(Photos courtesy NHRA)

NHRA: Erica Enders still has a lot to race for in what has been a very difficult season

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Erica Enders would like nothing more than to give herself a belated birthday present at this weekend’s AAA Texas Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex in suburban Dallas.

And what a present it would be, one that would be so welcome in a season that has been anything but welcoming

Enders, who turned 33 on Oct. 8, has had one of the most frustrating seasons any drag racer has ever seen.

In 2014, she won six races and her first NHRA Pro Stock championship.

In 2015, she won nine races and repeated as Pro Stock champ.

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Erica Enders

But 2016 has been a whole other story. She has yet to win even one race this season. She also failed to qualify for the first race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Admittedly, it has been a rough transition for Enders and Elite Motorsports’ switch from Chevrolet power and adapting to Dodge/Mopar power under the hood this season, as well as the changeover in the class from carbureted motors to Electronic Fuel Injection.

And, if she has another poor outing this weekend, she could wind up being mathematically eliminated from continuing on in the Countdown.

That’s why a win on Sunday would help Enders and her team forget about so many first round exits (11 in the first 21 races), the DNF at Charlotte and other disappointments that have occurred this season.

“The nature of this sport is full of peaks and valleys,” Enders said in a media release. “Believe me, I’ve experienced it all out here and compared to years I’ve had in the past, this season hasn’t been that bad.

“Certainly you get used to winning and even dominating at times. That’s why we all work so hard. But every driver, every champion out here has experienced years like this. The good news is our team hasn’t fallen apart and I know we’ll come back better than ever. Right now, we’re just focused on finishing the year strong.”

Enders comes into this weekend ranked last (10th) in the Pro Stock standings, a massive 285 points behind Pro Stock points leader Jason Line.

To stay eligible in the Countdown, Enders would have to leave the Texas Motorplex on Sunday less than 260 points behind Line or anyone else who might assume the points lead after this weekend.

Racing at the Ennis, Texas facility may be just the thing Enders needs. First, she’s a Texas native, having grown up near Houston.

Second, she has raced at the Ennis facility for 25 years, since she was an eight-year-old competitor in Junior Dragster racing.

Plus, she is the defending champion of this race.

So, in a sense, Enders would probably love to celebrate a quarter-century of racing at the Motorplex with a big win Sunday.

“I’m a Texas girl through and through,” Enders said. “I always love being home and the Motorplex was pretty much my second home track next to Houston Raceway Park, so yes, this race is very important to me.

“We were on such a roll last year and winning this race put us in a really good position to clinch our second championship with just two races left. We were able to get it done the following race in Las Vegas so obviously the win in Texas was pivotal.

“I loved getting the cowboy hat and belt buckle they give the winners also. That had always been on my drag racing bucket list.”

This week, even with knowing she’s all but eliminated from earning a third consecutive championship, there’s still plenty to win for Enders.

“I’m going to have fun this weekend,” Enders said. “We’ll have lots of friends and family around, including a bunch of people from Oklahoma, which is where our shop is located.

“So it’ll be a good time. And we’ll do our best to race hard also.”

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NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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