As the NHRA Countdown to the Championship heads into the final three events with this weekend’s Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania, up next, there is upwards of half the playoff field still in contention for a title (see related articles). Specifically, in the Pro Stock ranks, the battle for the number one spot is up for grabs with at least six drivers in contention. One of those drivers is Erica Enders-Stevens, who’s circuitous and almost torturous year has been anything but smooth … so can she win the championship?
Almost finished by lack of funding
Enders-Stevens had to start the Countdown in ninth place because she missed several races due to lack of sponsorship. She had a very good year going before the lack of funds all but doomed her Cagnazzi Racing team from finishing the year. However, her car-owner, Victor Cagnazzi, found a marketing partner in Husky Liners just before the playoffs started. As luck – or maybe hard work – would have it, her solid year kept her high enough in the point standings to squeak into the Top 10 Countdown.
Regardless, with a win last week at St. Louis and no first round losses so far during the Countdown, Enders-Stevens has moved into fourth overall, just 60 points or three rounds out of first. The team’s performance has been championship quality. She has qualified in the top four for each of the three playoff events with a number one qualifier at Texas.
However, performance alone may not be enough in a Pro Stock class that is so competitive, there are at least five other drivers who can win the title. Each is fast and quite capable, including four who have already won championships. Former champ Mike Edwards leads in Pro Stock but has only a 10 point cushion over second place Jeg Coughlin who has won multiple titles. Third place is another former champion, Jason Line, who is just 30 points back of Edwards. Shane Gray sits right behind Erica in fifth place, 65 markers back, with last year’s champion Allen Johnson 69 points in arrears. Considering one round is worth 20 points, all six contenders are less than four rounds from winning the championship.
Being the most recent winner – by the way, as a holeshot victor over Edwards in St. Louis – Enders-Stevens is as talented as any of her other Countdown competitors. If she can win the championship, Erica will have earned it by beating back arguably the toughest class in the sport. And she would have done it with a handicap of several lost races.
A championship trophy for Enders-Stevens will be historic as she would be the first woman ever to win the Pro Stock title. In addition, she may be the first champion to have missed six races and still win the title. The victory at St. Louis was somewhat historic family-wise in that it gave her six career wins tying her with none other than her husband, Richie Stevens, who will be joining her as a racer in Reading this week. If she had not missed some meets, here’s an interesting thought to keep in mind: Since Erica’s first win last season, she has won roughly 25% of all the events she has entered. Might she be sitting in first right now if not for the sponsorship woes?
Can Erica Enders-Stevens make history and win it all? Her steadfast and resolute confidence that she would make it through all of this might be her best asset. Enders-Stevens faith is worn on her sleeve … and also on the rear of her Camaro’s back window which may say it all: Phil 4:13. It’s a bible verse that states,
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
She has a lot of strength right now and a historic championship may be next.
Additional source: NHRA