Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – ENNIS, TX – To win a third NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series title, Erica Enders knows she has some work to do. The Pro Stock star sits sixth in points, 104 points behind Tanner Gray, and will have to jump five other drivers over the final four races of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, starting at this weekend’s AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.
But Enders is ready to accept the challenge, knowing full well how she will have to perform at a high level down the stretch in her Melling/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. With a propensity for rising to the occasion Enders will jump at that opportunity, but one thing she won’t be worried about is the performance of her competitors. The focus for the final four races will solely be on what Enders and her team is capable of to finish off the 2018 season.
“We’re definitely further back than we prefer to be but those are the cards dealt to us,” Enders said. “Winning a championship is definitely an attainable goal, but we have to have a flawless remainder of the season. We’re not going to rely on anyone else and what their raceday ends up being like. All we can do is control our own destiny and make our car run better on Sunday. The sky is still the limit for us. We’re not out of it. I’m sure a few people have eliminated us, but not us.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and FOX Sports 2 (FS2), including live final eliminations coverage on FS2 starting at 12:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It marks the halfway point of the six-race Countdown to the Championship and is the 21st of 24th races in a 2018 NHRA season that started with promise for Enders.
She had a win, six final-round appearances and the points lead through the first 13 races, but Enders, who has 23 career wins, hasn’t been out of the second round since that point. That includes two second-round losses to open the playoffs, with strong runs in qualifying only adding to the frustration. She qualified second in St. Louis and third in Reading, letting Enders know the performance is there, but putting it all together on raceday has been a challenge.
“We spent all day testing in Tulsa (on Tuesday) and we feel confident we have a better raceday set-up,” Enders said. “We’ve been qualifying well and when we get to Sunday we lose our footing. That’s not typical of how we race by any means. Our mindset now is going to be to not back down. We’ve just been a little timid, myself included but we’re going to go into Dallas with a different mindset. I think we can do well especially with the feeling we have now coming after the test.”
Of course, the challenges are immense after Gray picked up his sixth win of the season in St. Louis to extend his points lead. Vincent Nobile is second, 52 points back, while Drew Skillman is 74 points behind. Jeg Coughlin and Greg Anderson sit fourth and fifth, respectively, but Enders can quickly jump back into contention with a big weekend in Dallas. Enders knows she needs it at a track she raced at frequently growing up, but that’s often brought out the best in her.
“I do enjoy the pressure situations,” said Enders, who won at Dallas during her 2015 title season. “I thrive under it and this team does, too. We’ve done well when my back is against the wall. I just have to keep my confidence up and my mindset positive. That’s something my dad taught me. I feel we have the best and brightest people in the business and we shouldn’t be getting outsmarted and outraced, and we need to change that. We can totally do it if we race with all our heart.”
Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence will look for his third straight win to start the Countdown to the Championship against the likes of Brittany Force, Clay Millican and Tony Schumacher.
Defending Funny Car world champ Robert Hight looks for a repeat win in Dallas to keep his points lead over J.R. Todd, who won the playoff opener, Ron Capps and Courtney Force.
Eddie Krawiec has two straight wins at Texas Motorplex in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and will look to track down points leader Matt Smith, as well as LE Tonglet, who sits second in points.
The AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals will also feature thrilling competition in E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, which makes its 10th of 12 stops in 2018, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which showcases the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, fans can also watch the spectacular Lone Star Lightning Jet Dragster & the El Arabe Jet Car. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals include Shirley Muldowney, Richard Tharp and Billy Meyer.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity 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 2:15 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 6, at 1:15 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7.