The impending closure of Wild Horse Pass Motorsport Park means the end of an era for five-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders.
Enders’ family has a long history with the Valley. A former record-breaking water-skier, her father, Gregg Enders, helped dig Firebird Lake near the track. They frequented Manzanita Raceway in Phoenix, prior to its closure.
“Before I raced professionally, I always traveled to Phoenix to race, even though it’s a long haul from Houston,” she says. “That’s even as kids and junior dragsters. It’s sad that it’s coming to a close.”
Enders will have one more shot with the 28th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at the Chandler track from Wednesday, March 22, to Sunday, March 26.
“I think you can look forward to some pretty outstanding performance there,” Enders says.
“We’re on the heels of our fifth world title last year. Our expectations are set pretty high.”
Enders, 39, is in her 19th professional season, but she has been racing since she was 8. She grew up watching Gregg race as an amateur, along with her sister, Courtney Enders. In 2003, The Disney Channel released a movie about the sisters called “Right on Track.” Erica was portrayed by Beverley Mitchell, while Brie Larson played Courtney.
In 1993, she won the Division 4 Junior Dragster championship in the 8- to 9-year-old class. Two years later, she was crowned Junior Dragster Driver of the Year. She now boasts 37 career wins.
“At 16, we joined the Lucas Oil Series, which is like the minor leagues,” Enders says. “I did that for five years. Then I got a deal to drive professionally at the end of 2004. Back when I was a kid, when they’d ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. Other kids would answer doctor, lawyer, astronaut. I always wanted to be a race car driver, and I’ve been blessed to accomplish that dream.”
Girls look up to her, she says. In 2006, she was the first woman to qualify No. 1 in Pro Stock, in Topeka, Kansas. She broke the national speed record in Pro Stock at 213.57 miles per hour in Gainesville, Florida. The accolades continued.
“I remember being a fan and going to see the women I looked up to,” Enders says.
“I stood outside the pit waiting to get autographs. I see the same sparkle in some of those kids’ eyes. It’s been a surreal, pinch-me moment. I try to make it the best experience I can for them.
“The first time someone asked for my autograph, I was a kid racing juniors. I thought, ‘So, this is where I’m going.’ We’ve had a blast of a life getting to do what we love.”
In 2018, she began driving a Pro Modified entry for Elite Motorsports, a twin turbo 2019 Camaro. The following year, Enders escaped serious injuries when her Chevrolet Camaro caught fire at the end of a qualifying run in the NHRA Pro Mod class in Ohio.
The challenges of racing have kept her passionate throughout the years.
“The challenges intrigue me,” she says. “Pro Stock is a challenging car to drive. You’re pretty busy inside the cockpit, having to shift and whatnot. It’s a cool class. No matter how much seat time you have or years you’ve done this, it’s still tough. It’s really humbling. That’s what keeps me coming back. I want to be the best.”
NHRA Arizona Nationals
WHEN: Various times Wednesday, March 22, to Sunday, March 26
WHERE: Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, 20000 S. Maricopa Road, Chandler
COST: Tickets start at $44