Erica Enders’ sixth Camping World Drag Racing Series Pro Stock championship didn’t appear achievable at the start of the 2023 season during the 54th Gatornationals, held last March at Gainesville Raceway. She had difficulties from the start, not being able to get her Chevrolet Camaro race car to run in a first-round bout against rookie Elite Motorsports teammate Jerry Tucker. It didn’t get much better through the first part of the season and felt a bit like 2016 when Enders’ team elected to run Dodge Dart equipment.
Dodge power wasn’t the right fit for then two-time champion Enders and her Richard Freeman-led Elite Motorsports crew. They returned to the Chevrolet Camaro racecar and haven’t looked back ever since. This was the same year NHRA decreed electronic fuel injection for the Pro Stock class and changed the looks of the cars; of course there was a learning curve involved in that adoption, but the Dart just didn’t cut it for Enders or her then-teammate, Jeg Coughlin Jr., currently a five-time Pro Stock champion.
The 2023 Pro Stock season was a roller-coaster ride for Elite Motorsports and its star driver – okay, let’s call her the QuEEn of Pro Stock. It took until the late March Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona for Enders to gain her first round win in eliminations. In a Pro Stock world where there always seems to be a battle between Elite and KB Titan Racing, Elite and its then-five-time champ Enders just weren’t getting the job done. Still, they never lost faith and put proverbial nose to grindstone to rise from the 15th place standings for their star driver.
The turnaround began in mid-summer and arched through the balance of the “regular” season that ended with the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis. The six-race Countdown to the Championship began with the next event and, with only three races to go in the Countdown and the season, Enders found herself in a familiar position. After going to the semifinal rounds in the opening three stanzas of the Countdown, and having to meet regular competitor and nemesis KB Titan’s Greg Anderson in two losing semifinal bouts in those first three races, Enders found herself in familiar territory in Texas and Las Vegas, two of her favorite tracks: the Winner’s Circle.
“I questioned myself. It’s easy to get down on yourself and doubt yourself,” Enders mused. “It’s easy to be positive when you’re winning; it’s when you’re going through all the troublesome times when you have to fight with all you’ve got. It’s definitely a gut check and something that’s not easy to go through. We just went to work,” she explained, “and it just shows you what happens when you don’t give up.”
It all came down to the final race of the season, the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in mid-November. Again, the battle raged between Enders and her Elite team against Anderson and his KB Titan squad. By the time four rounds of qualifying were complete, Enders had the No. 3 position, while Anderson wore the bright yellow cap of the No. 1 qualifier. All she had to do, Anderson’s results notwithstanding, was to win in the first round against teammate Fernando Cuadra. She had the win light and she had a sixth title for her efforts – and for her Elite Motorsports crew.
Coming off her best year ever, in 2022, Enders had to dig hard and heed her inner champion to rise again. “The message this year,” she said, “is tenacity and consistency, and digging through all of it to prevail when it matters. This championship hits differently because of the fashion in which we got it done. Rallying is what we do,” she stated. “It makes me so proud to be associated with such a great team. They have a never-quit attitude and that’s why they’re world champions. I’m lucky to be their driver.”
In a racing series where luck comes into play on a regular basis, Erica Enders had worked her way to third in the standings in September, as the six-race Countdown began in Reading, PA, at the track owned by the Koretsky family, Pro Stock legends who are aligned with KB Titan. In the first three races of the Countdown, Enders secured three straight No. 1 qualifiers. In Dallas, she earned her third win of the season and became, for her efforts, the “winningest woman in motorsports” with a total of 47 blue winner’s caps and Wally trophies. She followed that up with the Vegas win and suddenly had a considerable lead in the standings.
“Things started to change direction in St. Louis,” she acknowledged. “After we won in Dallas, I thought maybe we could actually pull this off. It’s just a perfect lesson, about why you never quit and why you never give up. bAll the chips can be down and you can still come out on top!”
After beating teammate Cuadra, Enders earned her second-round victory against returning five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., driving the final two NHRA Pro Stock races with Elite Motorsports. She had a very slim .0065-second margin against Coughlin, who is one of the best leavers in the business and got Enders on the tree with his .012-second reaction time to her .030. Still, tenacity won, along with the now six-time champ who pulled out a 6.533/210.14 lap against Coughlin’s 6.557/209.92. Now that’s close!
Both Enders and foe Anderson were gone after the semifinal round; she was defeated by Matt Hartford of KB Titan (and a recalcitrant Camaro) while Anderson fell to eventual race winner Aaron Stanfield of Elite, the reigning Factory Stock Showdown champion. “I’ve said it before but it ears repeating,” noted Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman. “Erica Enders is the baddest b*tch on the planet! She is a warrior and she does not give up. I’m so proud of this team!”
In earning her fourth Pro Stock title in the last five years, Enders is now tied with Warren Johnson for the second-most world titles in Pro Stock history and now has 48 national event victories in her record-breaking career. In earning this championship, Enders helped Chevrolet secure the NHRA Manufacturers’ Cup, given to the auto maker whose current model year vehicles accumulate the most points during each NHRA season. Enders joined Chevrolet drivers Robert Hight, John Force, Aaron Stanfield, Greg Anderson, Deric Kramer, Camrie Caruso and Matt Hartford – among others – in helping Chevy secure that title for a seventh straight time.
Did Erica Enders believe, when she started racing Junior Dragsters at the age of eight, that she could become the most successful woman racer in all of motorsports? Her first Junior Dragster entry is on display at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum; perhaps one day an example of her Elite Motorsports Pro Stock title-winning cars will join that dragster? Still young at the age of 40, Erica Enders has the time to surpass the great Bob Glidden, who earned ten titles in the door-slammer class. Records are made to be broken.