Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – BAYTOWN, TX – More than ready to put a prolonged slump behind her, a visit to Royal Purple Raceway for this weekend’s NHRA SpringNationals might be just the place for Erica Enders to give her 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season the jumpstart it needs.
It’s the hometown track for the two-time Pro Stock world champ and also a facility home to an abundance of special memories for Enders, who posted back-to-back Pro Stock wins there during her championship seasons in 2014 and 2015. Enders and her Elite Motorsports team haven’t found their footing in their Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro in 2018, and the 22-time event winner is hopeful that turnaround can happen at a track that’s already home to so many special memories.
“There’s definitely a lot of happy memories there and I’m definitely looking forward to coming back,” said Enders, who is currently 10th in Pro Stock points. “My sister and I grew up watching our dad race there and that’s where my driving career started. We’ve made a lot of fun memories there and a big reason why our family is so close is because of drag racing, so I’m thankful for that.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 22. It marks the fifth of 24 races in a 2018 season that hasn’t been what Enders and her team have hoped for thus far. After a semifinal showing in Pomona, Enders has first-round losses at the past two races, something she hopes to change in Houston.
The team had a strong test session before the most recent race in Las Vegas, but it didn’t translate to results. Still, Enders remains impressed with how her team continues to push forward. Enders knows nobody in the group will stop working until a solution – and plenty of race wins – come their way.
“Hopefully we can make a turn in Houston,” Enders said. “We’re either stubborn or we have zero quit. For a year and a half, we’ve fought to get better. We’re not making excuses, but it’s just been an uphill climb. We’re not pleased with where we’re at, but there’s not any quit in any of us. Really, half the battle is believing and I’m optimistic about what’s to come. Regardless of performance, our team is going to dig deep and work hard, and that speaks volumes about their character.”
A victory in Houston would be a welcome return to form for Enders, who has one win over the past two years, and give the Pro Stock class its fifth different winner in as many races this season, joining 2018 winners Bo Butner, Chris McGaha, Vincent Nobile, and Tanner Gray. The event, which kicks off three straight races, also marks Enders’ debut in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service class, making for an extra busy weekend. But the more racing the better as far as she is concerned, and Enders feels confident the team can put behind its struggles this weekend.
“We’re definitely hopeful that Houston is our turning point,” Enders said. “Whatever comes our way, we’re going to face it head on. The races get more frequent and heat plays a big role in Pro Stock as well. I feel like we’ve got good track management skills and we can get a handle on it.”
Leah Pritchett is after her first win of 2018 in Top Fuel following her hot start a year ago. She’ll have to do it against the likes of points leader and Texas native Steve Torrence, defending world champion Brittany Force, Gainesville winner Richie Crampton, and Pomona winner Doug Kalitta.
Ron Capps will look for his fifth career Funny Car win at Royal Purple Raceway and first of 2018, facing off against stars like points leader Jack Beckman, J.R. Todd, who won the most recent event in Vegas, seven-time Houston winner John Force, and defending world champ Robert Hight.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes its second of 12 stops in 2018 at Royal Purple Raceway. Rickie Smith won the season-opener at Gainesville. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying on Friday, fans can also watch the spectacular “Lonestar Lightning,” El Arabe Racing “Majestic”, and “GameXChange” jet cars. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will contain meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend during the NHRA SpringNationals include Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen and Richard Tharpe.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers with an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique chance in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:00 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 20 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 21, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 22.