Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – ENNIS, TX – It’s every racer’s goal to be peaking at the right time when the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship arrives and Erica Enders has been the perfect example of that during the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
After an up-and-down regular season, things have come together well for the two-time Pro Stock champ, who is now the points leader heading to this weekend’s 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.
Enders has been dominant during qualifying, racking up three straight No. 1 qualifiers in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, and a victory in St. Louis has her thinking big. The Texas native knows what a win in Dallas would mean to open the second half of the six-race Countdown to the Championship, too, and Enders is ready to take full advantage.
“It’s really exciting,” said Enders, who has 24 career wins. “I would have never guessed we would be in this position with the start we had, so I’m very pleased with where we’re at. My goal going into Charlotte was to leave with the points lead and the second part of that goal is to never give it back. We’ll do our best to keep it. We’ll go to Dallas and it’s a track that’s been good to us in the past. Our goal is to leave with another cowboy hat and belt buckle.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) in 2019, including live final eliminations coverage 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 20. It is the fourth of six playoff races and the 16th of 18 races in the 2019 Pro Stock season. For Enders, everything is coming together at an ideal time.
She’s been to the final round at three of the past five races, picking up a win for the first time in more than a year at the playoff stop in St. Louis. Enders has also made the quickest qualifying run in three of the four sessions at each of the past two races, picking up valuable points that helped her take the lead in Charlotte. After advancing to the semifinals there, Enders is in front of Jason Line by 38 points and Elite Motorsports teammate Matt Hartford by 39. It’s a good position to be in, but Enders knows the work is far from over with three playoff races remaining.
“I think we just do what we do and don’t take our eyes off the goal,” said Enders, who won at Dallas in 2015. “We have to keep our heads down and capitalize on every point that we can, try to accumulate all the qualifying points we can and qualify in the top half again, and then just go rounds. I feel like my crew chiefs have confidence and as far as my mindset goes, we’re racing to win. We’re going out there and trying to do what we do best.”
Bo Butner, who is 67 points back, Charlotte winner Deric Kramer (88 points out of first) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. also pose threats in the loaded Pro Stock class heading to Dallas, but Enders remains locked in on what her team is doing. She praised the work and confidence of crew chiefs Rick Jones and Mark Ingersoll, creating a situation Enders believes is very similar to her championship seasons in 2014 and 2015. The key now is finishing the job like she did in those two years.
“This Countdown feels like 2014 and 2015 to me,” Enders said. “We’re back in championship form so it’s big to have that mindset where you don’t back off or don’t let your guard down. It’s all mental and that’s the most challenging aspect of all it. The biggest thing is stay positive, keep our focus and not let any distractions in. This is our championship to lose, but there’s a lot of racing left and a lot of heavy competition out there, so we’ll see what happens and do the best we can.”
Top Fuel points leader Torrence will look to make it back-to-back wins in Dallas and during the 2019 playoffs, as the Texan won Monday in Charlotte. Standing in his way are the likes of Doug Kalitta, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Leah Pritchett and Antron Brown.
Hight is after a second straight win in Dallas and in the Countdown to the Championship after winning in Funny Car on Monday in Charlotte. He’ll look to keep his points lead against the likes of John Force, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps and defending world champ J.R. Todd.
Eddie Krawiec has three wins in the past six years in Pro Stock Motorcycle at the track, but he’s seeking his first win of 2019. He’ll try and get it against teammate and points leader Andrew Hines, as well as playoff winners Karen Stoffer and Jerry Savoie, and defending world champ Matt Smith.
The AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals will also feature thrilling competition in SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown, which makes its final stop of 2019, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which showcases the future stars of the sport. For the first time, the Summit Racing Equipment Mid-West Pro Mod Series (MWPMS) will stage an unprecedented 16-car, eighth-mile exhibition race presented by Atomizer Racing Injectors. This exciting field will compete throughout the weekend including a final round of eliminations on Sunday in front of the NHRA raceday crowd. After Nitro qualifying on Friday, fans can also watch the spectacular “Lone Star Lightning” Jet Dragster driven by Tammy Gatlin and “The War Dance” jet car driven by Ralph Snyder. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Texas Motorplex will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
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.