LAS VEGAS — For a variety of reasons the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was important to reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders-Stevens and Funny Car standout Alexis DeJoria.
Becoming just the second pair of female drivers to earn victories at the same NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event is certainly one of them. But there was one thing the two female racers weren’t able to do that they hope can change after the 16th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, April 10-12.
“Alexis and I are good friends, and it was definitely an historic moment,” said Enders-Stevens, whose win in Seattle of 2013 with Courtney Force marked the first time two females won at the same race. “Because of weather conditions, Pro Stock wasn’t able to run on schedule, and I didn’t technically get to share the winner’s circle with her. But we did talk on the phone later that night. We congratulated each other and both said we wish we could have celebrated in winner’s circle together.”
Said DeJoria: “I didn’t even know that she had won until after the fact so we never got to share the Winner’s Circle together and that kind of bummed me out. I wish we could have, but it was pretty cool to be a part of history together.”
For DeJoria, it was her second straight victory after picking up her first career Funny Car win at the previous event in Phoenix. That further bolstered her breakout season that included three victories and qualifying for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. A year later, DeJoria hopes to continue the good vibes in Las Vegas.
“The fact that we had such a consistent race car, I remember that very well because it was just like the consistency we had in Phoenix for our first win,” DeJoria said. “Vegas is one of my favorite tracks. I love to race there and have been racing there for a very long time. I’ve been racing at that track since my Super Comp days so I know it very well.”
Enders-Stevens got to know the winner’s circle extremely well at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2014. Not only did she win the SummitRacing.com Nationals, she doubled up with a victory in the K&N Horsepower Challenge bonus event.
That catapulted Enders-Stevens to the top of the Pro Stock class, where she finished off her own historic world championship run by winning the final two events of the Countdown, including the second race in Las Vegas.
“Vegas will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first win with Elite (Motorsports), and we were able to double-up there,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’re really excited to go back. Last year was just a special weekend for my team and I. We were still pretty new together, and it was neat to see how well everyone worked together, even under such a high-pressure situation for $100,000 (for doubling up). It was a weekend I’ll never forget.”
Repeating the process in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro won’t be easy for Enders-Stevens, who currently sits fifth in the Pro Stock points standings. She’ll face off against the likes of rookie teammate Drew Skillman, Summit Racing Equipment teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line, who is the current points leader, Allen Johnson, Rodger Brogdon and Four-Wide Nationals winner Larry Morgan.
The K&N Horsepower Challenge adds an extra element that Enders-Stevens must prepare for as well.
“It’s a really exciting specialty race that K&N puts on every year for us,” said Enders-Stevens, who has 12 career wins. “It’s an exciting weekend coming up, and being the defending champions makes it even more exciting for us. Two of the qualifying passes are K&N elimination rounds, so not only is Sunday important, but Saturday is really important to us, too. I’m hopeful that we can get it done again.”
Another victory in Las Vegas would be a huge jumpstart to DeJoria’s season as well. She hasn’t reached a final round in her Patron XO Café Incendio Toyota Camry in 2015 and will try to thwart off a loaded Funny Car field featuring Robert Hight, John Force, Courtney Force, five-time Vegas winner Ron Capps, reigning world champion Matt Hagan, recent Charlotte winner Jack Beckman, and DeJoria’s teammate Del Worsham, who took over the points lead in Charlotte.
“I was hoping we would’ve won something by now since we had so much success early on last year,” DeJoria said. “It’s been a bit of a struggle so far, but it’s still so early in the season and there are so many races left to go. Hopefully this will be our turnaround race. Vegas is a place we have a lot of runs on, and both our car and (Worsham’s) DHL team have won there so we have a lot of information at that track to work off of. “