Erica Enders Among Past NHRA Champions Struggling Outside Playoff Picture

·4 min read
erica enders nhra pro stock
Erica Enders in Unfamiliar Spot in NHRA StandingsNHRA/National Dragster
  • Erica Enders got her first victory in 2012 at Route 66 Raceway and hopes to improve this weekend from her No. 13 position in the Pro Stock standings.

  • Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and J.R. Todd (Funny Car), both past champions, also are struggling as the season is about one-fourth complete.

  • The NHRA’s return to Joliet, Ill., for the first time since 2018 includes the first Pro Stock Pep Boys All-Star Callout.

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series has rounded the quarter-pole in its horsepower derby for the Camping World Drag Racing Series championship, and already three champions are scrambling to make the Countdown.

They’ll be looking to turn that around at this weekend’s Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway at Joliet, Ill., southwest of Chicago. It’s the series’ first trip to this facility since 2018.

Perhaps most noticeable among the struggling is five-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders. She hasn’t gotten her Camaro out of the second round in the first five races, and three of her losses have come in the first round.

Of the uncharacteristic streak, she said, “My car’s been a real peach this year. Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little. We’ll ride the rough waves. We’re freakin’ determined. So watch out.”

tony schumacher nhra
If the NHRA season were to end today, Tony Schumacher would be on the outside of the Countdown to the Championship field.NHRA/National Dragster

Enders earned the first of her 43 victories at Route 66 Raceway in 2012, so she’s hoping to recapture some of that magic. And as she prepares to compete in Saturday’s Pep Boys Pro Stock All-Star Call-Out bonus race with seven other elite colleagues, she reiterated her resolve: “It’s been a bit of a lackluster start for us, but we are super-determined. It’s pretty awesome we’re able to do this with our class.”

Also meriting berths in the $28,000-to-win race-within-a-race were Dallas Glenn, Matt Hartford, Kyle Koretsky, Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr., Cristian Cuadra, and Camrie Caruso.

The FS1 television network will air the Calliout in a special hour-long program from 4-5 p.m. ET, a presentation directly ahead of the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Carolina’s North Wilkesboro Speedway. Eliminations for the Route 66 Nationals will be broadcast on FS1 immediately following the NASCAR event.

Pep Boys All-Star Call-Out top seed Dallas Glenn said the often-overlooked class “having its own TV show is . . . going to be a huge thing. Pro Stock doesn’t usually get its own hour-long segment, so this is going to be exciting for the class.”

No. 2 seed Hartford said, “We know the exposure is going to be huge. We’re going to have an audience we’ve never had before and there’s going to be eight of us out there all with the same goal, and that’s to take the money home.”

But rival Stanfield said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re competing for a million bucks or $2, I’m going there to win.”

Since a quarter-final finish at the Gainesville, Fla., season-opener, eight-time Top Fuel champion Schumacher has four straight Round 1 defeats.

jr todd nhra funny car
J.R. Todd, the 2018 Funny Car champion, is outside of the top-10 this season.NHRA/National Dragster

But the Chicago native (living in Austin, Texas) who’s a five-time winner and seven-time top qualifier at this venue said, ““These things are cyclical. You go through excellent winning streaks, and then you go through some difficult times. In the end, the teams that become championship teams, and worthy of being champions in the fans’ eyes, are the ones that get through adversity. We don’t point fingers, we don’t get mad at each other. We gather information, we work hard, we test, and go out and win. We’ll find that place. We’re getting closer every day.”

Meanwhile, Todd has tumbled from second place to 11th in just four Funny Car races. His runner-up finish at the 2023 kickoff Gatornationals has fizzled into three first-round losses and a failure to qualify.

“It’s frustrating, but we all know it’s still early in the year,” he said.

It is, and Todd and Schumacher have three more chances than Enders to make up ground. Enders and the Pro Stock class will take off three of the next six events (at Epping, N.H.; Sonoma, Calif.; and Seattle).