NHRA: Enders Finally Coming Into Her Own in ZaZa Energy Cobalt

By Auto News Log • March 22nd, 2011

Talk about a stressful situation. All eyes were on Pro Stock driver Erica Enders as she pulled to the starting line at Gainesville Raceway next to NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch in the first round of eliminations at the 42nd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, but the ZaZa Energy-backed Enders was up for the challenge.

Class newcomer Busch came to round one with a powerful Johnson & Johnson Mopar Hemi beneath the hood of his Shell Pennzoil Dodge Avenger and a quick 6.532 at 211.46 mph holding as his career best, and he had a ton of determination to make a big statement in his NHRA debut.

Enders, however, brought a lifetime of experience to the table complemented by a solid and very familiar team, a winning car, and the funding to bring it all together. Enders knew that she had the power to hold off the Hemi – her Roy Simmons-tuned Cobalt had clocked top speed of the meet with a national-record-setting run of 213.57 mph in qualifying – and she wasn’t going to let the guy in the other lane get in her head beyond simple acknowledgement of the magnitude of the situation.

“Nothing changes my race-day routine; it doesn’t matter who is in the other lane,” said Enders. “I just have to do my job to the best of my ability. But I got to Sunday and realized that I was the one who had something to lose. There was a little bit of added pressure that I didn’t realize until that morning, with all of the press and cameras and people – including [NHRA President] Tom Compton – talking to me about it at driver intro. I thought, ‘Wow, this really means a lot to a lot of people. I better be able to perform.’ ”

The New Orleans transplant had no trouble getting in the zone and cut a .021 light to Busch’s .049, and at the finish-line stripe, Enders’ ZaZa Energy Cobalt stopped the clock at 6.53 to her hard-charging opponent’s 6.54 in a match that had fans on either side nibbling at their nails for the duration.

“I was very excited and thankful when we got the win light,” said Enders. “Every round is important, but there was a lot on my shoulders with that one. Hopefully, that will say something to the naysayers who think I can’t drive or handle pressure. Under any amount of pressure, I can do my job.”

The NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League star-turned-Pro (who also experienced successful stints in Super Comp and Super Gas between) was momentarily uncertain of her fate in the off-season; as the curtain fell, she was still partnered with Cunningham Motorsports as the driver of one of its Ford Mustangs, but the partnership unexpectedly dissolved.

Enders quickly regrouped and worked nearly nonstop to drum up something for the 2011 season of Full Throttle Drag Racing, and with the help of ZaZa Energy Managing Partner of Operations Gaston Kearby, a plan began to take shape.

Kearby came onboard in a small way last season and found a true appreciation for the factory hot rods. Enders said that he “absolutely fell in love with Pro Stock,” and that this season, he wanted to see her in a competitive car. With Kearby’s support, Enders rekindled a relationship with Victor Cagnazzi and his Cagnazzi Racing team, which she drove for at the beginning of her Professional career in 2005.

“What a cool deal to come back and drive for Vic again. Having to jell with a new team definitely takes time, but this was almost like we’d jumped back into it without skipping a beat,” said Enders. “With the exception of two, I’d worked with all these guys before, and it’s such a great, positive atmosphere. Everybody has a good heart over there, and it’s in the right place. The most important thing is that we all love what we do. We’re having fun at it, and in my opinion, that’s the key to being successful – people are the key.”

Unlocking the door to success came quickly: At the first event of the season, the Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline, Enders qualified No. 1 for the second time in her career (the first was at the 2006 event in Topeka) and reset both ends of her career-best numbers to 6.553 and 211.69 mph in the car previously piloted by championship driver Jeg Coughlin Jr.

Her dream weekend came to an abrupt halt in the second round when a broken lifter immobilized the Cobalt on the burnout, and though she was wrought with disappointment in the immediate moments following the breakage, Enders bounced back in typical form and improved on her career best at the next event, the Gatornationals, recording a 6.502 to go with the record-breaking 213.57-mph speed.

“That’s why they call it racing and not winning,” said Enders of ending on a low note in Pomona.

“It was unfortunate that it happened on such a really great weekend; we were on the pole, on the good side of the ladder, had lane choice – and then Ronnie [Humphrey] blew the tires off the car. It was a punch in the gut because I know that we can win, I know I can drive, I know we have the best team in the world and they’ve proved that with three world championships, but we were able to get everything back together and move forward. On to the next one.”

Though the plan is to run the whole season, Enders acknowledges that anything can happen. As with everyone else, it all boils down to sponsorship dollars. If the team can continue on its current course, though, Enders is on track for her best season yet. She’s already putting a hurt on the other drivers in the class, and her first Pro Stock Wally is in sight.

“I want to get a win,” said Enders. “If you ask any driver what their goals are going into any weekend, it’s to win the race, but I think that we’ve got everything lined up to be able to do that now: sponsorship with ZaZa Energy, the team, the car, the driver.
Everything is in place, and I know we can do it. I’ve really worked my butt off for this. This is my seventh year in Pro Stock; it’s about damn time.”

Source: NHRA

 

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