POMONA, Calif. (November 15, 2019) – Erica Enders has always thrived in pressure situations throughout a standout NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career, and that’s once again been apparent in 2019. She’s also on the verge of the third world championship in Pro Stock, looking to finish the job in style at this weekend’s 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
She takes a 92-point lead over Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. into the final race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, taking full advantage of getting hot at the perfect time. She’s won two playoff races in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, earning the 150th win for females in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history along the way, meaning a third postseason victory would be the perfect capper to a third world title.
“Momentum is huge in this sport,” Enders said. “At the beginning of the year, we had some pretty deep valleys and we had to claw our way out of them. (Team owner) Richard Freeman has put us in position to do the best we can. Peaking at the right time is crucial. We’re going to go out to Pomona to win the race. We’re going to dig deep and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 17. It is the final race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs the last of 18 races in the 2019 Pro Stock season. Enders has finished the season in style, but the work isn’t done yet.
She holds all the momentum and a sizable lead, but Coughlin, a five-time world champ, has a flair for the spectacular as well. He’s won six times in Pomona, while Enders still faces challenges from the likes of 2017 champ Bo Butner (113 points back), multi-time champ Jason Line (116 points out of first) and Matt Hartford (118 points back). All would need near-miraculous finishes to slip past Enders, but Coughlin isn’t closing the door on another world title. More than anything, though, he’s seeking his first playoff win since 2013, which would give him plenty of good vibes entering the off-season.
“We had a decent regular season and we’re doing a bit better in the Countdown to the Championship but there are areas where we feel we could have done more,” said Coughlin, who has one win this year and 62 in his career. “You can always find those moments where you just weren’t as strong as you needed to be and had rounds you could have won but didn’t; that’s just the way this sport goes. Things are pretty simple, now, just finish as strong as we can and see where everything ends up.”
Enders, who has 25 career wins, is determined to finish in the top spot, thanks in part to dominant runs through qualifying in the playoffs and victories in St. Louis and Las Vegas. She’s been the No. 1 qualifier at three of the five playoff races – and second at the other two – riding a wave of momentum after some early-season struggles.
Her team, led by crew chiefs Mark Ingersoll and Rick Jones, are riding high now, leaving the team determined to finish big in Pomona. Enders’ first championship included her lone win at Pomona to clinch the title. That came under in ultra-intense pressure situations, but Enders knows there’s nothing better than finishing off a championship with a victory at the historic facility.
“My guys just keep giving me a really good racecar,” Enders said. “Jeg is a legend for a reason and, in my opinion, the best driver I’ve ever seen. I’m humbled to be his teammate and drive alongside him. We’ve been in these situations before and I feel like it’s something we’re good at. Everything we’ve worked for comes down to this event and what a position to be in. You’ve got to expect great things and I can confidently say we’re very prepared leading up to this point.”
It’s shaping up to be a thrilling duel in Top Fuel, as defending world champ Steve Torrence holds a slim 16-point lead on 2017 world champ Brittany Force, who won in Las Vegas. Doug Kalitta is 55 points and still in contention as the veteran is after his first career world title.
Like Top Fuel, it will be a must-see duel in Funny Car as well. Robert Hight is the current points leader, but Jack Beckman is 46 points back. Matt Hagan has gotten within 56 points thanks to back-to-back wins, while John Force remains in contention at 72 points out of first.
Andrew Hines will look to finish off his sixth world title in Pro Stock Motorcycle in Pomona. He currently holds a 115-point lead on Jerry Savoie, a two-time playoff winner in 2019. Eddie Krawiec and defending world champ Matt Smith are one and two points behind Savoie, respectively.
The Auto Club NHRA Finals will also feature thrilling competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes. And the 28 best E.T. bracket racers in the country will be competing for the Summit E.T. Finals World Championship. Fan favorite wheelstander “Nitro Mike” will be making his Pomona debut in his P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander throughout the weekend.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
As always, fans can 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 gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, 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. Hot Rod Junction will feature nostalgia favorites as well as the Heritage Series world champions.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:00 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 12:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17.
To purchase general admission or reserved seats, call 800-884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS
WHAT: 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, the final of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the final of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Pomona, Calif. Track is located off I-10 at Fairplex Drive. From I-10, go north on Fairplex drive and follow the signs to Auto Club Raceway at the Fairplex.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 1,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is north to south.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 14-17SCHEDULE:
FRIDAY, Nov. 15 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:00 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, Nov. 16 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Nov. 17 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10:00 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m.TELEVISION:
Friday, Nov. 15, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 5:30 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Nov. 17, FS1 will televise three hours finals coverage starting at 3:00 p.m. (ET).2018 EVENT WINNERS:
Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; J.R Todd, Funny Car; Tanner Gray, Pro Stock; Matt Smith, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
John Force, FC, 16; Greg Anderson, PS, 12; Bob Glidden, PS, 12; Warren Johnson, PS, 9; Don Garlits, TF, 6; Tony Schumacher, TF, 6; Matt Hagan, FC 6; John Myers, PSM, 5; Eddie Krawiec, PSM, 4.
Top Fuel – 3.628 sec. by Clay Millican, Feb. ’18 and 334.40 mph by Mike Salinas, Feb. ‘19
Funny Car – 3.822 sec. by Matt Hagan, Feb. ’17 and 336.99 by Robert Hight, Feb. ’18
Pro Stock – 6.480 sec. by Erica Enders, Nov. ’14 and 213.84 mph by Drew Skillman, Nov. ’15
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.754 sec. by Matt Smith, Nov. ’12; 198.29 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Nov. ’12
Top Fuel – 3.623 sec. by Brittany Force, Sept. ’19, Reading, Pa.; 336.57 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ‘18, Phoenix
Funny Car – 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. ’17, Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.720 sec. by Andrew Hines, March ‘19, Gainesville, Fla.; 201.76 mph by Matt Smith, March ‘19, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call 800-884-NHRA (6472), of visit www.nhra.com/tickets/.
Photos courtesy of NHRA
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and E3 Spark NHRA Plugs Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. NHRA’s Youth and Education Services (YES) Program reaches over 30,000 students annually to ignite their interest in automotive and racing related careers. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to www,NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.