After long, hard road, Erica Enders-Stevens enjoying outstanding success in NHRA Pro Stock

Leave a comment

So much has been made about Danica Patrick and when she’ll win her first Sprint Cup race.

Patrick could take a few pointers on how to win from NHRA Pro Stock driver Erica Enders-Stevens. Not only has the New Orleans resident earned three wins in four final-round appearances this season, she has qualified either first or second in 11 of the first 12 events in 2014.

But wait, there’s more, something Patrick likely can only dream about: the 30-year-old Enders-Stevens is dominating the Pro Stock class in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings.

In addition to three wins (Las Vegas, Houston, Bristol), Enders-Stevens also one runner-up finish and two other semi-final finishes in the first 12 races heading into this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.

Add all those stats together and it’s no wonder Enders-Stevens holds a massive 190-point edge over second-ranked and five-time and defending season champion Jeg Coughlin, and a 191-point edge over third-ranked and 2012 season champ Allen Johnson.

“It really is a dream come true, very surreal,” Enders said in an exclusive interview with NBCSports.com’s MotorSportsTalk. “I’ve dedicated 22 years of my life trying to get to this point, nonetheless with so many people’s help and wouldn’t have been able to get to this point without my dad.

“This is the first year I’ve had a team that stands behind me, a race car that’s capable of winning races and contending for the championship. It’s kind of one of those deals where you thank God for the blessings, stay humble and keep the faith.”

The Houston native, who now lives in New Orleans with husband and fellow Pro Stock racer Richie Stevens (who will likely eventually join his wife on the Elite Motorsports team once enough sponsorship for a second car is procured), has quickly become the most successful female Pro Stock driver in history.

In 164 career races, she has a total of nine wins, 12 runner-up finishes and 15 other semifinal finishes. She’s also been No. 1 qualifier seven times and has a 139-105 round won-loss record.

But it’s not been an easy road for Enders-Stevens. She started racing in the NHRA junior dragster program at the young age of eight. After nine years in that class, she moved up to the sportsman (amateur) ranks and eventually into the Pro Stock class.

Along the way, she learned some hard lessons, including what it was like to lose, failing to qualify for 50 races along the way. She and sister Courtney Enders were also the subject of a 2003 Disney Channel movie, Right On Track, which chronicled their efforts to become successful female racers against long odds and battles against many male racers.

“Back in 1992, my sister and I were the only girls, at least at our home track,” Enders-Stevens said. “Then we’d go to the national events and what-not, and there was just a small handful of us. Now, over 50 percent of the junior dragster drivers are female, which is pretty cool.”

But when she moved to Elite Motorsports at the end of last season, Enders-Stevens found herself in the best spot of her career – and her results this season have proven that.

“It’s been really awesome,” she said. “At the end of 2013, Richard Freeman, who is my team owner, hired me to drive for him and Elite Motorsports, probably the best move of my career.

“People are the most important part of the puzzle. Horsepower doesn’t hurt, but if you’re out here getting along, having fun and enjoying each other’s company, there’s no reason to go home and get a real job.

“I’ve been really blessed with a great group. The first two races, we struggled a little bit. But since Gainesville on, it’s just been kind of a dream season. We’ve jelled real quickly.”

Enders-Stevens has quickly earned a reputation for her nerves of steel and cool demeanor. She rarely strays from her mild-mannered disposition and doesn’t let the pressure of big-time drag racing get to her.

“Ninety percent of it is mental and you’ve just got to stay focused,” she said. “I don’t get excited in regular life, either. My dad used to joke with me as a kid and would say, ‘Act excited.’ And I’d say to him, ‘I am excited.’ I’m always pretty even kilter and just go with the flow.”

Having the first realistic chance to win her first Pro Stock championship, Enders-Stevens hasn’t strayed from her “go with the flow” demeanor. She wants that championship, but there’s still 12 races to go and knows anything can happen between now and season’s end.

“That’s the big picture, but it’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “Every weekend, we have to focus on going one round, one at a time, and not let the big picture interfere with week-to-week success and that’s one thing my team owner has really helped put in perspective.

“Yeah, we have high goals and are going to work hard to get there. At this point of the season, midway through, it’s a dream year, from the wins, to the K&N Challenge (a special race within a race that she also won), to (setting) both ends of the world record (speed and elapsed time).”

While she admittedly had a rough time coming up through the ranks, Enders-Stevens is thankful for the opportunities and success she’s had – and will continue to have – in NHRA racing, perhaps the most progressive form of motorsport in the world with its widespread and welcoming diversity program.

“It’s purely based on opportunity,” Enders-Stevens said. “NHRA has provided us a great platform for us to excel on. I started in junior dragster when I was eight years old and did that for nine years. Then I moved up to the sportsman league, which is like amateurs.

“We were all able to run on the same track as the pros as an amateur. You’re in front of the same crowd and sponsors. Just keeping your name and face out here, it just gives you a great stage to excel on. I think that’s a big reason why there are so many females and you’re able to start at such a young age. It teaches you the fundamentals of the sport and gives you a nice little ladder to climb if that’s your goal.”

She also gives credit to many of her fellow female drivers like Funny Car pilot Alexis DeJoria, Brittany and Courtney Force and others for what they bring to the sport.

But it was legendary Top Fuel driver Shirley Muldowney that first inspired Enders-Stevens and got her interested not only in becoming a drag racer, but also realizing that anyone can win a championship. Muldowney, now retired, became the first female champion in NHRA history, earning three titles in her career.

“Shirley Muldowney, for sure, was my idol,” Enders-Stevens said. “As a kid growing up, I rooted for her. And when she retired, it was Shelley Anderson, who is Shelly Payne now, the Top Fuel dragster.

“I always rooted for the girls, I guess, because I was a girl trying to compete with all the guys. … I certainly looked up to Shirley and she paved the way for us, people like me and Alexis DeJoria and other girls out here who are competing. I know what we have to put up with now in 2014. I can’t imagine what it was like in the ’70s (when Muldowney began racing in the NHRA). She’s (Muldowney) tough for a reason.”

Unlike other drivers who switch classes in their careers, Enders-Stevens plans on remaining in Pro Stock for the rest of her career – which could very well be another 15 to 20 years, with many more wins and potential championships.

“My heart and soul is here,” she said. “(Pro Stock is) a driver’s class. It’s your raw factory hot rod horsepower, it’s real and awesome and I love that the pressure’s on me and my crew chiefs. I like leaving with the clutch, I like shifting.

“The fuel guys (Top Fuel and Funny Cars) joke that we’re taxi cab drivers, and we say that they just stab and steer it. There’s a little fun banter going on between the classes, but I have no desire to run one. If I had no job and somebody offered me a lot of money to run one, sure, I’d do it. I mean, I’m licensed in a Funny Car and that’s the route I was going to go before Pro Stock. But now that I’ve been doing this and trying to make it for 10 years, this is it. I love it.”

Even with her commanding lead over Coughlin and Johnson in the Pro Stock standings, Enders-Stevens isn’t taking anything for granted or cleaning off a spot on the mantle for her potential championship trophy just yet.

But with her best previous season to date ending in a fourth-place finish (2012), she admits she has thought a lot about what it would be like to be an NHRA champion.

“That’s the stuff when you can’t sleep at night, you lay there thinking about since I was a kid,” she said. “There’s a lot of racing left and there’s at least six teams out here that have good cars that’ll be in the mix at the end of the year. It’ll just be staying consistent, not getting ahead of ourselves, going A to B and doing our best every race day. That’s what it’s going to take to win the championship.

“It’s grueling, it’s stressful, it’s tough, we’ve been on the road for a month now, then have a week off and then another three (weeks) in a row again. The summer stretch is really hard on everyone, but you just have to stay focused and not get ahead of yourself.”

She pauses, and then adds, “But it would be awesome (to win the championship).”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Videos below of Enders setting Pro Stock national speed and elapsed time records:

 

 

NBCSN to begin coverage of 2017 American Flat Track season on July 3

American Flat Track/Andrea Wilson
Leave a comment

NBCSN will begin its coverage of the 2017 American Flat Track season this coming Monday (July 3) with a presentation of the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Below is the full release detailing TV coverage and times for the 18 races to be shown on NBCSN in the coming months.

STAMFORD, Conn. – June 28, 2017 – NBCSN begins its coverage of the 2017 American Flat Track season next Monday, July 3, at 11 p.m. ET, with a presentation of the season-opening Harley-Davidson DAYTONA TT event at iconic Daytona International Speedway.

Now in the midst of its 64th consecutive season, American Flat Track is the most historic form of American motorcycle racing and 2017 marks the dawning of a new golden era for the sport. The series boasts two diverse and highly-competitive classes and is headlined by powerful, twin-cylinder motorcycles in the AFT Twins class, with spirited single-cylinder machines battling it out in AFT Singles.

Play-by-play announcer Jason Weigandt will handle play-by-play duties for the season, alongside veteran Superbike racer and multi-time American Flat Track race winner Larry Pegram and pit reporter Heather DeBeaux.

In addition to the 18 primetime premieres, NBCSN will present weekday encore telecasts of each one-hour show. NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs – will provide streaming coverage alongside NBCSN’s premiere telecasts. FansChoice.tv, a cornerstone of American Flat Track’s digital strategy, will continue provide live streaming coverage for every round of the 2017 season.

Below is the full telecast schedule on NBCSN for the 2017 American Flat Track season:

Date Location Network Time (ET)
Mon., July 3 Daytona International Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Mon., July 10 Dixie Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Mon., July 17 Charlotte Motor Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., July 27 Turf Paradise NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 3 Cal Expo Fairgrounds NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 10 Illinois State Fairgrounds NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 17 The Red Mile NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 24 Remington Park NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., August 31 Allen County Fairgrounds NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 7 Rolling Wheels Raceway Park NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 7 Calistoga Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., September 14 Buffalo Chip NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 14 Black Hills Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., September 21 Peoria Motorcycle Club NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 21 Illinois State Fairgrounds NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., September 28 Williams Grove Speedway NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., September 28 Texas Motor Speedway NBCSN 11 p.m.
Thur., October 12 Perris Auto Speedway NBCSN 10 p.m.

Pirelli announces tire picks for Italian GP at Monza

Pirelli
Leave a comment

Pirelli has announced its Formula 1 tire picks for the Italian Grand Prix weekend at Monza in September, mirroring its selection from 2016.

As is standard for all F1 races, Pirelli will take three compounds to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, favoring a mid-range selection of super-softs, softs and mediums for all drivers to use.

The Italian company took the same compounds to its home race in 2016, which was completed on a mix of one- and two-stop strategies by teams.

Given the more conservative nature of Pirelli’s 2017 compounds, it is likely that most will be able to get home on one stop in September despite the high-speed nature of the Monza circuit.

Drivers will be required to complete the final stage of qualifying on the super-soft compound, as well as save at least one set of either mediums or softs to use in the race.

Graphic courtesy of Pirelli

The Italian Grand Prix takes place on September 3, 2017.

IMSA news roundup: Watkins Glen

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship resumes action this weekend with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, its sixth event of 2017 and Round 3 of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

Leading into the race, a handful of recent news stories have added intrigue to the already noteworthy event, and a couple could play prominent roles as the weekend progresses.

Ed Brown to Retire from Prototype Driving With an Eye on GT3

Ed Brown, co-founder of Tequila Patrón ESM and President and CEO of Patrón Spirits International, will step out of the No. 22 Nissan Onroak DPi after the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, citing ongoing business commitments.

“I have been racing for 14 years. I have had a ball, but given the tremendous growth of Patrón, it’s more important than ever that I more fully commit my attention to the global business opportunity,” Brown said of his decision. “The plan was always to retire from prototype racing at some point, and now seemed like the right time.”

Brown’s racing career began to take off in 2007. Scott Sharp, then a driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series with sponsorship from Patrón Tequila, surprised Brown that year with a Tequila Patrón ESM branded car and a trip to a four day racing school. Only two weeks afterward, Brown was in Cleveland competing in his first race.

He contested the Patrón GT3 Challenge by Yokohama in 2009 before advancing to the American Le Mans Series GT class the following year, piloting a Ferrari Italia F433. In 2014, Brown celebrated his first overall win, with co-driver Johannes van Overbeek, with the team now fielding an HPD ARX-03b in the Prototype class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The 2016 season perhaps brought Brown the most success he’s had as a driver, with overall wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Scott Sharp, team co-owner and driver of the No. 2 entry with Ryan Dalziel, expressed much gratitude toward Brown for his influence on the team. “It has been an amazing experience over the last 13 years,” said Sharp. “I watched a guy, who had never driven anything, push himself, become immersed in the sport, develop into a top driver, and help score some big wins! Ed has equally been instrumental off the track proving key direction and foresight for us as a team and myself as a friend.”

Pipo Derani, who helped Tequila Patrón ESM score the aforementioned Daytona and Sebring triumphs, will return to the team following Watkins Glen to partner van Overbeek for the remainder of the season.

However, it should be noted that, while Brown is stepping out of Prototype competition, his driving career is far from finished, as he’ll be testing several GT3 manufacturers going forward with an eye toward fielding a GT3 car in 2018. Further, Brown’s retirement from prototype racing will not impact the team’s plans in IMSA, in which it is committed to run through 2018.

“No doubt, I’ll be there to cheer on Tequila Patrón ESM at the races,” Brown finished. “Johannes and Pipo will make a great combination, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they will accomplish in the remaining races.”

The Glen Sees Patriotic Liveries Spread Through the Field

Because the six-hour endurance race takes place near the Fourth of July, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen will see no shortage of patriotic liveries, and a handful posted images of their liveries ahead of the event.

A sampling of the special liveries can be seen below, with Michael Shank Racing and 3GT Racing spotlighted. A spotter guide for the weekend can be seen here.

 

Motul Named Official Motor Oil of Watkins Glen International

Earlier this year, Watkins Glen entered into a new partnership with Motul and named the producer of high-performance motor oils and industrial lubricants as the official motor oil of the 2.454-mile road course.

The multi-year agreement will feature on-site presence from Motul as well as signage and ticket allotments.

“The quality of Motul products has been relied upon by those in the motorsports world for over 160 years,” said Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup. “We are thrilled to align ourselves with such a recognizable and trusted brand and look forward to working closely with them as part of our family.”

Guillaume Pailleret, President of Motul North America, echoed Printup’s enthusiasm. “We are honored to see Motul associated with The Glen, terrain of so many legendary battles on a race track. We are also very excited about that partnership with Watkins Glen for it proves our commitment to the US East Coast where our brand is making a strong push this year, both with Automotive and Powersport lubricants.”

Qualifying for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen will begin at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday July 1, with the race beginning Sunday July 2 at 10:00 a.m.

 

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Button calls for F1 to ‘move on’, hand Vettel no further punishment

Leave a comment

Recent Formula 1 driver Jenson Button believes the sport should “move on” from Sebastian Vettel’s clash with Lewis Hamilton in Baku and hand the Ferrari driver no further punishment for his sideway swipe.

Vettel drove towards Hamilton under the safety car in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, resulting in a 10-second stop/go penalty during the race for dangerous driving, the harshest available penalty bar exclusion.

The FIA confirmed on Wednesday that it would be re-examining the incident to see if any further action is warranted, with Hamilton telling NBCSN after the race in Baku that it would set a dangerous precedent if more was not done to punish Vettel.

Taking to Twitter on Thursday, Button – who spent 17 seasons racing full-time in F1 and most recently made a one-off return in Monaco with McLaren – offered his view of the situation, saying that the sport’s bosses should move on and not give Vettel any further punishment.