Having role models in drag racing meant everything to NHRA Pro Stock driver Erica Enders-Stevens.
Growing up as a junior dragster in Houston, Enders-Stevens idolized legendary Top Fuel driver Shirley Muldowney — the first female champion in NHRA history and a three-time champion.
And, like her childhood idol, she knows the impact she can have on young racers.
Each summer, Enders-Stevens comes to Summit Motorsports Park to compete in the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, she looks forward to seeing a familiar young face in the pits. That face belongs to Robert, a 9-year-old junior dragster who makes it a habit to visit her pit year after year.
“He's awesome,” Enders-Stevens said. “He and his mom have been coming here for years. I've gotten to watch him grow upHe always comes to get me to go watch the fireworks, I'm like his date,” she joked. “They sit in the very top row of the grandstands, so they're awesome seats.”
Enders-Stevens could borrow that same adjective to describe her 2014 campaign. The 30-year-old is dominating the Pro Stock class, holding a 190-point edge over defending division champion Jeg Coughlin entering the start of the race weekend. She's already become the most successful female factory hot rod class driver — owning nine wins, 12 runner-up finishes and 15 other semifinal finishes — in history and her career is far from over.
So far, the New Orleans resident has three wins in four final round appearances, while she's qualified either first or second in 12 of the first 13 events in 2014. On top of that, she's set new national record for both elapsed time and speed, twice, the latest being a run of 6.464 seconds and 215.55 miles per hour on June 2 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.
“It's been pretty much a dream season so far,” Enders-Stevens said. “This is my first year with Elite Motorsports and we're having a lot of fun. I'm very optimistic about the rest of the season.”
After winning at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the end of March, Enders-Stevens became the first-ever female to lead the Pro Stock point standings. She marked the occasion by taking a photo of a points sheet.
“I've never done that in my Pro Stock career, so it's pretty neat,” Enders-Stevens said of the accomplishment. “I guess it's an added bonus to have the female record side of it as well. But I just want to be looked at as a racer like all the other girls out here.”
After paying her dues in drag racing the last nine years, Enders-Stevens joined forces with the father/son duo of Rick and Rickie Jones at Elite Motorsports this past November. The operation includes noted engine builders Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston.
“This is the first year I've run with a really awesome team,” Enders-Stevens said. “My guys are so supportive, they have my back and they work their tails off. I've learned so much in my time with them. Before, in my other driving jobs, I was just a driver. These guys are teaching more about car setups, which has only helped me to become a better driver.”
However, much like John Force in the Funny Car division, success in Norwalk has been tough to come by for Enders-Stevens. Something she's hoping will change after registering the top speeds both Friday and Saturday.
On Friday, she set a new Summit Motorsports Park track record for both elapsed time (6.523 seconds) and speed (212.63 mph). On Saturday, she clocked at 6.541 seconds, maintaining her No. 1 qualifying spot entering today's championship finals.
“Unfortunately, I haven't done worth a crap on Sundays here,” Enders-Stevens said. “But so far we're qualified No. 1 here with a great race car and great team. Hopefully, our Sunday here changes and we're able to go all the way.”
Norwalk is high on Enders-Stevens list of tracks she'd like to conquer.
“I love coming here,” Enders-Stevens said. “What the Bader family has done with this place is pretty unique and pretty awesome. The hospitality is great here, everyone from those taking the tickets to concession works, are just so kind.
“Plus they got the best fireworks show I've ever seen in my life,” she added.
With a dozen events left on the NHRA schedule, though, Enders-Stevens knows there's still plenty of time for slip ups.
“We're just going to try to continue to be consistent,” she said. “If it's God's will, we'll be holding the big trophy at the end of the year.”