(Photo courtesy Elite Motorsports)

NHRA: Erica Enders ignores trash talk, leaves opponents in her dust

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In a sense, Pro Stock driver Erica Enders’ NHRA career has been similar to that of a heavyweight boxer: it’s been one battle after another, fighting and punching her way to the top for over 20 years.

Ever since she started racing in 1992 at eight years old, Enders has had to endure countless trash talk and downright insults from fellow drag racers – almost exclusively male – for just one singular thing: her gender.

Rather than respect and appreciate Enders’ determination, her natural talent and the goals she hoped to achieve one day, fellow male racers would belittle her just because she was a female.

And then there was the ultimate threat that Enders presented to her male counterparts: the potential of being beaten by “a girl.”

“It got to a point where I was so stressed out,” Enders said. “I’d put my head down on my desk and cry and wonder why I do this, why I work with people that just tear me apart and make me feel like crap.

“I have an education and could probably go get another job and make equal or better money. But that’s not what I want. I’d never be happy. I go to bed thinking of this and I wake up thinking of it. I’m living my dream.”

As her career evolved, in addition to having to put up with the trash talk, Enders oftentimes drove for teams that didn’t have the most competitive equipment, leaving her to be more of an also-ran than a championship contender.

But since joining Elite Motorsports prior to the start of the 2014 season, Enders has truly been living her dream. She went out and became the first female Pro Stock champion in NHRA history last season.

“I didn’t have a real easy road through Pro Stock, it’s been way more valleys than peaks, a lot of issues throughout the years,” she said. “I just stuck with it, had a no-quit attitude and finally got surrounded by the right people. That’s why we’re having the success we’re having.”

This season, with two races remaining in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, Enders is closing in on her second straight Pro Stock title.

And while there is still some trash talk to endure, she takes comfort in knowing that she’s the best driver in the class.

“It’s been a tough road,” she said. “It gave us the underdog status for a few years, and now that we’ve proven ourselves and were able to win the championship last year, it’s definitely different to be chased rather than to chase.”

Enders’ win this past weekend at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, was yet another affirmation of just how good of a driver she has become. It was her eighth win of the season, setting an overall NHRA record for most wins in a single season in any class by a female racer.

“We as a team try to focus on just one round, one at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves, not focusing on who’s in the other lane and what’s going on,” she said. “We just do our best and have fun. I don’t really care if they throw darts at us or wave pom-poms. We get to do what we love for a living and it’s a true blessing.”

All the past trash-talking – and even the small amount that still lingers today – has only served to inspire and motivate Enders even more.

That’s why she is bound and determined to win a second championship in 2015 to not only prove that 2014 wasn’t a fluke, but to also show she truly belongs among the best drivers in the sport, regardless of gender.

“There’s a little bit of animosity between a lot of teams out there, but that’s just natural with competition,” she said. “It’s more than winning and losing here and it’s more than just points, it’s our livelihood.

“We pour our blood, sweat and tears into this, it costs a lot of money and we’re on the road 300 days a year and we’re away from our families, so it’s all about business when it boils down to it.

“We’re just going to keep having fun and keep doing our best and let our scoreboard do the talking.”

With races remaining at Las Vegas next weekend and two weeks later in the season finale at Pomona, Calif., Enders is close to locking up her second consecutive Pro Stock championship.

She leads her closest challenger, former champ Greg Anderson, by 154 points – which is the equivalent of more than the most points a driver can earn in any single race (150 points).

“It’d be a huge bonus to go back-to-back (championships),” she said. “I’d by lying if I told you I didn’t want to do that. I want to do that more than anything in the world.

“I think that solidifies the fact that our hard work has paid off and we belong here. It hasn’t always been fun and easy, but we’re here together now and we have the right people and I believe with all my heart that we can go back-to-back.”

But she’s not taking anything for granted, either. The lean and hungry years she experienced earlier in her career taught her that lesson very well.

“By no means is it over yet,” Enders said. “I know there’s only eight rounds of racing left, but there are a lot of bonus qualifying points to be gotten. We still have to go out there and do our job.

“We’re not going to change the way we race because of our point lead. We’re just going to stay focused and we want to win the final two – and the championship – and that’s what we’re going to set our goals at.”

And as for the trash talking that still exists, she’ll continue to turn a deaf ear to it.

“It’s really not worth talking about,” Enders said. “It’s like high school with money, it’s crazy. I don’t have time for it and my guys don’t have time for it. (Opponents) can talk all that they want, we’ll just continue to work hard. When they’re talking about us, we’ll be working and we’ll just leave it at that and just keep plowing away.”

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Valtteri Bottas fastest in Friday F1 practices for Russian Grand Prix

F1 Sochi Valtteri Bottas
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SOCHI, Russia — Valtteri Bottas paced both F1 practices Friday for the Russian Grand Prix on Friday as Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton was slowed by damaged tires in the first session.

Bottas turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 33.519 seconds in the second session that bettered Hamilton’s 1:33.786.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was more than a second behind Bottas in third at 1:34.577, followed by the McLaren Racing duo of Carlos Sainz Jr. (1:34.723) and Lando Norris (1:34.847).

In the first F1 session at Sochi, Valtteri Bottas set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 34.923 seconds, beating Ricciardo by half a second. Max Verstappen was third quickest in his Red Bull, a further 0.147 back.

Hamilton could only manage 19th fastest after locking up his tires and leaving them with a flat spot. Ferrari again struggled to find pace with Sebastian Vettel ninth and Charles Leclerc 11th.

HISTORY IN SIGHTLewis Hamilton aims to tie Michael Schumacher’s record

The first session was briefly red-flagged when Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams. Carlos Sainz Jr. spun his McLaren backward into a barrier and broke off his rear wing.

Verstappen spun during the second session but avoided damage to his car.