Erica Enders has spent most of her life behind the wheel of a dragster capable of speeds faster than 200 miles per hour, so it’s no surprise that when it’s time to put the pedal to the metal, she’s at her most comfortable.
Enders is a driver on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Pro Stock circuit, and after a history-making 2014 in which she became the first female champion in that division’s history, she’s on track to capture back-to-back titles, leading the standings with three races remaining.
“This year has been awesome,” Enders says. “We are ahead of the game as far as points and we’ve won an additional race than we did last year. We are optimistic for the final three races and thrilled to be in this position with the team I’m with. We are racing hard, smart and calculated. The sky is the limit.”
Enders reached new heights last season when she captured six individual races and set national records in time and speed on her way to the overall Pro Stock championship, becoming just the third woman – along with legends Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey – to win a professional title in the Mello Yello Series.
“To be honest, [last year] was pretty surreal,” Enders says. “To be able to put my name on a list with Shirley and Angelle, two women I admire, it was awesome to accomplish. I dreamt about it for a long time.”
The Pro Stock title was the crowning moment on a long, and at times, frustrating career for Enders, who says she suffered through “more valleys than peaks” during her years on the Pro Stock tour before embarking on her breakthrough campaign in 2014.
“Erica Enders is one of the most talented drag racers I’ve seen in more than 30 years of covering the sport. She drives with a spirit, confidence and motivation that reminds me a lot of some of the sport’s greats,” says veteran race car writer Jerry Bonkowski of NBCSports.com.
“I especially like – and have great admiration of – how she has endured in the face of adversity, particularly in the early part of her career, when opponents looked at and judged her only on her gender, rather than her great and innate natural talent and ability to wheel a race car.”
Pro Stock cars are often called “Factory Hot-Rods” because they somewhat resemble ones that are produced for and driven by everyday people. But these advanced automobiles are built around a sophisticated tube chassis and four-link rear suspension, and can weigh no less than 2,350 pounds, per NHRA rules. They can hit speeds of more than 215 mph. Enders, in her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, holds the Pro Stock speed record at 215.55 mph, which she set last season.
Enders hasn’t been content to rest on her laurels this season – she’s won seven races so far, surpassed Muldowney for career wins and has continued to excel on her reaction time to the “Christmas tree” lighting mechanism that signals the start of every drag race.
“A lot of people don’t understand what goes into the sport and how hard it can be,” she says. “Some people think you just go straight. But I have worked really hard to get us to this point. What I feel like makes me this successful are my team, which stands behind me. I put my life in their hands every time I get in the car, so that it’s just me and the tree and my car. I’m driving the best I’ve ever driven in my life.”
Mello Yello has been a longtime partner of the NHRA, and Enders says that relationship is one that’s built on people who care about the sport and want to see it succeed.
“Mello Yello and the Coca-Cola people… the whole team is passionate about what we do at the race track,” she says. “They’ve become friends of ours. When someone truly cares about what they are marketing, you can see the difference. Mello Yello chose NHRA drag racing and we are very honored to have them.”
Enders began racing junior dragsters when she was eight years old, alongside her younger sister, Courtney. Their story was told in the 2003 Disney Channel original movie “Right on Track,” just one of the many opportunities Enders uses to spread the word about the sport she loves.
“Drag racing offers something that is so different. You can take pictures with the drivers and really get up close and personal,” she says. “What our sport offers is so amazing. I’ve been blessed to do this and be able to chase my dream.”
The Enders story is no longer about being a female on the track. It’s now about being one of the best in the business.
“Where drivers used to be embarrassed by being beaten ‘by a girl,’ now losing to Enders is somewhat of a badge of honor,” Bonkowski says. “No longer are they beaten ‘by a girl,’ but rather they’re beaten by the best driver in Pro Stock, period.”
Get the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Schedule here
Follow Erica Enders on Twitter @erica_enders
Follow Mello Yello on Twitter @MelloYello