There is an enclave in College Station, Texas, known as “Aggieland.” It’s Texas A&M University, where students are committed to upholding the school’s unique and plentiful traditions.
Four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Erica Enders — A&M class of 2006 Mays Business School alumna — invoked the so-called Spirit of Aggieland in trying to describe what it’s like to have soared into the stratosphere of her equally tradition-rich, 50-year-old “factory hot rod” class.
“Like we said at Texas A&M, from the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it,” Enders said.
That’s an apt depiction of her journey, which began at the age of eight as a Jr. Dragster competitor nearly 30 years ago and has traveled through the Super Gas, Super Comp, Factory Stock Showdown, Stock, Competition Eliminator and Pro Modified classes.
It has brought her notoriety. She and sister Courtney inspired the 2003 Disney movie “Right On Track.” She owns the NHRA Pro Stock’s fastest speed, a 215.55 mph clocking that has held up since 2014. She has 29 “Wally” trophies and her next elimination-round-win will be No. 350. She has matched class icons Greg Anderson and the late Lee Shepherd with four series crowns.
Enders passed drag-racing icon Shirley Muldowney (Top Fuel) and Pro Stock Motorcycle trailblazer and 43-time winner Angelle Sampey for the most NHRA titles among women.
“It’s pretty awesome to join the winningest female, Angelle, and then, of course, Shirley, who’s one of my heroes — paved the way for all of the girls nowadays and a tough woman who has offered a lot of solid advice for me,” Enders said. “It’s a goal I set as a child; that I wanted to be the best race car driver on the planet, not just female. To be one ahead of my idols means a lot to me.
“I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near done yet, but even if I were, this is huge.”
With her second set of consecutive titles completed, Enders is the most decorated professional woman in NHRA drag racing.
Her career has also had its roadblocks and speed bumps: short-lived sponsorship deals, the occasional run-in with an on-track rival, the heartbreak of a broken car at the starting line in the final round, losing close races, red-lighting and being tricked by malfunctioning electronics telling her she won when she didn’t.
The business-management and marketing major has learned lessons about corporate cunning that have made posting stellar reaction times and hitting shift points seem like a cakewalk.
Those experiences have only made her stronger.
“I believe that our ability to persevere through any circumstance is what makes us great,” Enders said of her Elite Performance team with whom she has registered all four championships. “No matter what the world, the NHRA, our competitors or our haters throw at us, we find a way to dig deep and play with all the heart we have. Individually, we all have strengths, but together we are unstoppable.
“I believe and trust in this team with everything that I have. They are the reason why I am here. Our fearless leader, Richard Freeman, organized the most perfect group of people,” she explained. “We crawled our way to the top, earning every bonus point, every qualifying position, every round win, every national event win and every world championship. We did it with our backs against the wall and we did it together. That’s what makes our team special. It’s what makes us elite.”
It’s what has enabled her to triumph in a variety of ways.
Enders’ first two championships came back-to-back (2014-’15) but certainly weren’t carbon copies. The first she called “epic,” as she bested Jason Line in a winner-take-all showdown. The next year, she locked it up over Anderson with one race remaining.
In 2019, she said her third title was special because of the struggle. Her team switched car manufacturers, from Dodge to Chevrolet. She finally adapted to the fuel-injection era. The NHRA cut the schedule from 24 races to 18, meaning she and her competitors had just 12 events in which to qualify among the Countdown’s top 10.
Through those obstacles, Enders broke a 30-race drought and edged multi-time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. for the championship.
That title, she said that November day, “means a lot because of the valleys that we’ve been through. It was a challenge for us. On a personal level, I have struggled. I’ve struggled mentally in the race car.
“I’ve struggled in my personal life. It’s just an awesome feeling to be back on top.”
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