NHRA: Pro Stock driver Erica Enders hitting on all cylinders heading into U.S. Nationals

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Just in time for the biggest yearly race in drag racing, the 61st annual NHRA U.S. Nationals next weekend (Sept. 2-7), Erica Enders is back where she wants to be: leading the NHRA Pro Stock point standings.

The defending Pro Stock champ, the first woman to ever capture that category’s top title, Enders will have double incentive to do well at the U.S. Nationals, in Brownsburg, Indiana.

First, she wants to win the race and head in to the subsequent Countdown to the Championship with a ton of momentum.

But there’s added incentive and a great honor to go with it:

“Chevrolet has asked me to be the grand marshal for the U.S. Nationals, which is going to be a huge honor for me,” Enders said in an NHRA media release. “We’ll do our best as a team to have an awesome weekend there.”

In addition, NHRA is adding incentive to pro drivers in next week’s marquee event by increasing the available points to be earned with a 50 percent bonus.

“It’s the first time it’s going to be worth a point and a half, so every round is going to be crucial,” Enders said.

Enders won last weekend’s race at Brainerd, Minn., her fifth triumph of the season, putting her back atop the Pro Stock standings.

“I had a really good feeling coming in (to Brainerd), even before the weekend started,” said Enders, who had struggled in the previous five races, winning just six total rounds since winning at Bristol. “I felt like it was our turn and the tables were about to turn.

The Brainerd triumph was Enders’ 17th career victory, putting her one win away from tying three-time Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney for No. 2 on the NHRA all-time win’s list by a female driver.

“I think we’re working our way back to having our awesome race car, and this is definitely a great step in the right direction, at the right point of the season,” Enders said. “We’re going to do our best to continue this momentum in Indy. It’s definitely going to be a dogfight in Indy.”

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Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”