Erica Enders should come with a warning label: Isn’t great friend material.
The 39-year-old will go down as one of the best to ever compete in the NHRA, but greatness doesn’t always have time for anything other than the craft.
“She’s not a normal human,” younger sister Courtney Enders says. “If you are a true Erica Enders friend from school or home or church, you have to understand that she’s kind of a half-assed friend.
“I don’t mean that in a sense that she’s not going to be there for you, or nice. But she can’t go to your kid’s birthday parties. She can’t always be a bridesmaid in your wedding. She can’t always sit on the phone and talk about 9 to 5 normal life for an hour, because she just doesn’t have the physical time or the mental capacity because she gives so much of her mind, soul and body to her fans, her team, the industry, me, her sponsors. There are not a lot of pieces of the Erica pie that are left, and if you are truly her friend, you have to understand that and deal with it. She’s not always going to answer the phone.”
Enders entered the year fresh off a fifth Pro Stock world championship. It came with a 10-win season and a win-loss record of 55 and 9.
She is far from done. In her 10th season with Elite Motorsports, Enders is one victory away from sole possession of being the winningest female in NHRA national event history. Victories this season have come at Bristol Dragway (No. 44) and Heartland Motorsports Park (No. 45). Those go with a Super Gas victory from 2004.
Enders is tied with Angelle Sampey, who previously held the record with 46 victories.
It’s been an improbable journey, even if Enders was born and bred to be a racer. She started at eight years old in junior dragsters, developing tunnel vision toward being being an NHRA champion from the start.
But for nearly a decade, Enders struggled to establish herself. Not only were there winless seasons spent driving less than stellar equipment, but there were many times when she failed to qualify for national events.
Enders made her first Pro Stock start in 2005. Her first victory came in 2012, which turned out to be a four-win season. In 2013, she added two more victories.
Then came Richard Freeman. The idea that racers understand other racers and see talent not noticed by the untrained eye is at the crux of Enders being signed at Elite going into 2014.
“What I recognized was how she drove,” Freeman says.
Freeman has been around other great drivers, name-dropping Greg Stanfield and Mike Edwards. When he watched Enders, he noticed that even though she wasn’t driving the best equipment, her routine never changed.
Freeman is a self-described underdog, which is what Enders was. Although she was a winner in the sport, Enders wasn’t yet striking the fear in the competition she does today with her distinctive red Chevy Camaro.
“What I saw in her was she could do what many others just couldn’t get done,” Freeman says. “In my opinion, she is very possibly the best ever to step foot in a Pro Stock. And I say that not because she drives for me, but if you go look, in two years working for me in 2014 and 2015, I don’t know that she ever red-lit. That’s unheard of.”
Enders claimed her first NHRA national class victory in 2004 with a Super Gas win in Houston. Image via NHRA
Claiming a championship was unthinkable for Enders and Elite Motorsports simply because Freeman initially had no plans of fielding the car full-time. But as Enders started winning, the team quickly gelled.
Courtney vividly remembers the 2014 season. When her sister arrived at Elite, Courtney isn’t sure Erica yet knew her place in the sport. And there were no thoughts of her being one of the most dominant drivers or even a champion. However, there was excitement about being in a place where such an opportunity could be realized.
Gone were the days of just hoping to be in the field or just looking for a round win. Enders was suddenly a weekly contender.
“Once we started winning races, I remember a couple of times I was like, ‘Erica, holy ****, what are you doing?’” Courtney says. “She was like, ‘I don’t even know. This is crazy.’ We were taken aback by what was happening.”
Enders became the first female to win a Pro Stock championship in 2014…