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.
“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.”