All Hands On Deck: Erica Enders Ready To Defend Pro Stock Crown As NHRA Nears Return
First and foremost, Erica Enders is simply glad to be back racing in some form.
But after racing twice in the Comp Eliminator Pontiac G5 owned by Lee Sharp, it has the reigning world champion itching even more to return to the seat of her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Pro Stock Camaro.
Enders put together a pair of strong weekends in the sportsman class, racing at NHRA divisional events in Tulsa and her hometown track at Houston Raceway Park. After not racing for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clearly a welcome return.
“It felt really good to be back in a car and we were excited to get back to the racetrack,” said Enders, who qualified third and first in the two races, winning a round at both races. “It’s technically the same procedure as a Pro Stock car with a five-speed Liberty (transmission) and a clutch, but there’s a lot that’s different. Just getting back in anything is going to be helpful. Any seat time is good right now.”
That’s speaking as a driver looking to stay on top in Pro Stock, as well as one who was just glad to return to her passion after the public health crisis wreaked havoc on the racing world.
That mental catharsis was beneficial for everyone, putting the team back in the racing mindset – at least at the track.
At the bustling Elite Motorsports shop, the work never stopped. Enders will have a new trailer when the NHRA returns next month in Indy, and the team will have six cars ready to race. Joining Enders in Indy from the Elite camp will be Jeg Coughlin Jr., who won the Pro Stock opener in Pomona, Alex Laughlin, Aaron Stanfield, Marty Robertson and Bruno Massel. That meant getting 24 engines ready for what’s going to be an incredibly wild stretch to close out 2020, keeping the team plenty busy even if there hasn’t been Pro Stock racing since the first week of March.
“All of our engines are sitting in a line ready to go,” said Enders, who has 26 career NHRA Pro Stock wins, including the most recent NHRA race in February at Phoenix. “We’ve used all this time off to make us as prepared as possible for what’s to come. The engine shop has stayed on track as if we were racing as far as R&D, totally working as normal. We’ve spent time switching everything over to the new trailer, getting it organized, and it’s been all hands on deck.”
Still, Enders knows it’s going to be like starting fresh after nearly five months – double a typical NHRA off-season – between NHRA Pro Stock races.
The team plans to test at Indy before the E3 Spark Plug NHRA Nationals, which take place July 11-12 at Lucas Oil Raceway, and Enders, who is the current points leader through two races, talked about how crucial is it to start quickly.
“It’s important to come out on the right foot as soon as you step off the trailer,” Enders said. “We have our plan and we’re going to stay prepared. It’s going to be very important to be methodical about how we run things. Every race matters and we have to be diligent.”
Enders hopes to keep the good vibes from the end of last season and the start of 2020 going, but there will be challenges galore.
After the opener in Indy, Pro Stock won’t race again for a month after the race in Seattle was cancelled. The class, celebrating its 50th season in 2020, resumes Aug. 21-23 in Topeka, and then things get nuts starting at the U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend.
That race kicks off a stretch of 10 races in 11 weekends to close out the year, putting a premium on staying in the zone and working efficiently.
“It was a great start to the year for our team. We have the points lead and our goal is to never relinquish it,” Enders said. “It’s a tall order, but we’re going to come out swinging.”
Of course, the other major change is moving to a two-day schedule to give some respite during the frenetic finish to 2020. That means two qualifying sessions on Saturday and raceday on Sunday, and Enders is on board with the change, especially if it proves to be just as inviting for fans as the traditional three-day format in the future.
“Any change is challenging for sure, but I think it was a good decision,” Enders said. “It’s going to help a lot with cost and time, and I think it might show the world that two-day races are okay.”