POMONA, CA — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders found herself getting emotional as the race day ladder for the 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals came together and she realized she’d be facing retiring pro and fellow champion Allen Johnson in the opening round of Sunday’s eliminations.
“Me and Allen, his wife Pam and (my husband) Richie took a photo right before that last qualifying session and it was definitely emotional,” Enders said. “He’s my best friend out here and after his final qualifying run I watched him do an interview at the top end and he was crying. It was very hard to watch because I love him and Pam so much.
“It will definitely be emotional to race him but, like we say every time we race each other, may the best man or woman win.
“We want to win this race, right here, right now, and we have got the car and the team to get it done. I’ll hate to load him first round but that’s just the way the ladder fell this week.”
Enders knows the way to Pomona’s promised land. She’s won 22 national events in her career, including the historic 2014 final right here at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Her tally also includes a victory earlier this season in New Hampshire to go with three runner-up results this year.
Now her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro seems to have regained its early-season form with decent qualifying efforts in all six Countdown to the Championship races.
“We definitely did a better job of qualifying down the stretch,” Enders said. “This weekend we ran 6.56 every single qualifying pass we’ve made down the track. We definitely have a race car. It’s going A to B, it’s consistent, it’s under control and I’m driving well. I have a lot of optimism going into tomorrow. It’s the final race day of the year and even though it’s not been the best year, I’d really like to go out with a bang.
“The fact we’re racing Allen, yeah, it definitely wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for but A.J.’s a competitor and every time we put our helmets on we try to rip each other’s throats out. It doesn’t matter who’s in the other lane. Tomorrow the goal will definitely remain the same. We want to win.”
FOX Sports 1 will air elimination action live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (Time is local and subject to change.)