked a comeback that saw her top the championship for five of the season’s final six races.
Now the focus shifts to a unique offseason with fewer opportunities to mingle and prepare for 2021, but Enders says that she is up for the challenge as she prepares to contend for a fifth Pro Stock title.
“This is going to be the longest offseason of all time,” Enders said. “With no SEMA and no PRI and no start at the beginning of February, that is a long time. So to leave on this high note is awesome. We know that we have our work cut out for us, but the next couple weeks I think we’re going to go deer hunting and maybe park our ass on a beach somewhere.
“I’m just so proud of my team. I’m proud of my guys. What a year.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 27, 2020