While the extreme temperatures weren’t kind to Texas native Erica Enders-Stevens Sunday, her newly debuted Mach 1 Global Services Pro Stock Camaro continued to heat up the lanes in eliminations despite her problematic early exit from the 29th Annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals.
Enders-Stevens began the weekend strong. Her first round qualifying efforts Friday landed her the third-quickest run of the session. Debuting her new Mach 1 colors, she would continue the rain-postponed elimination rounds for the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals in Round 2 of qualifying against John Gaydosh.
“We made a decent run but definitely had some left in it,” Enders-Stevens said of Q1. “Going up for Q2, which is the first round of eliminations from Charlotte, we had a little bit of a different mindset because it’s hard to go from qualifying to race mode in what really should be a qualifying session. We did all right.”
The match-up was the first round eliminator for Charlotte, and also counted as the second round of qualifying for Dallas. Enders-Stevens left first on Gaydosh and never trailed, making a pass of 6.603 seconds at 206.29 mph to Gaydosh’s 6.662-second run at 207.53 mph.
From there, her luck took a turn for the worse. Enders-Stevens, the No. 1 qualifier from Charlotte, then faced Gray, the No. 8 qualifier. Gray was given lane choice based on his performance in Friday’s qualifying session, not Charlotte eliminations.
“NHRA made a rule change on the lane choice aspect of it, which was very detrimental to our team,” Enders-Stevens said. “Obviously, it was a one-lane race facility, and that was the end of that. It’s unfortunate that things were handled that way when the championship is on the line, but it is what it is.”
To make matters worse for Enders-Stevens, several single-car runs were made, all in the preferred right lane. Gray chose that lane, putting Enders-Stevens in the left lane. Without prior cars running down that lane, critical rubber and prep is lost, making traction difficult at best.
“Lane choice is crucial,” Enders-Stevens said. “Friday it wasn’t; both lanes were pretty equal. Today, though, before the second round of eliminations, they ran several singles in the right lane, then drug the track and sent us out. Nobody had run in front of that person in the left lane.”
Enders-Stevens left first with a .025-second lead, but her red Camaro made an immediate right turn losing traction, and she had to push the clutch in as Gray sped to the victory. After the Charlotte dust had settled, Enders-Stevens unofficially remained second in the Pro Stock standings, 59 points behind leader Jason Line after one of six races in the Countdown to the Championship.
After an emotional loss for the team, they still had to salvage a fourth qualifying attempt for the Dallas race.
“We lost that round, and we turned everything back around and came out for Q4 and made a decent run for the heat of the day,” Enders-Stevens said. “It was a 130-degree racetrack and really tricky out there. We definitely had some left in it on that run.”
But the run turned out to be her best pass of the weekend, 6.590 seconds at 210.74 mph, to move her to sixth in the qualifying order. This placed her against No. 11 qualifier Rodger Brogdon, whose best pass was 6.615 seconds at 209.79 mph for round one of eliminations on Sunday.
Even though her first-round match was also an Elite Motorsports powered competitor, Enders-Stevens was able to put her Mach 1 Global Services Chevrolet past Rodger Brogdon’s Camaro with a 6.574-second pass at 210.44 mph, taking the round one win.
However, Enders-Stevens was in a race of mere inches during the second round of eliminations. Matched against Jonathan Gray, the pair left with reaction times within thousandths, Enders-Stevens’ .030 to Gray’s .023. Erica’s Camaro was just edged out at the finish line despite making the second-quickest pass of the round at 6.599 seconds.
“It certainly wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for,” Enders-Stevens said. “Coming into the second race of the Countdown, we really needed to go some rounds to make up for our second-round Charlotte loss that was run in Dallas. It is what it is. I could not be more proud of my team though. Rick and Rickie Jones, my crew chiefs, gave it their all today. They always give it their all but they really dug deep. On a tricky racetrack without lane choice, we went out there and were the second-quickest car. It would have won any other round but the round we just raced.”
While she would have loved to snag the Wally in her home state, Enders-Stevens is still within distance of regaining her spot on top of the Pro Stock points standings. As the defending winner two years in a row in St. Louis, the next stop in the Countdown to the Championship, she is in the best position possible to make that points jump happen.
“We’re going to go to St. Louis with our chins up and do our best there,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ll see what happens. We’ve got to race hard. There are four races left, a lot of racing left. With just a 10-point spread between each driver, anything can happen. We’ll go to St. Louis, do our best, and let God do the rest. I could not be more proud or optimistic.”
Enders-Stevens will look forward to her return to the 3rd Annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, Sept. 26-28, where she can retain her title of defending race winner.