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January 29, 2014

Erica Enders-Stevens

THE MODERATOR:  We'll get started with our second teleconference of the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  We thank members of the media for joining us, especially those today, our friends on the east coast and the south that are dealing with the weather issues.  Thank you for taking time out of your day and joining us. 
The 2014 race season begins at the Circle K NHRA Winter Nationals February 6 through the 9th.  As we all know one thing in racing and in life, change is constant, and a number of members of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series teams will have new lineups, whether that's crew members, new sponsors, new paint schemes or new drivers, a lot of fresh looks will be unveiled when the series takes to the track on Friday. 
Today we're going to be joined by three racers who will be with a new team or new roles for the coming season.  Erica Enders‑Stevens in Pro Stock, Richie Crampton in Top Fuel, and Tommy Johnson, Jr., will all be joining us during the course of the call.  Erica joins us first.  Erica, thank you very much for taking time today to be with us. 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Sure, thanks for having me. 
THE MODERATOR:  As everybody knows, Erica this year will join Elite Motorsports as the driver of their Chevy Camaro Pro Stock car tuned by the father and son duo of Rick and Rickie Jones, with in‑house horsepower crafted by Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston.  Enders‑Stevens joined the team after a successful partnership with Victor Cagnazzi Organization, and in her career has six wins and 17 final round appearances, and was the first female to win in a Pro Stock event in the history of the NHRA. 
Erica, Rickie won that final event in Pro Stock at Pomona ending last year.  Now you come into this team.  How excited are you to join the team and enter a team with proven success? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  I'm really excited.  I think it's a great opportunity and a really positive step for the next chapter of my career.  Richard and I have been friends for a long time.  I'm glad to have seen their program come together from last year.  Shane Gray won the Vegas event with their power followed by Rickie Jones winning the final Pomona event last year.  So they certainly have the horsepower, and we're about to leave in a couple days to go test in Phoenix and head out to Pomona.  So time will tell.  I'm just excited about the opportunity.

Q.  First off, congratulations on securing a ride for the full season.  Do you expect being able to secure that ride for the full season to make a big difference come the Countdown with missing five races last year and still doing as well as you did?  How confident are you going into this season? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  I'm very confident.  It's going to be all new for me.  I'm still driving a Chevy Camaro, and we're a factory team for GM this year, so I'm proud to announce that.  So I think all positive things are on the horizon for us.  I know that my new guys are going to bring everything they've got to the table.  Rick and Rickie Jones are really awesome crew chiefs who have a true understanding for how the car works, being that they actually build the chassises themselves.  And Nick and Jake in the engine shop can certainly produce the horsepower.  So I think it's going to be a great year. 
Being able to run the entire 24‑race schedule will be a positive thing especially coming off only running 18 of the 24 last year.  So I know we'll be able to do good, and I certainly predict we'll be in the run during the Countdown at the end of the year.

Q.  What do you think the level of Pro Stock, the competition level, will be like this year?  What do you kind of look at with the magic crystal ball going into the year? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  I was actually talking to my dad and Richie about it last night.  It's going to be a really competitive year.  I mean, Pro Stock is always the most competitive professional class out there, but it's going to be very interesting next year, I think.  There are going to be eight to ten cars that are truly going to be capable of contending for the championship, which is quite a big number.  You start with A.J. and Jeg who are the two previous years' World Champions, then obviously the KB guys are always contenders, and they've got Vincent Nobile on their team this year, and our team with Elite with Shane and Connolly driving.  So there are going to be quite a few drivers that are going to be able to contend for it.  I think it's going to be the most competitive year yet.

Q.  You kind of touched on this already, but it's a hurdle.  First you have to hurdle getting a substantial ride like you have, and then you've got the hurdle of an extremely competitive nature of Pro Stock.  So could you compare those two things and kind of tell us what will help you overcome the stiff competition that you have to face? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  Certainly.  Testing is crucial in our class.  We have unlimited testing, fortunately, so I'm excited about the opportunity, like I said.  But like you touched on, the true challenge of it aside from the raw competition, is finding the funding to be able to do this.  That is something that Richard Freeman, and Elite Motorsports and Elite Performance have provided this year.  We have a number of associate sponsors on board, and I'm really proud that we're going to be able to run the full season.  It's a true challenge to find the money as any other driver or crew member or anybody that knows anything about drag racing at all realizes.  So it's definitely a challenge. 
Then once you get out there, the crazy competition is cutthroat, and you've got to be on your game every single time, so it makes it exciting.  It keeps it fun, and definitely challenging, and I like that aspect of it.  Lots of pressure and hopefully a lot of fun in the end.

Q.  What are your thoughts when you first pull into Pomona Friday and this year the pro classes will have two runs on Friday, just the start of the season, what is the mindset going in with a clean slate going into the season? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  The clean slate is always good, especially after a full year of racing.  Everybody's really tired.  It's a long season, so everybody should be really refreshed and in good spirits and good moods.  After our test here in Phoenix this coming week we should have kind of a gelled pattern going with our new team and the chemistry and that is an important aspect of it as well. 
So I'm looking forward to Pomona.  I'm glad it's a three‑day schedule this time around.  The one on Thursday, one on Friday certainly makes for long days out there.  But it will be great to start with a new slate, a new chapter in my book, and I'm very optimistic about it.

Q.  We've heard a lot of good things coming out of that track in Phoenix the new Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.  You're testing there next Monday and Tuesday.  But have you heard a lot of good things coming out of that facility with the expansions and upgrades and the new racing surface? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  I have.  I've heard a lot of good things.  I also saw online last night that they're going to be having a Sportsman event there this coming weekend.  So there will be a lot of race cars going up‑and‑down the racetrack and putting some good rubber down for us prior to the test session.  And that will be crucial on the new surface especially. 
The test will tell us a lot.  Phoenix is like a second home for me.  Most of my family is from out there, and we've had a lot of success out there in the past, starting in junior dragsters moving on to Super Comp, and Super Gas, and then our win last season in Pro Stock.  So I'm excited to go back. 
It will be great to get the test done headed into Pomona, but also collect that important data that a lot of the other teams won't be able to have for the new surface for the second event of the year here at Phoenix.  So it's all around a good deal.

Q.  I'm assuming you and Victor Cagnazzi parted on good terms.  I'm just wondering what it was like for you personally when you think back of all you've accomplished with that team to move on?  What are your thoughts about that? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  It was certainly a hard move, and that is nothing derogatory toward my new team at all.  Victor and I have a huge history.  He gave me my start back in 2004 and my professional debut in '05 in a Pro Stock car.  I'll be forever grateful to him and Brita for the opportunity. 
At the end of the day it was a business decision.  I just turned 30 this year, and I've got to kind of start looking out for myself as far as my future and my family and finances are concerned.  With the merger with the Gray deal, it was very difficult for me and the price tag that was hung on the seat that I had for the past three years after bringing almost $6 million to the table over the three years with the sponsors ZaZa Energy and GK Motorsports and Husky, it was hard. 
In layman's terms like how I can get everybody else to relate to it, it felt like a break up after an eight‑year relationship.  So it was hard and sad, but we did part on good terms.  It is what it is.  I know next year they'll be out there trying to kick my butt just like I will theirs.  So it was just a business decision.

Q.  Was there a counter‑offer from Victor or was it just something he couldn't match? 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  I couldn't match it.  I didn't have anything to bring to the table.  GK Motorsports backed out in the middle of the contract, which is why we were left kind of straggling through the year last year trying to find the funding to piece the season together, and unfortunately we had to six out six races in a season that we certainly could have contended for the championship.  So that was a true struggle for us. 
And Husky stepping up to the plate to save us at the last minute so we could run the Countdown was an awesome deal.  But with that big funding from GK going away, and Husky not being interested in the $100,000 a weekend that it costs to have that seat over there, I obviously personally don't have the money and don't want to put the money up $100,000 a weekend to have that seat. 
So it was a crappy deal on my part because I would have liked to continue the relationship, but at the end of the day, the bottom line is the bottom line. 

Q.  What's it going to be like having Rickie in the pits with you?  Obviously, he drove the car and won in it in terms of the tuning aspect and understanding the car so well.  And number two, is there a concern to you about not having a teammate in terms of making a run for the championship considering a lot of these teams that win championships in Pro Stock and all the divisions are multi‑car teams that have more data?  I guess just a two part question about Rickie and not having a teammate. 
ERICA ENDERS‑STEVENS:  I'm excited to work with Rickie and Rick.  I mean, they're both so extremely knowledgeable, not only about the chassis, but tuning and air/fuel ratios and everything that goes into making a successful pass up‑and‑down the racetrack.  I'm excited to be teamed up with Rickie being that he's a driver, he understands what I'm going through and he can relate just like the relationship that Connolly and I had in the past.  But I'm looking forward to learning more. 
Rick and Rickie have‑‑ we talked over the off‑season.  I went to the shop to get fitted for the new car, and just made it really evident that I want to learn more.  This is going to be my tenth year in Pro Stock, which is crazy for me to think, but I should know more.  I should be able to be on an assistant crew chief level not in the aspect of making the calls myself, but the knowledge of it.  So I'm excited to get to learn more.  They've indicated that they're going to take the time to teach me, and I'm really excited about that. 
As far as the second car goes, yeah, all the top teams out there have multiple cars and that is certainly an advantage.  They've got twice the data and number of runs up‑and‑down the track.  If your teammate goes down before you and they shake or whatever you can take that data and make your set‑up better to where you can get down the racetrack.  So it certainly will be a disadvantage in that aspect. 
But at the same time, we have plans to run a second car some this year.  Hopefully with Rickie driving some, and my husband, Richie Stevens, driving for ten races, so that is the plan as of now.  Of course, it all depends on funding.  Even though we've had people say they're going to step up, I've kind of learned over the past ten years that once the check is cashed, then you can get excited. 
So we're hopeful to have that second car out there at some point this season, and we'll work with what we've got and do our best every time.  That's all we can do. 

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