INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders can now add U.S. Nationals champion to her growling list of accomplishments in what is becoming a legendary career.
Enders won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway with a brilliant driving display, beating her final three opponents on holeshots, including Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final round.
The victory cemented her No. 1 spot in the Pro Stock points standings for the Countdown to the Championship, which begins at zMax Dragway in Charlotte in two weeks, and it was her 18th career win, tying her for second all-time with the legendary Shirley Muldowney.
Enders may not be a legend yet, but she has accomplished a lot. She won the 2014 Pro Stock World Championship, becoming the first female to win the class title, and now she has won the biggest race of all, three years after a crushing defeat in the final round to a teammate.
“I’m struggling putting it into words because we’ve worked so hard for so long to get here,” Enders said. “There have been times in my career, particularly the final at Indy in 2012, where I really didn’t understand why things went down the way they did. It’s worth the wait. It’s worth the wait to do it with the right people and I couldn’t be more proud of my team.”
Her team is proud of her, too, especially after her driving Monday. After dispatching Vieri Gaines in the first round, Enders was actually outrun by Larry Morgan in the second round (6.613 seconds at 209.52 mph for Morgan to 6.617 at 209.01 mph for Enders), but her .036-second reaction time and .007-second head start was the difference.
Then came a big matchup in the semifinals against Greg Anderson, who was second in the points standings and the No. 1 qualifier here. But Enders drilled the Tree (.013 to .054) and overcame Anderson’s 6.591-second pass at 210.41 mph with her 6.618 at 209.39 mph.
“It was a challenge all day long, and our big round was against Greg Anderson,” Enders said. “Beating him allows us to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 seed. Those 30 points are going to be really, really crucial to us considering last year. Had we lost to Jason Line in the final (in Pomona, Calif., last year), we would have lost by a single point, so it’s huge. It’s huge for me, it’s huge for my team, and huge for any kid that ever had a dream. I came here as a little kid and I wanted to be here. Twenty-three years later we finally made it.”
In the final against Skillman, Enders had another .013 light to Skillman’s .025, and her run of 6.611 seconds at 209.75 mph was enough to hold off his 6.606-second run at 209.98 mph. The victory was her sixth of 2015, and her career total now matches Muldowney.
“Six wins in a single season is huge because I tied Shirley Muldowney,” Enders said. “I talk about Shirley an awful lot because she’s been a lifelong hero of mine because of what she had to endure driving back then. She still managed to do it with grace and class and come out on top. Over the years she became my mentor and my friend. I’m really lucky to have her in my corner. To put my name next to hers for a tie for all-time wins is incredible.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, wanting to get on the list, period, with just one win, and to say we have 18 is nuts.”
And it came at the race where she was named grand marshal. Enders got the call from Chevrolet before the race in Seattle, but she thought it was a joke.
“I kinda was like, ‘Are you joking?’ ” Enders said. “It’s a huge honor. I’m a Chevy girl through and through, and I’m very proud to drive a Camaro. It’s very neat, and it was a big honor to be up there today before the race. Jim Campbell has done a lot for our sport, as has everybody at Chevrolet. It’s just an honor. It feels surreal because I have to pinch myself to believe that we’re doing what we’re doing.”