By Gary P Jackson
Neither the heat, nor the off and on stormy weather [including a storm that caused a three hour delay on Sunday] could put a damper on what has been one of the most competitive and exciting seasons in NHRA history. Racing at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, was spectacular all weekend.
At Chicago there was even more drama as history was almost made, as for the first time, there was a chance to have three female drivers in the final rounds of three different eliminator classes, then a shot at two female winners, then, history was made as, after 42 years, a woman has finally won Pro Stock, one of the toughest, most competitive classes in all of motorsports. Oh, and there was a marriage proposal in all of this as well!
Women have been involved in drag racing since the sport’s beginning. And ever since Shirley Shahan wheeled her SS/A Plymouth into the Winners Circle at the Winternationals in Pomona in 1966, they’ve been winning national events.
Since the 1970s, when Shirley Muldowney won the first of her three Top Fuel world championships, women have been collecting a number of those honors as well. In fact, there isn’t an eliminator class in drag racing, from Stock to the 330 mph Top Fuelers, that hasn’t seen a female winner, except one: Pro Stock. That all changed on Sunday.
Texan Erica Enders has been involved in racing for 20 years, starting out as an 8 year old girl driving a Jr Dragster. She was so successful at this, that she was played by Beverley Mitchell in the Disney movie Right on Track.
Winning 37 times in Jr Dragster, as well as the 1993 NHRA Division 4 championship, and the 1995 Jr Dragster Driver of the Year honors, in 2000, at age 16, Erica went to her first national event final. She was also named NHRA’s Sportsman Rookie of the Year that season.
Houston born Erica, moved up to the big cars, and in 2002 finished 6th in Division 4 in Super Comp. In 2004 Erica became the 35th woman in NHRA history to earn a national event victory, by winning Super Gas at Royal Purple Raceway Park in Houston. And in 2005 she became the first female to reach a Pro Stock final round and was a finalist for NHRA’s Road to the Future award. NHRA’s professional Rookie of the Year honors.
Since then Erica has held NHRA speed records in Pro Stock and appeared in more final rounds, finally winning the big prize Sunday, beating four time NHRA World Champion Greg Anderson in the finals.
R/L Driver Reaction Time Elapsed Time/Speed
(W) Erica Enders (GK Motorsports Cobalt) 0.034 6.627 207.40
(L) Greg Anderson (Summit Racing Equipment Camaro 0.036 6.641 208.36
Weather conditions: air temperature 84 degrees, relative humidity 67 percent, barometer 29.22 inches, adjusted altitude 3,462 feet.
Anderson is 8 – 1 against Enders in prior events and Anderson is 2 – 0 against Enders in prior final rounds. Enders with the slight starting line advantage and never trailed to get win. She is the first woman to win a Pro Stock Wally. Erica Enders’ MOV: 0.0160 seconds (approximately 5 feet).
Final round photo courtesy Roger Richards/ Competition Plus
Anderson who has been saying for some time that he didn’t want to be the guy who lost to Erica in her first national win, told ESPN’s Gary Gerould [after giving Erica a big hug] “I’m that guy!” Anderson also noted that the “floodgates were likely to open” now that she’s tasted victory in what is arguably the toughest class in all of motorsports.
From Competition Plus’ Bobby Bennett:
Erica Enders knew the moment was going to be huge.
This woman’s intuition was spot on.
Enders defeated Greg Anderson to become the first female driver in drag racing history to win a Pro Stock event, regardless of sanction, as she won the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Route 66 Nationals.
The parade of positives flowed her way as she first beat the one driver who had repeatedly praised her but also said he didn’t want to be the first to lose to her.
Her crew was screaming in the team’s headsets and lined up the Safety Safari members and members of the NHRA race officials were offering praise.
Then, just moments after giving her ESPN interview following the win, her cell phone rang. It was the godfather of Pro Stock, Bob Glidden, and he was calling to congratulate her.
Just moments after holding the man she’s longed for, the NHRA’s revered Wally trophy, she was presented with another trophy – a marriage proposal from longtime boyfriend and fellow Pro Stock driver Richie Stevens.
Read more here.
Also check out Erica at Cagnazzi Racing’s website.
Enders wasn’t the only female racer in Chicago though, and three of the four professional classes had females in the semi-final rounds, with Hillary Will in Top Fuel, Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car, joining Erica. For the first time in NHRA history, there was the potential to have three females in professional final rounds. As it happened, Will went down in defeat, setting up the potential of two female event winners.
In the Semis of Funny Car, Courtney Force, who in the previous round took out brother-in-law and John Force Racing president, Robert Hight, was up against Alexis DeJoria, who was runner up at the previous event in Bristol, Tennessee, where she raced current hot shoe Ron Capps who was in his sixth straight final round.
That puts Capps in elite territory as only a handful of drivers have ever pulled that off. Capps would see his streak come to an end in Chicago as DeJoria took him out in the first round.
In Round two, on her way to meet-up with Courtney, Alexis would next take on the Grand Champion, 15 time World Champ, and Courtney’s dad, John Force, who was number one qualifier in Chicago. Alexis would beat John: 0.070 reaction time 4.168 seconds at 302.96 mph to Force’s tire smoking run in the Castrol High Mileage Mustang 0.074 rt 6.934 @ 116.79. The two are now 2-2 against each other in competition.
In their semi-final match-up, Alexis had a slight starting line advantage, with an 0.042 reaction time to Courtney’s 0.077, but Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang was quicker than Alexis’ Tequila Patron Toyota Camry: 4.123 seconds at 305.49 mph to a losing 4.191 at 306.88.
In the Funny Car final Courtney would race Alexis’ Kalitta Motorsports teammate Jeff Arend in the DHL Toyota.
Final Round photo courtesy Roger Richards/Competition Plus
7:46 p.m. Weather conditions: air temperature 84 degrees, relative humidity 67 percent, barometer 29.22 inches, adjusted altitude 3,462 feet.
(W) Jeff Arend (DHL Camry) 0.083 4.131 309.20
(L) Courtney Force (Traxxas Mustang) 0.071 4.454 272.67
This is the first time Arend and Force have faced each other in eliminations and Arend comes into the finals with lane choice. The lanes have been close, so anyone can win. Force is looking to join Enders in getting her first final round win.
Force gets a 0.012 advantage off the line and stays out in front until about two hundred feet out, where the engine starts to mix up the cylinders and loses the momentum.
Arend runs straight and clean with another low teen to take the Funny Car Championship.
Jeff Arend’s incremental margins (negative if behind): 60ft(-0.033), 330 ft(0.055), 660ft(0.198). MOV: 0.3112 seconds (more than 100 feet).
Jeff Arend’s incremental times: 60ft-0.922 sec., 330ft-2.362, 660ft-3.341/263.46 mph.
Courtney Force’s incremental times: 60ft-0.901 sec., 330ft-2.429, 660ft-3.551/228.89 mph.
This was Courtney 11th event as a professional driver, after racing and winning events in Alcohol Dragster for the last few seasons. It took her Sister, 3 time Indy Champion Ashley Force 29 events before her historic Funny Car win. [Ashley was the first female Funny Car winner] And it took her legendary father 75 events before he had his first win. [and this was back in the day, when NHRA ran about half as many events per year!] Courtney has looked strong all year long, and is on track for her first win at a much quicker pace than Big Sis or Dad got theirs.
Sunday was Canada Day so Canadian Arend had a lot to celebrate. For more on Jeff’s win check out what Competition Plus’ Susan Wade has to say.
In Top Fuel Antron Brown defeated this year’s breakout star Steve Torrance.
It was a big weekend for the the team as it was announced multi-car owner Don Schumacher made into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013. Susan Wade has details on Ant’s win and Shoe’s prestigious award here and here.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle it was two former world champions Andrew Hines on his Vance & Hines Screaming Eagle Harley-Davidson vs L.E. Tonglet on his Nitro Fish Suzuki. Going into the final Tonglet was undefeated racing in Chicago, but another streak would come to an end as Hines would take the win, after Tonglet left the starting line too quick, drawing the big red light.
Bobby Bennett has more on Andrew’s win here.
Erica Enders made history Sunday at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries by becoming the first female to win an NHRA Pro Stock race.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jeff Arend (Funny Car), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the rain-delayed NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event near Chicago.
Enders drove her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt to a final-round-winning performance of 6.627 seconds at 207.40 mph to hold off four-time world champion Greg Anderson, who trailed in the race in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro with a 6.641 at 208.36.
Enders, one of only six females to ever compete in the 200-mph factory hot rod category, raced past Kurt Johnson, Vincent Nobile, and V. Gaines in the first three rounds to advance to her seventh career final round. From there, the 28-year-old Houston native led season points leader Anderson all the way down the track in the final round to finally get the victory she has been seeking since starting her Pro Stock career in 2005.
“It’s awesome,” said Enders, who becomes the 12th female to win an NHRA Pro category race. “I think that if I could have planned it, I would have asked to run Greg in the final. You know that he made it very clear that he didn’t want to lose to me. He’s a very competitive guy, and I love him to death, but I couldn’t wait to beat him. I’m glad [the win] came here in Chicago. I had my first final in Pro Stock here in 2005, and so it was nice to circle back around and get it done here.
“Pro Stock is tough. It will humble you in an instant. When you think you’ve got it figured out, you go to Bristol and blow all your [engines] up. I can’t say enough about my guys [crew]. They’re amazing, and I love them.”
In Top Fuel, Brown raced to his second victory of the season behind the wheel of his Matco Tools dragster when final-round opponent Steve Torrence fouled at the start in his Capco Contractors dragster. It was Brown’s 33rd career victory and his third win at this track; he claimed two wins here in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“It doesn’t get better than this,” Brown said. “Coming here to Route 66 Raceway is always special and goes beyond words because our team owner Don [Schumacher] will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and what he has done for the sport, and our teams is amazing. Right now, you look at Top Fuel and see how competitive that the class is. It’s as tight as Pro Stock car. We’re running e.t.s that are neck and neck, winning by 12 inches or less at over 320 mph.”
With the win, Brown moved to second in the points standings, behind series leader Tony Schumacher, the event’s No. 1 qualifier who was upset in the first round. Brown outran Morgan Lucas, David Grubnic, and Shawn Langdon to advance to the final round.
“When you get a race win now with the competition that we have to go through, it’s just remarkable,” Brown said. “The team is doing a great job, and it’s all worth it. The blood, the sweat, and the tears. The heat was like a sauna, I mean I’m 10 pounds lighter than I was on Wednesday. It just feels good to knock one out of the park again. To gain some points and get it done. Because the Countdown is right around the corner. We have just six races left. So we have to get some momentum going for the Western Swing, Indy, and the Countdown. It’s crucial right now, and we’re going to have some hot races in the Countdown.”
Veteran driver Arend claimed his first Funny Car win of the season and fourth of his career by defeating rookie Courtney Force in the final round. Arend powered to a performance of 4.131 at 309.20 in his DHL Toyota Camry to hold off 24-year-old Force, who finished in 4.454 at 272.67 in her Traxxas Ford Mustang.
“This was a real team effort this weekend,” Arend said. “I didn’t do the best job as a driver, at least not with my lights, but we were able to get it done. My crew got this car turned around faster than I’ve ever seen them do it, and that made all the difference in the world. This is the first win for the new Toyota Camry so that makes it even more special. I got to the final [here] last year and didn’t win so this also makes up for that. I like to make the most of second chances.”
Arend raced past Tony Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, and Jack Beckman to get to the final. He said the three-hour rain delay, which forced teams to have quicker turnaround times in the pits between rounds, actually helped him stay focused today.
“We have some new guys on our team this year and they really stepped it up especially after it rained and we had to turn the car around quicker than usual,” Arend said. “I call them the ‘yeller fellas,’ and they did a heck of a job this weekend. That 4.10 in the semi’s was a great run, but we were solid all weekend. We ran good numbers every time. In the semi’s, we had Jon O [Oberhofer, crew chief], Connie [Kalitta], and Del [Worsham] in our trailer, and they make the right call and the car responded.”
Arend jumped from 10th to sixth in the points standings and locked up the seventh starting position in the lucrative Traxxas Funny Car Shootout at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus. Robert Hight, who lost to Courtney Force in the second round, remained at the top of the points order, and second-place Ron Capps saw his six-race final-round streak come to an end with a first-round loss to rookie Alexis DeJoria.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three-time world champ Hines claimed his second win of the season on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson when final-round opponent LE Tonglet turned on the red light at the start on his Nitro Fish Suzuki. It was Hines’ 27th career victory.
“As soon as I popped the clutch, I saw LE’s red-light, and I knew I’d won,” Hines said. “Then, it was a nice comfortable ride. I saw him in front of me and paid more attention to his bike than mine, and I think I probably missed high gear.”
In earlier rounds, Hines defeated Scotty Pollacheck, Chip Ellis, and Hector Arana Jr. The victory continued the Vance & Hines team’s streak of victories this season; Hines and teammate Eddie Krawiec have won all five bike races this season. Hines, however, was looking for a get-healthy weekend after back-to-back second-round losses at the last two events.
“We came in here with a new mind-set,” Hines said. “I’ve been down on myself the last few weeks, and after Englishtown, we took the bike and changed all the wiring and then went testing. I rode my bike and then rode Eddie’s [teammate Eddie Krawiec’s] bike, and I ran pretty much the same on both, so I came in here with a lot of confidence. Matt [Hines, crew chief] has a good tune-up for hot and muggy conditions, and that made the bike a joy to ride. I’m also looking forward to going to Norwalk next weekend.”
With the victory, Hines cut Krawiec’s series lead to 75 points.
The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series continues July 5-8 with the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk.
For complete round-by-round results of all thirteen eliminators from Top Fuel to Super Street, click here.
Competition Plus’ Roger Richards captured all of the final round action in all the classes. Click here.
For a recap of the event, from qualifying to the finals, click here.