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November 6, 2014

Erica Enders-Stevens

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you for joining us for our conference call for today.  Only four rounds of eliminations remain in the 2014 season, and those rounds are going to go a long way to determine a championship in each of our four professional categories:  Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan in Funny Car, Erica Enders‑Stevens and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle all lead their respective categories going into the Auto Club NHRA finals November 13th through the 16th. 
We'll be joined today by Erica Enders‑Stevens, Matt Hagan and John Force to preview that final race of the season.  Joining us first is Erica Enders‑Stevens, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, who regained the Pro Stock points lead following her dominating performance at Las Vegas.  She powered to her sixth No.1 qualifying position and raced to her fifth win of the season at that event.  Her five wins in a single season is the most she has had in one year so far in her career.  In the Countdown to the Championship races she's powered to one win, two semifinal round appearances and two quarterfinal round appearances.  She'll attempt to be the first woman in the history of Pro Stock to win a world championship. 
Erica, first off, thank you for joining us today.  In that Las Vegas race, were you guys looking to make a pretty strong statement with that performance? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Yeah, absolutely.  I mean, we came into the race trailing Jason Line by 35 and we knew we had our work cut out for us and just needed to go out there and capitalize on all the bonus points during qualifying, which we did some of them but not all of them, and that put us within striking distance on Sunday. 
Of course to be able to run him in the semifinals in that round determined who would leave there with the points lead was definitely one of the biggest rounds of my career and just a really fun, awesome weekend, and I could not be more proud of my team.  
THE MODERATOR:  A lot of times you hear athletes talk about if they're going to be No.1 they've got to either beat No.1 or beat their nearest competitor, and not a lot of times does it ever work out to have a head‑to‑head like you and Jason did.  What were your thoughts going into that round? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Well, I didn't want to be nervous.  I wanted to have the right mindset and just go up there and focus on what I had to do, and I just kind of like wanted the mentality of it's just another qualifying pass, do not get ahead of yourself, take my deep breaths, go through the same neuro program and visualize everything that I want to happen, so it was the same as any other round, but afterwards, of course it wasn't, it was probably the biggest round of my career. 
But really awesome to come out on top.  It's a surreal position to be in, so I feel really blessed. 

Q.  Erica, congratulations on the win.  What's it like for you and your team to do so well in 2014 and maybe make history, as well, rolling into Pomona? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  It's awesome, I'll tell you that.  I've spoke so highly of my team from day one.  This is the first time in my professional career that I have had such a solid group of guys that stands behind me and takes my back.  That makes my job as a driver a lot easier that there's not a whole lot of ego over there and nobody is pointing fingers, whether we shake or we lose on a holeshot or a red light or whatever, it's a team deal, and it's just a really unique atmosphere, and I'm really proud and honored to be their driver. 
But they have shown exactly what they are made of this year, and when it comes down to crunch time, everybody pulls their weight, and it's an awesome environment to work in. 

Q.  And as far as the gender factor here, being the first woman to maybe win the Pro Stock championship, how are you going to share that with your fellow female fans?  Obviously they're going to be excited about that. 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Yeah, it's certainly a huge feat to accomplish.  I would have my name on a list with just Shirley Muldowney and Angelle, so those are two of my heroes, so to be able to have the opportunity to get it done is awesome in itself.  At the same time I think any female racer will tell you that we just want to be looked at as a driver.  The car doesn't know the difference in gender, and it certainly doesn't matter to me.  But at the end of the day, I guess it would be very awesome to be able to make history and just show any other females that maybe even had a little bit of doubt that they weren't capable or whatever that I'm a perfect example of a normal kid through hard work and certainly surrounding myself with the right people and having such a solid support group that anything is possible, and I hope that's the message that comes across to them. 

Q.  You've got so much going on; you're trying to accomplish so much here in this final event.  Is it hard at all to get your head around what you're going after because this is obviously monstrous personal professional history for you, but it's also gender history and crossover sports history.  Are there moments where you forget how big this could be, and how do you separate that? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  It's an interesting separation because you can't‑‑ I mentioned earlier, get too ahead of yourself and dwell on what's at stake, but at the same time, I mean, I've never been in this position in Pro Stock, and neither have any of the guys on my team.  It's definitely an interesting and awesome position to be in. 
But I try to just like stay calm about it and focus on just one round, one at a time, and just going after it and doing our best and having fun most importantly.  Last week I was having dinner with a couple of the guys on my team and my team owner looked over at me and said, do you realize what we can possibly accomplish in the next eight days?  It kind of like takes your breath away a little bit.  It's a cool position to be in, but at the same time, like you said, I don't want to focus on it and get too ahead of myself, just go out there and do the best that we possibly can. 

Q.  From talking to Shirley Muldowney a couple times, she seems to admire what you've done.  She mentions your name a lot.  Have you had a chance to have much personal time with her other than just press events and stuff you do at the NHRA?  Do you see any similarities between you guys?  Do you have sort of a common bond or anything? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Well, yeah, Shirley has been very supportive of me, and I'm really appreciative of that because as a kid, and still now at my age and where I'm at, I admire the heck out of her and what she's accomplished in the time period that she accomplished it in.  It wasn't necessarily heard of before for a female to compete with or even be dominant in a male‑dominated profession, so I admire her very, very much and to have her support means a lot to me.
But to answer your question, yeah, we do press events and whatnot together, but she's also a friend of mine.  She comes by the pit and we talk on the phone occasionally.  It always seems that when I need some advice, my phone rings, and it's like she knew I was thinking about her or something.  But she spells it out for you and she's very straightforward, and that's what I need to hear, and she's been awesome.  I hope to be half as successful as she was. 

Q.  That's not a bad person to be able to ask a question of when you need it I imagine. 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Absolutely not.  She's done it all.  She's been through it all, and I could sit there for hours and listen to her stories.  But she's got 18 national event wins and world championships, and so she's been there and she's done that, and she can help me with my mindset and what to focus on and what to not dwell on.  She's just been a huge help and a huge inspiration. 

Q.  Erica, when you do take a moment to look at what you could accomplish or even just come close to accomplishing this next weekend, because the future is never known, how does that rank in your life?  Not just in racing but in accomplishing things in your life. 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  It's definitely at the top of the list.  I mean, as a kid, as a junior drag racer, moving up to Super Comps and Super Gas and racing Sportsman for five years, it's every driver's dream to be in this position. 
It's huge.  It's a huge deal, absolutely, but having said that, if we don't get it done, I mean, what a tremendous season we've had, and how blessed am I to be able to work with such a class‑act group of guys.  This is only our first year together, so I think the sky's the limit, and we have nothing but optimism for the future. 
I'm really proud to be a part of it, and Richard Freeman giving me this opportunity was a dream come true, and we're going to be together for a long time, and hopefully accomplish a lot of really great things.
But it's certainly at the top of our list, and it ain't over until it's over, and we're going to fight tooth and nail for it. 

Q.  I won't tell your husband it's even bigger than your marriage. 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Well, I didn't say that, so don't put words in my mouth, but it's definitely a big deal for sure. 

Q.  Obviously whatever happens in Pomona could potentially trump your answer to this question right now, but when you look back over the races up until this point, what's been the high point of the season for you? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  We've had a number of them, but I guess the spring Vegas race to be able to double up, win the K&N Horsepower Challenge and then go on to win the national event on Sunday was a huge deal.  Winning at my home racetrack in Houston 10 years after my first national event win in Super Gas was awesome, and then setting both ends of the world record.  Those are the top three for sure, but I guess if I had to pick one of those three, it would be the spring Vegas race. 

Q.  With all the pressure that you're undoubtedly feeling being in the position you're in going into the final race and all the hype that surrounds the possibility of being the first woman to win Pro Stock, are you guys really having as much fun as it looks like you're having on TV? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  We absolutely are, no question about it.  It's such an awesome environment to work in, and Richard Freeman is just an awesome guy to work for.  I mean, he's really great at managing people and making everyone feel important, and I mean, he's great at communication.  We have team meetings, and we all always just stay on the same page, and I think that's how you make any relationship work, whether it be business or marriage or whatever.  He's done a really great job with that, and he's made it very evident that if we're not having fun, we're not going to do it.  We can spend our money elsewhere and do something different. 
We have a blast together.  People are the most important part of the puzzle, and Richard has certainly organized an elite group of people, and Rick and Ricky Jones as my crew chiefs and all of the guys that work on my car, it's just awesome, and we do have a blast, whether we're out to eat or at the racetrack winning and losing together.  It's always a fun time. 

Q.  You talked about your hard work and being able to be surrounded by the right people at the right time.  I think one thing you left off your list that you have accomplished is your perseverance to get to this point because you definitely have gone through some lean times, and now that you're at this point, has it paid off? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Well, thank you.  I appreciate you noticing.  But yeah, I've been trying to make this Pro Stock deal work for 10 years now, and I'm not shy about my faith, and I believe in my heart that God doesn't give you what you can't handle, but he also doesn't put things in front of you if the time is not right.  It's always in his time.  I've trusted that, and it hasn't been an easy road by any means.  I've gone through not qualifying and driving a car that's not competitive to being on the sidelines because of lack of sponsorship.  I guess it would be easy to quit.  But that's not part of my vocabulary.  I don't know how to do that, and I have my dad to thank for that for instilling that in my sister and I.
Yeah, it's been definitely a roller coaster ride these last 10 years, but to be at this point with the people that I'm with, it makes all of the bad times worth it because just to be so happy and having so much fun and being able to do what I love for a living with people I love the most is a pretty awesome deal.  I've never been happier. 

Q.  Erica, I wanted to ask you a couple of questions here.  One, what kind of support are you getting from other females?  You're on the threshold of history here, and just want to know what the female fans are saying to you.  And also, too, what's the reaction of your competitors?  They've not been in this situation, either. 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Well, as far as the females go, I mean, there are a lot of people who are super supportive.  I thoroughly enjoy getting the fan mail and emails and Facebook messages and all the social media stuff.  So the fans have been wonderful, and they, I guess, associate with it because we're the same. 
But as far as like female competitors, I mean, Angelle being back, she's a friend of mine, she lives 20 minutes from where I live, and she really helped me in Reading, and we text back and forth pretty frequently.  Everybody has been super supportive, and I'm so appreciative of that. 
As far as my competitors go, I mean, everybody has been great.  Like last week in the finals when we beat Jeg, he came over, and dumped Mello Yello on me and gave me a big hug and texted me later that I did a great driving job, and to have a compliment like that from the caliber of driver and person that Jeg Coughlin is means a lot to me.  I had dinner with Allen Johnson and his wife last night, and they're super supportive.  Nobody wants to get beat, ever, but everybody has been super kind and awesome to me.  Even Jason Line, who we're going to battle it out until the end, we've communicated back and forth, and he's been supportive.  Of course we talk crap like I'm going to kick your butt and whatnot, but it's all in good fun, and I just feel really blessed to be in the position that we're in.

Q.  You can talk crap back, huh?
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Oh, I had to learn that for sure.  It's been fun, though. 

Q.  I know things are flying high right now and you mentioned your faith getting you through.  How did you get through the two weeks that you had to sit out?  What did you and your team do to keep your support up and keep looking forward? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Well, we just got to work at the shop, and the big reason why we took those couple races off was just to get everything ready for the Countdown, and that's why we did that.  You know, it wasn't easy by any means.  I didn't want to.  We didn't want to take it off.  But with the lead that we had and the way the points system works, I mean, it was a business decision that had to be made. 
We just wanted to get as much work done at the shop as we could, and I flew up to Oklahoma, and my team owner and I worked on sponsorship stuff for 2015 and also securing some stuff for the final six races in the Countdown.  So that's what we did in our time off.  It certainly wasn't time off by any means.  We just wanted to position ourselves the best that we could, and that's why we did it. 
Yeah, but faith has a lot to do with it. 

Q.  Faith gets you through a lot of things, doesn't it?
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  It absolutely does.  I'll never be shy about that. 

Q.  And what you said you did all that stuff, it certainly has paid off because look where you are right now, poised on possible victory. 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Well, thank you.  It's been a fun road, and it makes it all worth it, that's for sure. 

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