NASCAR & Auto Racing

Enders chasing her NHRA breakthrough

TOPEKA — There's an old saying in drag racing that a driver needs to have at least one lucky round each week.

Erica Enders is still looking for that elusive round of good fortune.

Enders already has raced an NHRA Pro Stock dragster faster than anyone in series history — going 213.57 mph last March in Gainesville, Fla. She also had the top qualifying speed of 211.69 in the season opener at Pomona.

All that speed has helped Enders fashion a 6-0 record in first-round eliminations. But she's 0-6 in second rounds, taking the edge off what could be a breakthrough season.

"We just need little bit of luck on Sundays," Enders said Wednesday upon her arrival for this weekend's O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. "One lucky break... I'm waiting on that."

Just last week, after Enders reached the second round at Atlanta, she ran up against Mike Edwards, who turned in the best time of the entire weekend, eliminating Enders. As luck would have it, Edwards' car broke in the next round, ending his day.

"Last week was our race to win, but Mike laid down a really great pass," Enders said. "We've had a really great car all year, and I've been driving really well... but it's just one of those deals."

Despite the spate of bad luck in the second rounds, Enders, 27, ranks seventh in the Pro Stock standings heading into Topeka, where she earned the first No. 1 qualifier of her career in 2006 — only to lose in the second round.

Enders' career stalled following the 2006 season when a lack of sponsorship forced her to race on a part-time basis. She spent most of the next four years knocking on doors and making calls seeking the $2.5 million it takes to fully fund a competitive NHRA team.

"It's been the most difficult experience of my life," she said. "You get told 'No' 8 million times before you get told 'Yes.' "

Finally, Enders landed ZaZa Energy out of her native Texas for 2011, and she's back with her original team owner, Victor Cagnazzi, in a Chevy Cobalt. She's driving the car formerly occupied by four-time champion Jeg Coughlin and tuned by a new crew chief, former Pro Stock driver Dave Connolly.

"If you don't bring money to the table, it doesn't matter how talented you are, you're not going to get the ride," Enders said. "We have a lot to be optimistic about. Since we have that sponsor in place, we're able to do as lot of testing and research and development work, where we can try and get the edge on our competitors.

"It's taken a lot of stress of me, and I can concentrate on what I have to do in the car."

Enders showed her speed immediately when she was the No. 1 qualifier at Pomona. And the next week, she turned the record 213.57 mph run in defeating NASCAR Sprint Cup regular Kurt Busch, who tried his hand at drag racing during an off weekend.

"That was an awesome opportunity for us, and for my name to be introduced to a whole new realm," she said. "Kurt couldn't have been a nicer guy. He's a tremendous driver. I went to a NASCAR race at Texas right after we beat him, and we got a ton of media for NHRA and for us.

"I think it opened a door and shed a little light on Pro Stock which needed some light. To be the first driver to go 213 mph is pretty cool."

Enders admits she's had some thoughts about switching from drag racing to oval racing and trying her hand at NASCAR, but she's sticking with what she knows best.

"In order to be great at something like those guys are, they've been doing circle track racing since they could walk and have moved up through the ranks," said Enders, who followed her father, Gregg, into drag racing from the time she was 8 years old. "I can be taught to do anything. Either you can drive or you can't, so sure, the opportunity is welcome, but I'm really happy in Pro Stock."

"Lots of girls's kind of changed the whole demographic of junior drag racing which has been awesome for us."