Erica Enders adds to trailblazing motorsport legend

Erica Enders sealed an incredible sixth NHRA title. Image: NHRA

Erica Enders is now among the greatest NHRA drivers of all time after winning her sixth Pro Stock title at the NHRA Finals.

Already widely regarded as the most successful female racer of any motorsport discipline, Enders joined the late Bob Glidden (10) and Warren Johnson (six) as the only Pro Stock competitors to win six or more titles.

Even taking the other NHRA Professional categories into consideration the list does not get much longer with only John Force (16), Tony Schumacher (eight), Kenny Bernstein (six), Dave Schultz (six), Andrew Hines (six) and Matt Smith (six) equaling or bettering the tally.

With Enders as low as 14th in the points as late in the season as May, the turning point was at Bristol where she qualified first and won the race, kickstarting her comeback.

During the first five races of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, she recorded a 14-3 round win/loss record, with back-to-back wins in Dallas and Las Vegas all but securing the title.

During the season she also became the sport’s most successful female racer with her 47th career victory in Dallas – surpassing the previous record set by three-time Pro Stock Bike Champion Angelle Sampey.

“On the heels of a career-best season last year, anything was going to be challenging,” said Enders. “It took us seven races to figure out our issue and I owe my guys all my credit in the world.

“The message this year is tenacity and consistency, and digging through all of it prevailing when it matters. I have to thank my guys for that. Richard Freeman is a tremendous leader that gave us all such a great opportunity starting at Elite Motorsports in 2014.”

In Top Fuel, six-time Top Fuel Championship Runner-up Doug Kalitta finally shook the tag of bridesmaid off in a winner-take-all final round shootout with Leah Pruett.

Pruett and Kalitta were the last two standing in the Top Fuel championship, having eliminated fellow contenders Steve Torrence and Justin Ashley in the semi-finals.

After 26 seasons and nearly 590 events without a championship, Kalitta joins his late cousin Scott Kalitta (Top Fuel Champion in 1994 and 1995), and JR Todd (Funny Car Champion in 2018) as a championship winner for the team owned by his uncle, legendary drag racer Connie Kalitta.

“Obviously throughout the year we’ve kind of struggled with changing a lot of stuff with our car and when we blew that tire for some reason our luck kind of changed,” he said.

“It was just a big relief, really, because I’ve definitely been trying to win this thing for years and it’s definitely been on my ‘things to do list’ and my cousin Scott’s won this thing a couple of times so I was always growing up in his shadows and trying to accomplish what he’s accomplished. And so that was definitely on my bucket list.”

Matt Hagan delivered Tony Stewart Racing its first NHRA title with Hagan’s fourth Championship oddly decided with Hagan watching from the sidelines after losing in Round 2.

Entering the event there were three contenders closely bunched in points – Hagan, Bob Tasca III and Robert Hight – and whoever went the furthest in eliminations would be the champion.

Round 2 was enough to stun even the most seasoned of NHRA fans; in successive runs, Tasca lost to Cruz Pedregon and Hagan lost to Blake Alexander, meaning that if Robert Hight could best Chad Green then he would be the champion for the fourth time.

Hight lost traction at halftrack, and Green stormed past for the win – triggering wild celebrations in the turnout area where Hagan was watching anxiously.

“It’s just one of those things where you just hate to have to stand there and watch someone go out to win a championship; that’s just not my style of racing,” said Hagan.

“That’s not how I want to win, but it’s really about the body of work that we did all year and coming in here and being ahead and points to be able to have that opportunity where if they went out the same round, we win the championship.”

Gaige Herrera locked up the Pro Stock Motorcycle title simply by making a qualifying pass, underlining just how dominant the Vance & Hines rider has been this season.

With his 10 victories this season trying the all-time season record set by Matt Hines in 1998, Herrera delivered the Vance & Hines team its 14th title.

“I had to adjust to things like racing in front of a crowd and dealing with the media when I came over here to NHRA,” said Herrera. “I just had to learn to block everything out but I’m having so much fun this year.”

The 2024 Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series will kick off next March in Gainesville, Florida, with the historic Gatornationals opening the new season.

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