With One Championship In Hand,
Erica Enders-Stevens Eyes More
Having just become the first woman in NHRA drag racing history to win a championship in the ultracompetitive Pro Stock division, Erica Enders-Stevens had one final told-you-so to perform as she stood in Victory Lane at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, in November.
Enders-Stevens -- clad in the leather jacket, white ball cap and lottery-winner's smile that go along with being an NHRA champion -- grabbed the massive Pro Stock year-end trophy with both hands, and she clean and jerked it over her head. Yes, to celebrate, but also for another reason.
"The NHRA guys told me, 'You can pose with it, but you won't be able to lift it up,'" she said. "So of course at that point, I had to prove them wrong. I lifted it up over my head."
Enders-Stevens, just 31 years old but with 10 years of professional drag racing experience behind her on the day she beat the boys to win the trophy, proved a lot of people wrong in 2014.
She and her one-car Elite Motorsports team proved that small can be big. They proved that when it comes to money in racing, how much you have is not as important as how you spend it.
And most importantly for Enders-Stevens, she and Elite proved that dream power is as important as horsepower when heading down a quarter-mile drag strip.
"I know I'm rambling on," she said, "but yes, my dream came true."
On the eve of the start of the 2015 NHRA season, Enders-Stevens -- vocal cords apparently still being lubricated by 10-week-old excitement -- vented a stream-of-consciousness update on making -- and enhancing -- drag racing history.
The new season will launch this weekend at the same Auto Club Speedway where it ended last autumn. And, yes, Enders-Stevens will be there with the goal of making more history by going back-to-back in one of the NHRA's three major divisions for race cars.
Sixteen other Pro Stock teams are scheduled to compete in the Circle K Winternationals this weekend, and every single member of every single one of those teams will be throwing every single thing each person has at last year's champion.
"We'll have a huge target on our backs, and that's fine with us," Enders-Stevens said. "We worked hard to get that target."
Jason Line, a two-time NHRA season champion who finished runner-up to Enders-Stevens last year in Pro Stock points, chuckled when asked about that target.
"There will be no way to overlook her, that's for sure," Line said. "I'm not sure if they'll gun for her more than usual, but as the lone female in the sport, she gets a lot of attention for that, of course. But for me, she's just somebody else in the other lane, and she's a good driver. She's a great driver and somebody I just got to try to beat."
Enders-Stevens has a pretty good idea of what will be waiting for her in Pomona -- and beyond -- this weekend.
"I'm sure there will be lots of handshakes and high-fives and congratulations, but at the same time," Enders-Stevens said, "I mean, back as a junior drag racing, I raced with A.J. Foyt's grandson, and his grandpa, the real A.J., said, 'If you have a lot of friends in racing, you must suck.' He said the more you win, the less people that will like you. We've already seen a bit of that in preseason testing. But the true friends will be there."
One of Enders-Stevens' biggest challenges will continue to be the fact-of-racing-life No. 1: It takes money to compete.
Elite Motorsports, owned by Richard Freeman, is not elite when it comes to what racing wags love to call "cubic dollars." Freeman comes from drag racing stock, and it's love of the sport and not building an empire that tugs at his ownership sleeves. He's a businessman but not a mega-businessman.
His budget for Elite is not on the same ledger line as some of the others. Cash was so short at Elite last year that the team had to withdraw from competition for the final two races of the popular Western Swing during the summer.
Despite the less-than-complete schedule, Enders-Stevens won six national events, going 45-16 in elimination rounds and winning a best-in-class six pole positions.
Enders-Stevens said "it appears" the team will have enough money to complete the full schedule this year. But, she quickly added, "We fight tooth and nail for sponsorship dollars, but we are certainly one of the least well-funded teams out there."
The team will get a boost from a leasing program in 2015 as it has lined up two customers for the Pro Stock engines that it builds in-house. This year, veteran Rodger Brogdon and Matt Hartford will be running Elite power.
More good news for Elite comes by way of the decision to run a second Camaro at least part of the time in 2015. Drew Skillman will pilot that Pro Stock car.
It's a big move upward, Enders-Stevens said.
"Any team you talk to, they always talk about the never-ending quest to get data,'' longtime ESPN drag racing reporter Gary Gerould said. "If they've got somebody they can bounce data off of, they can experiment. Some teams will take totally different approaches during qualifying, which setup is better, and to me, I don't see how it can hurt at all, and if anything, will be a huge plus."
Elite also has hired veteran crew chief Mark Ingersoll to serve as co-crew chief with Rick and Rickie Jones for the coming season.
Not changing will be the game plan.
"There are a lot of good things in the works," Enders-Stevens said. "It's still going to be an uphill battle. The competition is fierce, money is always an issue, but we'll stick together, work hard at it together, and I think the sky is the limit with the group of people we've got. I hope I get to talk to you next year at this time and we can talk about [the prospects of being a three-time champion] in 2016."
Gerould issued a warning: Be prepared for just that.
"I think there's no doubt that she's good enough to win another championship," he said. "I think her fellow competitors know if you're going to have a winning weekend, somewhere along the way, you're going to have to put Erica on the trailer."
And keep her from dead-lifting the big, black-and-gold trophy -- actual weight an even 50 pounds -- at Pomona in November. The world now knows she can do that with ease.