Erica Enders-Stevens ready to become first female NHRA Pro Stock champ

3 Comments

Erica Enders-Stevens has long idolized legendary Top Fuel Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney for being the first woman to win not just one, but three NHRA championships (1977, 1980, 1982), as well as former three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Angelle Sampey (2000-2002).

In Sunday’s 50th anniversary and season-ending AutoClub NHRA Finals, Enders-Stevens has the chance to become idolized herself, as she can become the first woman in drag racing history to win the Pro Stock class championship.

“It would be very awesome to be able to make history,” Enders-Stevens said. “It would just show any other female that maybe even had a little bit of doubt that they weren’t capable or whatever.

“I’m a perfect example of a normal kid, through hard work and certainly surrounding myself with the right people and having such a solid support group, that anything is possible. I hope that’s the message that comes across to them.”

MORE: John Force in big fight to overtake Matt Hagan for record 17th NHRA Funny Car championship

Enders-Stevens comes into this weekend’s action 17 points ahead of former two-time Pro Stock champ (2006, 2011) Jason Line. Also mathematically still in the chase is Dave Connolly (-84 points) and Shane Gray (-111).

“You can’t get too ahead of yourself and dwell on what’s at stake, but at the same time, I’ve never been in this position in Pro Stock, and neither have any of the guys on my team,” Enders-Stevens said in an NHRA media release. “It’s definitely an interesting and awesome position to be in.

“But I try to just stay calm about it and focus on just one round, one at a time, and just going after it and doing our best and having fun most importantly.”

MORE: Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) close to wrapping up NHRA titles

The Pro Stock class has always been the grittiest class in drag racing because of its blue collar roots. The cars fans see race on the dragstrip are the closest there are to what those same fans drive on the streets and freeways.

Enders comes from blue collar roots and it would certainly be an accomplishment for her to not only win her first Pro Stock championship (she’s already the first woman to ever win a Pro Stock race), but also to be the first female to do so in a class that has up to this point been dominated primarily by male drivers.

Enders-Stevens has five wins this season, while Line has four. Line had been the Pro Stock points leader until the last race at Las Vegas, when he lost to Enders-Stevens in the semifinals (she’d go on to win the entire event in the final round).

But even though he’s back in second place in the points, Line is ready to give Enders-Stevens a real battle for the championship.

“It’s pretty simple, really,” Line said. “You have to go out there to win. There isn’t much more to it than that. Anything is possible, and I feel really good about this weekend.

“All we can do is go there and do the best we can. Of course sometimes you need a little racing luck as well, but we certainly have the ability to win the race, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

For Enders-Stevens, she has come from practically the shadows to having a career season that promises continued great performance next season even if she falls short in Sunday’s finals.

“This is the first time in my professional career that I have had such a solid group of guys that stands behind me and has my back,” she said. “That makes my job as a driver a lot easier.

“It’s a team deal and it’s just a really unique atmosphere, and I’m really proud and honored to be their driver. But they have shown exactly what they are made of this year, and when it comes down to crunch time, everybody pulls their weight, and it’s an awesome environment to work in.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

2 Comments

Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.