Racer breaks new ground

Published: Saturday, January 15, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 10:42 p.m.
Enlarge |

Pro Stock racer Erica Enders poses in her car after a practice run at Gainesville Raceway.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun
Yeah, that's Pro Stock music you hear coming from Gainesville Raceway these days.
It's that all-important testing for this Chevy Cavalier.
So is it Greg Anderson?
Maybe Warren Johnson?
It's Erica Enders.
Whoa. A female Pro Stock driver? Right. Attempting to go where five other women have failed in the past.
Yes, Erica Enders, racer, and the subject of the Disney Channel movie "On the Right Track." She's here with the Victor Cagnazzi team getting valuable seat time before attacking the 2005 NHRA Powerade schedule and running for Rookie of the Year. In that effort, she'll be going against the likes of those drivers mentioned earlier, plus scads of other Pro Stockers, including 2004 Rookie of the Year Jason Line.
Enders, 21, climbs into her driving suit and looks not unlike a young Angelle Savoie or even a very early Shirley Muldowney as she makes about five passes a day down the quarter-mile.
Cagnazzi, a veteran drag racing car owner who previously campaigned a Pro Stock truck and had Steve Johns driving his Pro Stock car the past two years, has built a big shop, including a dynamometer, where he builds engines and cars.
That's in Mooresville, N.C., the heart of NASCAR country, and being busy there he will get to see only a limited number of Erica's runs through next week. But after virtually each pass, he's informed of her progress by cell phone.
For instance, one Enders pass in the Jerry Haas-fashioned car registered an elapsed time of 6.75 seconds at a speed of 203.16 mph. Consider that Anderson won the Pro Stock finals here last year with an elapsed time of 6.74 at 204.91 mph.
So, in addition to testing the car, Enders is getting valuable seat time under the watchful eye of her businessman father Gregg, a former racer himself, and crew chief Tommy Utt, who previously worked for the likes of champion Darrell Alderman, and a veteran crew.
But what about Erica?
How did the Texas A&M junior business student get to this point and what makes her and this group think she will be able to cut the mustard in that always tricky Pro Stock class? How did she start and work her way up?
Enders' career, from her Jr. Dragster days, through the Disney movie, Super Comp and Super Gas days and right up to this new ride, has a number of coincidences. "Coincidence," a man once wrote, "is God's signature when he prefers not to use His own name."
One was when the 8-year-old Enders picked up a National Dragster newspaper in her family's Houston garage one night.
"There was a big story that NHRA was introducing the Jr. Drag Racing League for kids from 8 to 17 to race," Enders recalls. "I got real excited and I said, 'Hey, Dad, I'd like to do it.' He said, 'Sure, it would be better than ballet.' "
Her first year she won the Division 4 Championship, and she was voted Driver of the Year in '95.
"Then when I was 16 I started racing Super Comp and only went back for the Jr. Nationals," Erica says.
Coincidence plays a part in that Disney movie, also.
"It was kinda weird, I guess. A Disney executive was in Houston and his plane got delayed and so he picked up a magazine while he was waiting and it was the one in which Courtney (her younger sister who also races) and I were featured, and Disney had done a couple of movies on girls in guy-dominated sports.
"It kinda fit into what they were looking for. They contacted us and we went to California for a meeting and five years later the movie was released."
Before moving to the big cars, Erica went through Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School's Super Comp course in 1999 - as her dad's present on her 16th birthday - and last year matriculated through his much more advanced Alcohol Funny Car course.
"I've loved racing my entire life and that definitely gave me the idea that's what I wanted to do," Enders says In addition to her Super Comp achievements, she won the O'Reilly Spring Nationals in her Super Gas Corvette last year.
Following that, another coincidence.
National Dragster wrote up the young winner, and she was also featured on ESPN2.
"They asked me where I wanted to go from there, and I said move up to Pro Stock. There hadn't been a girl attempt that for a while and that was my goal.
"Steve Johns, who now does the engine program for Victor Cagnazzi and drove for him last year, saw that and said, 'Hey, Vic, you might wanna check this out.' "
He did, Erica and her dad flew to North Carolina, and they went from there.
"He's the kind of guy my dad and I were looking to work with. He has good Christian values and stuff like that."
Enders sees herself first as a driver, then as a female.
"We have a first-class team and a first-class car, and an in-house engine program and an in-house engine program and we hope to be a threat next year," she says.
And Enders has no hopes of going to another class. She's happy in Pro Stock and her mom, Janet Lee, dad, Cagnazzi and the team are also.
They're all close and that's no coincidence.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top