Past successes at Route 66 have Enders anxious to start this year's race
NEW ORLEANS, LA – One round further. That's all KLR Group driver Erica Enders wants for this weekend's 15th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
Enders reached the finals of this race a year ago, her second trip to the final round of the Chicago event in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class.
"Chicago is one of the tracks I enjoy going to because of our previous success there," Enders said. "We've been one run shy of getting a win a number of times there. We're hopeful we can get it done this weekend."
Last year, Enders qualified No. 3 before taking out former Pro Stock champions Warren Johnson, Mike Edwards and Jason Line in the first three rounds of eliminations. She then fell in the final round to another Pro Stock champion, Greg Anderson, but she performed well all weekend.
That came after reaching the finals in the second Chicago race of 2005, where she qualified No. 5 and then beat Ron Krisher, Edwards and Johnson before losing in the finals to Line.
What is it about Chicago that has allowed her to be so competitive?
"I'm really not sure, but I'll take whatever it is," Enders said. "Like Mike Edwards last week at Bristol, that was his fourth year in a row to win that race. It's something that if you ask every driver, you can't really explain it. It's a great facility, the fans are awesome. Maybe it's a little Chi-town luck, I don't know, but I like it."
The 2005 race was historic, because it marked the first time a female driver reached the finals of a Pro Stock race. Sunday's final was hectic, as Enders blew an engine in the semifinals, forcing a quick change between rounds. Enders and her car hurriedly made it to the starting line, but she came up just short.
"It's the race track where I had my first final round in 2005," Enders said. "It was very surreal. It was my first year as a professional, and I don't think I really grasped what was going on. It was just kind of in the moment. If I would've had the experience I have now, it would've been a lot different.
"But it was cool. We made history that weekend, becoming the first woman to ever get to a final round. It was a very cool weekend. We came out on the wrong side of the deal, but it's something that people still talk about."
Perhaps this weekend Enders and her GK Motorsports team can give fans more to talk about.
The O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals get under way Friday with two qualifying sessions starting at 4 p.m. CDT. Qualifying continues Saturday with another two sessions, also getting under way at 4 p.m. Sunday's eliminations will get under way at 11 a.m. ESPN2 will air the qualifying show at 6 p.m. EDT on Saturday night and eliminations at 6 p.m. Sunday.