BAYTOWN, TX — Ten years after her first national event win as a sportsman in Super Gas, Erica Enders-Stevens returned to the winner’s circle at Royal Purple Raceway Sunday for her first Pro Stock win at her home track.
The number two qualified Enders-Stevens faced number one qualifier and friend Allen Johnson in a rematch of this season’s Gainesville final during the 27th Annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals outside of Houston, Texas.
“I had to get him back for Gainesville,” said Enders-Stevens. “Allen and I and [Allen’s wife] Pam had breakfast on Friday morning for Pam’s birthday. We talked about how cool it would be to qualify 1-2 and go to the finals and we did just that with the Good Lord’s blessing. Doing it on a holeshot makes it that much sweeter. He got me on a holeshot in Gainesville.”
Erica’s Elite Motorsports Camaro shot out of the gate early in qualifiying, going to the top of the field during the opening session, but missing out on the number one spot late Friday when Allen Johnson posted a best 6.555 to her overall best 6.562.
However, Erica’s Elite Motorsports Camaro continued to run to the top with two more passes Saturday in the 6.56’s (6.562 and 6.568) that would have her as the fastest car for three of the four qualifying sessions. That consistency would be crucial for Sunday’s race in front of a hometown crowd, family, friends and sponsors.
During first round of eliminations against Matt Hartford, Erica came out swinging, cutting a sharp .006 second reaction time and running the lowest ET of the round with a 6.578 at 211.26 mph.
Her next two rounds meant defeating multi-time champions Jason Line and Jeg Coughlin Jr. to make it to the finals. With lane choice in her favor, she swiftly moved through Line with a 6.577 second pass to his 6.639, then advanced over Jeg after he fouled out with a -.004 red light. Erica’s semifinal ET of 6.584 was just one-thousandth quicker than Johnson’s 6.585, giving her lane choice for the finals.
With the threat rain showers looming, the event’s paced sped up and teams rushed to get cars prepped and to the staging lanes. There was a moment of tension when officials motioned to start and Johnson made his way to the right lane while Erica and her team scrambled under the tower.
“We were thrashing,” Enders-Stevens said. “We had to make a last minute transmission change and go through the gears and make sure everything was right. We got up here and A.J. already was in his car buckled up and I had not even had my firesuit pulled up yet. I was getting in, my clutch can was still open, my hood scoop was still in, I was still hooked up to the golf cart, and you want to talk about pressure and craziness. It was very intense. I was pulling up into the water box and A.J. had already done his burnout and backed up. Fortunately enough I was able to focus and get done what we needed to get done. I thanked Allen down at the top end for waiting as long as he could because he didn’t have to. My guys once again gave me a really great Chevy Camaro to drive to the winners circle.”
Her focus would be key as Erica beat Allen on a holeshot. Her .018 reaction time and 6.594 at 210.60 mph elapsed time was enough to hold of Johnson’s .044 reaction and 6.588 at 210.28 mph pass to capture her 8th career victory.
“I have never won Indy, so I don’t know what that feels like and I have never won the Championship, but this one rates right up there,” Enders-Stevens said. “This one is as important to me as Indy probably is to all the other drivers.”
The importance was obvious by the number of people gathered in the winner’s circle. Family, including her sister, Courtney, and their father, Gregg, as well as husband Richie Stevens and his family were all in attendance. Close friends from childhood and from years spent at the racetrack, as well as those of the Elite Motorsports crew and sponsors joined in and huddled together for photos.
New sponsors Mark Stockseth, Lloyd and Linda Wofford of Engines, Inc. and Steven and Kim Bruno of United Mechanical all saw their first race of the season result in a Wally, and sponsor Royal Purple celebrated a win at the track that bears their name, adding to the festivities and capping off a successful weekend.
Erica is looking to keep the success coming, thanks to an Elite Motorsports team that continues to deliver a dominant car capable of the speed and consistency necessary to hold on to the points lead and win.
“My team’s been really awesome,” said Enders-Stevens. “I’ve had a really consistent race car. That’s what it takes Sundays, consistency. The ball’s in our court. We’ve got to carry the momentum. That’s important in this game, and I know I keep saying that, but it’s huge, and we’re going to keep carrying it as long as we can. Pro Stock really goes in cycles, so I’m really hoping this is our cycle, and we’re going to keep fighting for it.”
They’ll put that consistency to the test when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heads to Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, GA for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals May 16th-18th.