LAS VEGAS — “Next to winning a championship, this is probably the coolest thing in the world,” said Erica Enders-Stevens after winning not one, but two races during the SummitRacingEquipment.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
On Saturday, eight Pro Stock drivers squared off in the annual K&N Horsepower Challenge — a race-in-a-race shootout for a $50,000 prize, bragging rights, and for one lucky fan, a brand new Toyota Tacoma truck.
Erica and her Elite Motorsports Camaro advanced to the finals again this year, and beat her former crew chief and teammate, Dave Connolly, to capture the win after Connolly’s car overpowered the tires and he was forced to push the clutch in.
“The win is very sweet. It’s about having ice in your veins when it matters. We got it done by the grace of God, and I give Him all the glory. I’m a blessed girl.”
With her Horsepower Challenge victory, she set the stage for a double-up opportunity on Sunday. It’s a feat Allen Johnson accomplished during last year’s event, when he beat Erica in both final rounds.
Sunday eliminations didn’t start off as planned, with the Pro Stock field delayed due to high wind conditions in the Las Vegas desert. Unlike Top Fuel and Funny Car, who employ a great deal of downforce to plant the tires, Pro Stock’s aerodynamics are pushed to the edge in an effort to streamline the cars for the least possible amount of drag. This risks the cars becoming unstable at higher speeds when faced with adverse conditions such as high winds and dust blowing across the racing surface.
After the all-clear, the field took the track later in the afternoon and Erica worked her way to her second final round appearance in a row, facing Jason Line in the Summit Racing Camaro.
With identical 0.034 second reaction times, it was all about the remaining 1,320 feet to the finish line and who had the better car to get them there first.
Erica would edge out Line with a 6.612 at 208.78 mph pass to his 6.633 at 208.23 mph run.
“We had a lot of wheel speed on that one,” said Enders-Stevens of her run. “It shook at the top of low and I pulled second. It went sideways and it shook a little more. I put it in third and thank God, it went down. I saw us pull ahead of him and I couldn’t be more proud of my team. My guys, they’re it. They gave me an awesome race car all day.”
Her team, Elite Motorsports, have captured plenty of bragging rights themselves. After securing the Pro Stock speed record in Gainesville, then winning the Horsepower Challenge, they have taken their Chevy Camaro the winner’s circle for the second time in five races, having won the final race in Pomona at the end of 2013.
Led by Richard Freeman, with the father-son crew chief duo of Rick and Rickie Jones and engine builders Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston, the Elite Motorsports team has demonstrated a depth and cohesion required of a Championship-contending team.
“It’s huge and a testament to all of these guys who work for us,” said Freeman. “The engine shop, Nick and Jake, and everybody back home. My whole group is unbelievable.”
By doubling up, K&N sweetens the pot with an additional $25,000 bonus check, taking the grand total up to an even $100,000 weekend as Enders-Stevens captured her 7th career Pro Stock Wally.
“It certainly is very important to us; it keeps us going on this 24-race schedule,” said Enders-Stevens. “This is storybook. We’ve gone a few years without sponsorship; there were definitely more lows than highs. It would have been easy to quit. This is definitely a highlight.”
What’s more, with her victory in Las Vegas, Erica now leads the point standings in Pro Stock, another first for a woman in the class.
Erica and Elite Motorsports will carry their hot steak to Charlotte’s zMAX Dragway in two weeks for the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals, April 11th – 13th.