Erica Enders won her 19th race Sunday at the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, NC, passing NHRA legend Shirley Muldowney on the all-time wins list, and staking her claim as the greatest female driver in history.
She is on an absolute tear in NHRA’s Pro Stock category. This was the Chevy Camaro driver’s third consecutive win and seventh of the season, which means Enders has won 37 percent of the NHRA Pro Stock events in 2015 while defending her 2014 world championship.
Enders beat Vincent Nobile on a holeshot in the final round and took a commanding lead in the Pro Stock points standings as she eyes a second consecutive championship. She also tied Angelle Sampey’s record for most wins by a female driver in a single season.
While she has won the last three races relying on her quick reflexes and quicker reaction times, Enders is quick to give most of the credit to her crew, led by crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and team owner Richard Freeman.
“This is pretty incredible; it’s pretty surreal,” said Enders, who defeated V. Gaines, Chris McGaha and Allen Johnson in the first three rounds. “I feel like I’m in a dream. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a great group of guys. We have fun racing together. When I get in that car and close the door, there is not one single doubt that the car is prepared as well as it can be. It’s just up to me to drive it right.”
Antron Brown also raced to a historic victory in Top Fuel Sunday, outrunning rival J.R. Todd in the first ever final round between two African-American drivers at the highest level of NHRA drag racing.
Brown scored his fifth victory of the season and 36th of his career in Top Fuel and took over the points lead as he works toward a second series title. Brown left the starting line first and sped to a performance of 3.832 seconds at 311.56 mph in his dragster to finish in front of Todd, who trailed with a 4.063 at 286.32.
In 2006, Todd became the first African-American to win a race in the Mello Yello Series and in 2012 Brown became the first black driver to win an NHRA world championship title, the first in a major U.S. auto racing series. Today, they met for the first time in a final round race.
“It’s pretty awesome when you look at that,” Brown said. “J.R. has been racing longer in Top Fuel than I have. You never think about things like that. We’ve always talked about [racing each other] in the final one day. We both threw down on the tree and it was a great race. It just shows you what this NHRA sport is about. When I was a kid I got to come to this sport and was able to see guys like Big Daddy (Don Garlits) and Kenny Bernstein. It gave me that ray of hope because I could see what they’re doing because of all the access this sport offers. To be here racing in this sport so long, it is just a dream.”
Brown raced past Terry McMillen, Steve Torrence and Tony Schumacher to reach the final round. Even though he qualified sixth he put together a string of mid-3.80 second runs and had the most consistent dragster of the day.
“When you come here, this is one of the racing capitals of the world right here in Charlotte,” Brown said. “This track is a stadium. It reminds me of one of those old, old coliseums, like this is where all the people gather to wait for the battle to go down, like the gladiators.”
He said his semifinal round victory over playoff top seed Schumacher was massive in the grand scheme of the Countdown, and a huge motivational win for his team.
“Once we got to the semifinals here today, we were like, ‘All right, we’ve got to go up against ‘The Sarge,’ our teammate who is a tough competitor,'” Brown said. “We’ve been battling back and forth all year long. The thing about it was if he took us out and he won the race, it would be a 70-point swing, so that was the crucial round for us right there to keep the points close so we could stay in the battle with him.”
Del Worsham in Funny Car and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle were also winners at the first of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
In Funny Car, Del Worsham earned his first victory of the season and 27th of his career and vaulted into the points lead by outrunning event top qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round. Worsham powered his Toyota Camry to a 4.086 at 307.16 to finish in front of Johnson’s Dodge Charger, which posted a 4.119 at 300.93.
“Funny Car is extremely competitive right now,” said Worsham, who also won at zMAX in Top Fuel during his 2011 world championship season. “With what the DSR cars have been doing, especially Jimmy Prock and Jack Beckman, leaving Sonoma I was thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’ We’ve made some changes, weren’t complacent and the team has worked hard and we pulled it off. (Team owner) Connie Kalitta has given us the best parts. These are the races we are going to need to win if we’re going to win the championship.”
Worsham entered the playoffs as the fourth seed, but his team’s consistency in the regular season—
even though they didn’t earn a victory—was largely overshadowed by the stellar performances of DSR’s Jack Beckman, Johnson Jr., and Matt Hagan. He feels his team is ready to make a run for the championship, which if successful, would put him with Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi in an exclusive club of owners with series titles in both nitro classes.
“I just want to be at Pomona and be in position to be the Funny Car champion,” Worsham said. “I know there’s only a short list of people who have pulled it off. I don’t want to get that far ahead right now. We’re looking forward to St. Louis.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending world champ Hines won this event for the third time, clocking a winning run of 6.880 at 195.11 on his Harley-Davidson to Smith’s losing 6.910 at 192.49. It was Hines’ 40th career victory in the two-wheel category.
“I won here in the spring at the Four Wide and that was my 39th win and it has taken us all this time go get back and get win #40,” Hines said. “That tells you how tough it is out here.”
Hines outran Chaz Kennedy, veteran rider Steve Johnson and top qualifier Jerry Savoie to advance to the final and get a great start on defending his series crown. He moved into the points lead with the win, and is 20 points ahead of playoff top seed and teammate Eddie Krawiec heading into round two of the playoffs.
“I’m not quite certain why, but zMax Dragway has been kind to me,” Hines said. “The first three or four times here I never got past the first round. My Harley V-Rod was running straight and true and putting up big speeds and it has done it consistently. We’ve had to figure out how to get a win on a tricky track but everything played out in our favor. We took a chance and changed a bunch of parts on our engine at mid-season looking for more power and consistency and it paid off.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship continues next weekend with round two of the playoffs at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.
Sunday’s race was the first of six playoff races in the Countdown to the Championship and the 19th of 24 scheduled for the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.