Erica Enders-Stevens, the Mellow Yello Pro Stock points leader, is ready for the challenge facing her at Bandimere Speedway.
Enders-Stevens' first campaign with Elite Motorsports has been a dream season heading into the July 18-20 Mopar Mile High Nationals at the Morrison drag racing facility.
However, racing at Bandimere will present a couple new tests for the 30-year-old Houston native who now resides in New Orleans.
“It is a challenge to race at altitude,” said Enders-Stevens. “Everything is different in our class, Pro Stock. You have to change everything to be able to run at high altitude and then from the driving aspect, the racing happens differently. The clutch is incredibly easy to push, we run a little bit slower times in mile per hour and the shift lights come at different increments. It's challenging because it is different.”
The second challenge Enders-Stevens will have to overcome is her friend Allen Johnson.
Enders-Stevens, the most successful female driver in Pro Stock history, has garnered 1,116 points in 13 races this season and has a 241-point lead over the second-place Johnson with five races remaining before the six-race Countdown to the championship.
Johnson has been dominating at Bandimere, while driving his Mopar Dodge. The 2012 Pro Stock World Champion has won five of the past six races there and is the track's two-time defending Pro Stock champion.
“AJ is definitely king of the mountain,” admitted Enders-Stevens. “His team and Mark Ingersoll, his crew chief, have really got it figured out. AJ is a great friend of mine. He was a groomsman at our wedding and his wife was one of my bridesmaids.
“We're very close. If we can't win, I'd certainly love for them to win. We joke with them all the time, `what's the point of us even going to Denver, you're going to win anyway.' We are certainly going to do our best to try to knock him off the top but at the same time what they have done up there is pretty incredible.”
Johnson, the 2012 Pro Stock World champion, came right to the point when asked about Enders-Stevens' success this season.
“She has been kicking our butts,” he said. “They've got a good team and she's a great driver. She will be the driver to contend with at Bandimere. Hopefully we can continue to run well at Bandimere, but each year everybody seems to get a little closer.”
Enders-Stevens is not a stranger to Bandimere's quarter-mile drag strip — known on the National Hot Rod Association circuit as Thunder Mountain.
“I've raced at Bandimere since I drove junior dragsters,” she said. “I believe 1997 or '98 was the first year I was there and I've been going there ever since. I think so highly of the Bandimere family. What they have done for our sport is pretty incredible. The facility is state of the art, the hospitality is wonderful and I look forward to coming back every year.”
Enders-Stevens will be coming back this July as one of the top drivers in the competitive Pro Stock division.
She has won four events this year and has qualified first or second in 12 of the 13 races leading up to Bandimere. She now has 10 career NHRA pro career victories, joining Angelle Sampey (41 in Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Shirley Muldowney (18 in Top Fuel) as the only women with double-digit pro national event wins.
“Every girl racer out there just wants to be looked at as a driver and not as anything different,” Enders-Stevens said. “There are not very many of us but I always joke that the car doesn't know the difference if a man or a women is driving it. When the helmet goes on, I just think everything is equal and we're all there to rip each other's throats out.”
Enders-Stevens has been driving like a champion in her first season with Elite Motorsport's single-car team. She drove for Victor Cagnazzi for a majority of her professional career before moving to Elite.
“When I moved to Elite Motorsports at the end of last year, it was a big change,” said Enders-Stevens. “I knew immediately that I had made the right decision. The most important piece of the puzzle is definitely people. I've got a tremendous team and they have my back, they are encouraging and they are awesome. They work their tails off. We have a lot of great team chemistry. That's a huge part of our success.”
“Horsepower certainly doesn't hurt. Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston who head up our engine shop have given us really awesome engines. My crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones are also my chassis builders. They have the car just running awesome. There are a lot of things that go into it. Everything just feels like it has come together.”
Enders-Stevens has twice driven her Chevy-powered red Camaro to national elapsed time and speed records this season.
“It's been an incredible year so far,” she said. “If you would have told me where I would be at this point of the season I would have said I hope so but I have to pinch myself. It's surreal. I'm at a loss for words about the season we have had.”
Enders-Stevens will be one of the drivers to watch at Bandimere along with Johnson, Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta, Funny Car frontrunner Robert Hight and Andrew Hines who tops the points in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Hines, a 3-time world champion, is a graduate of Trinidad High School.
Defending champions Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Shawn Gann (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are other entrants for fans to follow.
The annual Mopar Block Party in Golden will be from 6-8 p.m. July 17 in Golden and racing begins July 18 with sportsman and profession qualifying sessions.