Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – POMONA, CA – Coming off her third NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world title, Erica Enders considers it a great honor to have the No. 1 on her car as the reigning champion heading into a special 50th anniversary season for Pro Stock.
That celebratory year starts with this weekend’s 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, with Enders eager to celebrate the history of the class in 2020, as well as the resurgence the category has enjoyed in recent seasons. Enders will start as the headliner in her Elite Motorsports/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro, looking to build on her championship-winning year from 2019.
“I’m really excited about the 50th year for Pro Stock,” Enders said. “The changes that have been made in our class and what we’ve all done to get more competitors – and we have more entries than any pro category this weekend – it’s been a long road and taken a lot of work. But it’s been fun to be part of and watch it grow, and I’m honored to be the defending champ for this prestigious year. It’s humbling and it’s surreal to be part of Pro Stock’s history and what it’s becoming.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage beginning at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 9. It is the first of 24 races during the celebratory NHRA Pro Stock season in 2020, with Pomona marking the kickoff to the 50th anniversary. Class legends, as well as special nostalgia Pro Stock cars, will be on hand for the marquee event, giving Enders even more motivation to start the season in strong fashion.
But her Elite Motorsports team has continued to push hard during the off-season, working to find more horsepower and testing for a full six days leading up to the opener. Enders estimates the team made more than 100 test passes during that time, which has everyone ready to start fast. After finishing strong during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, winning two races and qualifying No. 1 three times, Enders hopes it also leads to a quick start in 2020.
“I definitely think we’re in a great spot,” said Enders, who has 25 career victories and 51 final round appearances. “You cannot get complacent and that’s not something anyone on our team has been. Everyone has been full go at the shop, working hard each and every day. All the guys have an incredible work ethic. It’s been pretty awesome to see and I’m excited to show what we’ve learned. I feel like we learned a whole bunch during testing and we’re definitely optimistic.”
Enders has one career win in Pomona, but is after her first victory at the Winternationals. Doing so at the 60th annual race during the 50th year of Pro Stock would make for a meaningful weekend, but it won’t come easy. She’ll have to deal with Elite Motorsports teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr., who won the finale in Pomona last fall, Aaron Stanfield, Alex Laughlin and class newcomer Marty Robertson, as well as class standouts Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Deric Kramer and Chris McGaha in Pomona, but Enders likes the direction her team is headed.
“It’s the first race of the year and the way the class is, anybody can win on Sunday,” Enders said. “We just have to go to work and I feel confident in my team. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t go out and do a great job, but there’s a lot of teams trying to prevent us from doing that. We’re just going to go out and do the best we can, but coming off the championship, we feel like we’re in a good place to keep doing well.”
In Top Fuel, veteran standout Doug Kalitta will aim for his third straight Winternationals win and fifth straight final round appearance. Trying to prevent that are a host of top names, including Antron Brown, a three-time world champ, Leah Pruett, Terry McMillen, Shawn Langdon, who is returning to the class, Clay Millican, 2017 world champ Brittany Force and Austin Prock.
Defending Funny Car world champ Robert Hight has enjoyed tremendous success at his home track, as the Southern California native won for the fifth time at Pomona at the season-opener a year ago. His year ended with a third world title and will look to open 2020 with a win facing off with the likes of Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, John Force, 2018 world champ J.R. Todd and Jack Beckman.
To celebrate the 60th annual Winternationals event, NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel and Funny Car machines will be on site and making exhibition runs throughout the weekend. Additionally, the Little Red Fire Truck Wheelstander will be performing with special passes during the event. Fans at the Winternationals will get to launch the yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of Pro Stock, highlighting Pro Stock milestones and seeing special nostalgia Pro Stock cars hit tThe event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills.
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 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.
Along with the exciting on-track action, the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com will honor first responders with NHRA’s “Salute to First Responders” celebration.
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 12:1500 p.m. and 2:4530 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 12:001 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9.