CONCORD, N.C. — It has been a difficult year for Erica Enders-Stevens, but things finally seem to be falling into place.
Despite a victory and several runner-up finishes early in the season, Enders-Stevens has been sidelined for six of the 18 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events run this year because of sponsorship woes. Her early season success was enough to secure her Victor Cagnazzi Racing squad a spot in the Countdown to the Championship, but until last week it looked as if she’d be sitting on the sidelines.
“It has been an emotional roller-coaster to say the least,” Enders-Stevens said Friday at zMAX Dragway prior to the first round of qualifying for the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals. “We came out swinging and won in Phoenix. We had three or four runner-up finishes, ran runner-up in the K&N Challenge and then kind of ran out of money in the middle of the year.”
Thankfully for Enders-Stevens and team, sponsorship from Husky Liners materialized at nearly the last second, allowing her to compete for her first NHRA Pro Stock championship.
“The budget it takes to run one of these Pro Stock cars is so significant. The people that would be able to step up to the plate have set these types of budgets the year prior,” Enders-Stevens said. “So we’ve been running around like crazy just trying to find money to get from race to race.
“About a week ago Bob Tyler from Husky Liners called Vic (Cagnazzi) and we put this deal together in a matter of a day or two. I’m just really glad to be here to be able to compete for the championship.”
The sponsorship deal with Husky Liners is for the final six races of the season, enough to get Enders-Stevens and the Cagnazzi Racing team through the Countdown to the Championship. It is a huge burden lifted off the shoulders of Enders-Stevens, who can now shift her focus solely to racing for a championship.
Unfortunately Enders-Stevens will likely be at a disadvantage going into the Countdown. She hasn’t even been in her Pro Stock car since a first round exit at Brainerd (Minn.) Int’l Raceway on Aug. 18. The team hasn’t been able to test either because of budget issues.
“We didn’t have the budget until last Thursday,” Enders-Stevens said. “I have not been in a Pro Stock car since Brainerd.”
Despite not being able to race full-time in the NHRA Pro Stock division this year like she had hoped, Enders-Stevens hasn’t been sitting idle. She has been keeping busy racing a Pro Mod in the American Drag Racing League.
“When we were unable to make the Western Swing, Keith Haney, who is a Pro Mod racer in the ADRL, called. He said hey, I’ve got a second Pro Mod car, would you like to drive it? I’d never driven a Pro Mod car before but I jumped on the opportunity,” Enders-Stevens said. “So I’ve been racing in the ADRL series since we’ve been out of NHRA Pro Stock. It’s not a Pro Stock car, but it certainly keeps you sharp.”
The difference between a Pro Stock and a Pro Mod are pretty drastic. The doesn’t have to shift in the Pro Mod like she does in her Pro Stock Camaro, but she does have 1,000 more horsepower as well as nitrous.
That’ll certainly make things interesting.
“It is definitely a handful,” Enders-Stevens admitted. “It is the same mental game. You go out there with mindset that you’re going to rip the other guys’ throat out in the other lane.
“It isn’t exactly the same as Pro Stock, but it beats sitting at home watching it on my TV,” she added.
Enders-Stevens knows that missing six races this season will likely make it difficult for her team to compete for the championship, but that isn’t going to stop her from fighting each weekend for victories.
If she does her job right, the points will take care of themselves.
“I don’t think we’re going to go set the world on fire by any means,” Enders-Stevens said. “I know that we’ll have a competitive race car week in and week out and hopefully we’ll be able to drive our way into the winner’s circle.”