Over the course of winning her six championships in Pro Stock, Erica Enders has known that each of them has a decidedly different feel. From her first title to dominant runs in both 2015 and 2022, each one has had its own unique story.
That was especially true during Enders’ 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, which was a far cry from last year’s incredible run. This season was steeped in adversity and plenty of perseverance, as a slow start had the veteran 14th in points after six races.
But what started with trying times ended once again in pure joy, as Enders and her Elite Motorsports team turned things around at the perfect time. She took over the points lead at the halfway mark of the Countdown to the Championship, became the winningest female in all of motorsports and finished off a brilliant closing stretch in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro with her sixth Pro Stock world championship, tying her with Warren Johnson for second all-time in class history.
“I think the word that describes this season is tenacity,” said Enders, who also won her fourth title in the past five years. “Every championship has its story and this season is just another reminder that you don’t give up. You doubt yourself and it’s just digging yourself out of that ditch, and coming back and knowing you can get it done and execute. That’s what this season is about – tenacity and not giving up. These moments make all of that hard work worth it. I get to live my dream and I’m grateful.”
A year after winning 10 races, advancing to 13 finals and clinching the title in Las Vegas in dominant fashion, nothing came easy to open the 2023 campaign. Enders lost in the opening round four times in the first six races, with a holeshot loss to Aaron Stanfield in Chicago dropping her to 14th in points.
Enders reflected about the slow start in Bristol, but also felt confident a turnaround was coming. The team turned the corner in Chicago and she rolled to an impressive win in Thunder Valley, qualifying No. 1 and picking up her first victory of the season. She jumped five places in the standings in one weekend and climbed the rest of the season, moving up at least one place in the points at six of the next eight races, taking over the points lead in St. Louis. It was never easy, but Enders and her team never stopped working.
“Our season started really poorly and it took until Chicago to figure our problem out,” Enders said. “We just kept plugging away at it. We knew we didn’t have a horsepower problem and we rallied and figured it out. It’s all about teamwork. That’s where our season turned, but it was still a dogfight, obviously. I’m really thankful for the position we were in and I talk about it all the time, but when our backs are against the wall, my guys perform and execute, and it makes me so proud to be their driver. It was a crazy year and we took the long way here, but we ended up on top.”
Following the win in Bristol, Enders qualified No. 1 in Denver and then won in Topeka, advancing to the semifinals in Indianapolis to open the playoffs in third.
She qualified No. 1 at the first three races in the Countdown to the Championship, advancing to three straight semifinals. After taking the lead in St. Louis, she all but slammed the door shut with clutch performances in Dallas and Las Vegas, earning her NHRA-record 10th victory at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The race prior in Dallas, Enders won her 47th career national event, sending her to the all-time lead for wins by a female. It was a thrilling moment for Enders, whose late-season run only strengthened her remarkable Pro Stock legacy. A first-round win at the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals clinched a sixth world championship, breaking a tie with Greg Anderson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. It may have not been the spectacular wire-to-wire run to the title from a year ago, but this one was just as important, especially considering the road Enders and her team traveled to reach the ultimate prize.
“I questioned myself, too. It’s easy to get down on yourself and doubt yourself,” Enders said. “It’s easy to be positive when you’re winning. It’s when you’re going through all the troublesome times when you have to fight with all you’ve got. It’s definitely a gut check and something that’s not easy to go through. Going through those moments, we still had our core people and nobody pointed fingers. We just went to work and it just shows you what happens when you don’t give up. We do still have it, it turns out.”
The 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series begins March 7-10 with the 55th annual NHRA Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway. For more information about NHRA, including the 2024 schedule, please visit www.NHRA.com.