Courtney Force and Erica Enders-Stevens are no strangers to making history in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. But the pair of talented female drivers both have a chance to leave their biggest marks on the NHRA history books with two races remaining in the 2014 Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Force is third in the Funny Car standings in her 10,000-horsepower Traxxas Ford Mustang, while Enders-Stevens sits in second in Pro Stock, 35 points behind leader Jason Line in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.
The history on the line is huge as Force and Enders-Stevens both have the opportunity to become the first female world champions in their respective classes. Each can take the next step toward accomplishing their goals at the penultimate race in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, the 14th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, Oct. 30-Nov. 2 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Force and Enders-Stevens’ pursuit of their historic championship titles will be two of the major storylines.
“Of course it’s crossed my mind, as far as being the champion is concerned,” said Enders-Stevens, who won the spring race at Las Vegas this season. “That’s every driver’s goal and it’s our team’s goal as well. We’re going to do everything that we can to get it done. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to be competing at this level – and not just competing, but contending for a championship. It’s really exciting, really humbling, but we’re having fun. We’re excited to get these next two races underway.”
Enders-Stevens is one of six females who have competed in Pro Stock competition since the class was formed in 1970. She is by far the most successful female to have raced in the 200 mph factory hot rod division. Meanwhile, Force is one of 14 women who have competed in Funny Car competition since the class formed in the late 1960s. However, with seven career victories she is the winningest female to ever drive one of the wildly unpredictable machines. Earlier this season she earned the 100th win by a female in NHRA history and six months later would like to stake her claim to another milestone moment: first female world champion in Funny Car.
“My focus as a driver is to do my job these next two races and put everything I’ve got into it,” Force said. “I need my full focus and most importantly confidence in myself and my team for these next two races. I would love to think about what it would be like to be a champion, but at this time it is still too early to think of what could be and I just need to think of right now and how to do my job the best I can.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Series playoff event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Enders-Stevens, the first female to win in Pro Stock, would like to sweep the Las Vegas races in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class in 2014 after winning the race and the K&N Horsepower Challenge bonus event in March. That victory jump-started her banner season and sent her into the points lead that she held for most of the regular season.
Enders-Stevens added three more victories and entered the Countdown in second place. She dropped as low as fourth after a second-round exit in Dallas, but back-to-back semifinal finishes pushed her back to second and within striking distance of Line. She has continued to credit a talented team led by crew chiefs Rick Jones and Rickie Jones, but Enders-Stevens will take the same approach into Las Vegas she has all year even if the magnitude of the event has heightened.
“We’re not preparing any different than any other race,” Enders-Stevens said. “The guys have been working really hard in the shop, trying to find more horsepower. I’m excited about the future with this team. This is our first year together, and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot, and I know the sky is the limit for our future. I feel blessed to have the opportunity.”
Courtney Force heads into the final two races 72 points behind Matt Hagan. Sandwiched between them is her father, reigning and 16-time world champion John Force, who trails Hagan by 36 points. He also clinched the championship a year ago at this event by knocking off Courtney in the final round. Determined not to let that happen again, she has been hard at work preparing for the NHRA Toyota Nationals.
“I talked with my crew chief (Ron Douglas) about ways to improve my driving and I’m getting mentally prepared for the upcoming race,” Force said. “I’ve taken this time to relax after four races in a row and I am excited and feeling confident going into Las Vegas. We are in a good position and need to keep our focus round by round if we want a shot at this championship.”
It has been a dream season for Force as she also became the first female to win consecutive events in the class after posting back-to-back victories in the Countdown at Dallas and St. Louis. She has four victories this season and also posted a runner-up finish at Atlanta. Her Traxxas Mustang was consistently one of the quickest cars in the class as she raced to four No. 1 qualifying positions, one coming during the Countdown.
“It is definitely surreal looking back at this season and what we have accomplished as a team,” Force said. “I’m so proud of our achievements this year and couldn’t have done it without every single member on our team. We’ve come a long way since just my rookie year, but we’ve still got a long way to go and a lot to learn.”
In Top Fuel, Brown, the 2012 world champ, is a two-time winner at Las Vegas, but the driver currently in command is seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher. After winning three of the first four races of the Countdown, Schumacher, an eight-time winner at The Strip, holds a 134-point lead over Doug Kalitta. Steve Torrence sits in third, reigning world champion Shawn Langdon is fourth in points while other Countdown competitors include Spencer Massey, reigning Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner Brittany Force, Khalid alBalooshi and J.R. Todd.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith was victorious last season en route to his second championship ring. But the 2014 season has belonged to Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec. Both have won this event three times and Hines holds a 25-point advantage over Krawiec. Hector Arana Jr. is in third and other marquee challengers in the two-wheel category are Steve Johnson, Angie Smith, Scotty Pollacheck, John Hall, Hector Arana Sr. Michael Ray, Jerry Savoie and Angelle Sampey.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and see which driver will be crowned world champion at the season finale in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Oct. 31, with sessions at 1 and 4 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Nov. 1, at 1 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 2.
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