NHRA Pro Stock’s Erica Enders Eyes Third World Title; Hopes To Keep Contenders At Bay In Pomona

Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – POMONA, CA – Erica Enders has always thrived in pressure situations throughout a standout NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career, and that’s once again been apparent in 2019.

She’s also on the verge of the third world championship in Pro Stock, looking to finish the job in style at this weekend’s 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

She takes a 92-point lead over Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. into the final race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, taking full advantage of getting hot at the perfect time. She’s won two playoff races in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, earning the 150th win for females in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history along the way, meaning a third postseason victory would be the perfect capper to a third world title.

“Momentum is huge in this sport,” Enders said. “At the beginning of the year, we had some pretty deep valleys and we had to claw our way out of them. (Team owner) Richard Freeman has put us in position to do the best we can. Peaking at the right time is crucial. We’re going to go out to Pomona to win the race. We’re going to dig deep and I’m excited about the opportunity.”

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 17. It is the final race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs the last of 18 races in the 2019 Pro Stock season. Enders has finished the season in style, but the work isn’t done yet.

She holds all the momentum and a sizable lead, but Coughlin, a five-time world champ, has a flair for the spectacular as well. He’s won six times in Pomona, while Enders still faces challenges from the likes of 2017 champ Bo Butner (113 points back), multi-time champ Jason Line (116 points out of first) and Matt Hartford (118 points back). All would need near-miraculous finishes to slip past Enders, but Coughlin isn’t closing the door on another world title. More than anything, though, he’s seeking his first playoff win since 2013, which would give him plenty of good vibes entering the off-season.

“We had a decent regular season and we’re doing a bit better in the Countdown to the Championship but there are areas where we feel we could have done more,” said Coughlin, who has one win this year and 62 in his career. “You can always find those moments where you just weren’t as strong as you needed to be and had rounds you could have won but didn’t; that’s just the way this sport goes. Things are pretty simple, now, just finish as strong as we can and see where everything ends up.”

Enders, who has 25 career wins, is determined to finish in the top spot, thanks in part to dominant runs through qualifying in the playoffs and victories in St. Louis and Las Vegas. She’s been the No. 1 qualifier at three of the five playoff races – and second at the other two – riding a wave of momentum after some early-season struggles.

Her team, led by crew chiefs Mark Ingersoll and Rick Jones, are riding high now, leaving the team determined to finish big in Pomona. Enders’ first championship included her lone win at Pomona to clinch the title. That came under in ultra-intense pressure situations, but Enders knows there’s nothing better than finishing off a championship with a victory at the historic facility.

“My guys just keep giving me a really good racecar,” Enders said. “Jeg is a legend for a reason and, in my opinion, the best driver I’ve ever seen. I’m humbled to be his teammate and drive alongside him. We’ve been in these situations before and I feel like it’s something we’re good at. Everything we’ve worked for comes down to this event and what a position to be in. You’ve got to expect great things and I can confidently say we’re very prepared leading up to this point.”

It’s shaping up to be a thrilling duel in Top Fuel, as defending world champ Steve Torrence holds a slim 16-point lead on 2017 world champ Brittany Force, who won in Las Vegas. Doug Kalitta is 55 points and still in contention as the veteran is after his first career world title.

Like Top Fuel, it will be a must-see duel in Funny Car as well. Robert Hight is the current points leader, but Jack Beckman is 46 points back. Matt Hagan has gotten within 56 points thanks to back-to-back wins, while John Force remains in contention at 72 points out of first.

Andrew Hines will look to finish off his sixth world title in Pro Stock Motorcycle in Pomona. He currently holds a 115-point lead on Jerry Savoie, a two-time playoff winner in 2019. Eddie Krawiec and defending world champ Matt Smith are one and two points behind Savoie, respectively.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE’S ANDREW HINES LOOKS TO CAP DOMINANT 2019 SEASON WITH SIXTH WORLD TITLE AT NHRA FINALS

Andrew Hines has had a spectacular career filled with the most wins in Pro Stock Motorcycle history. But the five-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champion has never had a year like he’s enjoyed in 2019, and now Hines looks to put one final stamp on it at this weekend’s 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

With a career-best eight victories and 10 final-round appearances this year, Hines takes a commanding 115-point lead into Pomona for the final race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. The points-and-a-half scenario in play for the season finale means nothing has been clinched yet, but Hines can put a triumphant bow on his incredible season should he pick up a win on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson in Pomona.

“It’s been a fantastic year and I’ve never had a season like this,” said Hines, who has 56 career victories. “I’ve been doing this 18 years and to have the success we’ve had this year, it’s blown everything out of the water. We couldn’t have scripted it any better. It’s been a fun atmosphere this year and hopefully we can cap it off with a big trophy and one heck of a celebration. Harley-Davidson has pushed me to be even better and that support really rejuvenated me.”

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 17. It is the final of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs the last of 16 races in a 2019 Pro Stock Motorcycle season that Hines has dominated.

Jerry Savoie is second in points, 115 back of Hines heading into Pomona, while Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith trail Hines by 116 and 117 points, respectively. Hines can clinch the world title by simply winning in the first round, while a number of other scenarios could pave the way for his sixth world championship. It would be a fitting finish to a year that’s seen success at every turn, while Hines’ level-headed approach has him confident for the weekend.

“It’s business as usual for me,” Hines said. “We’ll look to put together a good start in qualifying, but we’re just confident because we’ve got a good bike. When you look at it this season, the bike has pretty much been flawless. We’re going to try to get after it this weekend and put on a good show. It’s the home track for Vance & Hines, so there will be a lot of people there. It’s going to be cool to have friends and family there, so hopefully we can perform well for them.”

Hines has advanced to the semifinals or better at the last four playoff races, picking up a win in Charlotte. A steady approach and showing – along with a brilliant performance on the starting line – has keyed Hines’ consistent performance in the Countdown to the Championship, and if he’s feeling any pressure, Hines isn’t showing it. He has three career Pomona victories, while teammates Krawiec and Angelle Sampey have seven combined wins at the historic facility, putting the team on a good footing in Pomona. Still, Hines is driven to end the season strong after starting 2019 with seven victories at the first nine races.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” Hines said. “Vegas went the right way for me. Luckily I’ve been able to do my job and get a holeshot win at each of the last four races. We ran well in Charlotte, but we’ve just been a tick off. We spent a bunch of time doing some research early in the week and we’re going to keep plugging away. We’ve always run well at Pomona in the past, so we’ll try to play off that. We want to put together a good showing as a team.”

It’s shaping up to be a thrilling duel in Top Fuel, as defending world champ Steve Torrence holds a slim 16-point lead on 2017 world champ Brittany Force, who won in Las Vegas. Doug Kalitta is 55 points and still in contention as the veteran is after his first career world title.

Like Top Fuel, it will be a must-see duel in Funny Car as well. Robert Hight is the current points leader, but Jack Beckman is 46 points back. Matt Hagan has gotten within 56 points thanks to back-to-back wins, while John Force remains in contention at 72 points out of first.

Erica Enders closed out her first Pro Stock world title in 2014 with a final-round win in Pomona, and she takes a 92-point lead into the finale this year. She’ll try to close out a third championship, but Jeg Coughlin Jr. is after a miracle finish in Pomona.

The Auto Club NHRA Finals will also feature thrilling competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes. And the 28 best E.T. bracket racers in the country will be competing for the Summit E.T. Finals World Championship. Fan favorite wheelstander “Nitro Mike” will be making his Pomona debut in his P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander throughout the weekend.

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. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona 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. Hot Rod Junction will feature nostalgia favorites as well as the Heritage Series world champions.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:00 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 12:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17.

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