Erica Enders-Stevens collected the $50,000 top prize for winning Saturday’s K&N Horsepower Challenge for Pro Stock cars at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. Enders-Stevens, runner-up in last year’s Challenge, made a strong run of 6.64, 208.39 to collect the win over Dave Connolly, who had to abort his run shortly after dropping the clutch.
“We’ve had a great hot rod all year, and it really came together for us two weeks ago in Gainesville, where we set the national record but lost in the final round on a holeshot, so it was great to give something back to my guys,” said Enders-Stevens, the first woman to win the special bonus event.
There were plenty of subplots in the final-round pairing. Both drivers were appearing in their fifth Challenge field, and neither had earned their berth in a conventional fashion. Enders-Stevens finished ninth in points for the Challenge, which draws the top-seven points earners over the course of a calendar year, but got into the field when No. 3 seed Mike Edwards bowed out after selling much of his operation over the winter and No. 8 Greg Anderson was sidelined with medical issues. Connolly got in as the eighth seed as a result of a fan vote. And, of course, both were teammates the last two seasons when Connolly was the crew chief on Enders-Stevens’ entry.
“Part of being a professional athlete is having to put personal things aside for business, and it is a true challenge and something I work hard on,” she said. “It’s about me getting up on the wheel and the guys putting a great race car underneath me to get from Point A to Point B. It’s about having ice in your veins because there’s no bigger pressure than having $50,000 on the line. The win is very sweet; I don’t care who it is [in the other lane].”
Enders-Stevens and her Elite Motorsports Camaro advanced to the final round by beating Dodge runner V. Gaines in round one, 6.64 to 6.65, then put a .016 to .036 holeshot on Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the semifinals and held on to win by a nose, 6.653 to 6.642.
Connolly, the 2005 challenge winner, opened this year’s Challenge account by ending the reign of defending Challenge champ Allen Johnson on a first-round holeshot, 6.648 to 6.643, then defeated Gray Motorsports teammate Shane Gray in a thrilling pairing. After identical reaction times, Connolly edged out Gray by just .004-second at the stripe, 6.654 to 6.658.
Thanks to Enders-Stevens’ victory, her fan representative, Anne Perkins, won a new Toyota Tundra truck.