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April 9, 2014

Erica Enders-Stevens

SCOTT SMITH:  Thank you for joining us today for our teleconference.  Four races deep into the 2014 season and it's been a great season so far with tremendous competition levels. 
One thing we've seen with the series, which has long been known as one of the most diverse forms of motorsports, is proving that success can come to any racer.  Three of our guests joining us today are not only dominating in their category but they're also part of our female contingency of racers. 
Currently the NHRA has had 98 wins in the history of the NHRA in the professional ranks come from females.  This dates back to Shirley Muldowney's first win in Top Fuel on June 13th, 1976 in Columbus, Ohio. 
The three racers joining us today will be Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car, and Erica Ender-Stevens in Pro Stock, who are not only following in the footsteps of Shirley, but blazing new paths on their own. 
We'll start today's call with Erica.  Erica, thank you for joining us today.
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  Thank you for having me. 
SCOTT SMITH:  Erica has continued to rewrite history books so far this season.  In Las Vegas she became the first woman to win the K&N Horsepower Challenge Pro Stock race then went on to double up and take home the national event, which was her first of the season in her second consecutive final round.  In Gainesville she also set the national speed record at 214.69 miles an hour and also currently holds the Pro Stock points lead for the first time in her career. 
Let's start off with the season to date, Erica.  Four races in with this new team, new combination, is this where you saw yourself being right now? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  It's where we had all hoped we would be at this point.  But for a new team, like you said, only four races in, it's pretty amazing what we've been able to accomplish thus far.  Then going back a little bit, Elite Motorsports and Elite Performance, our engine development program, they've only been going at this for a little bit over a year. 
It's an awesome feat to be able to come into Pro Stock and not only be a top-half car but to be so competitive that anytime we set foot on a property we have a chance at winning races. 
I'm really proud of my team and Richard Freeman, my team owner.  Everything is based out of Oklahoma.  They've given us all the tools we need to be successful.  I've got a great group of guys that stand behind me.  I couldn't be more excited and optimistic about the year. 
SCOTT SMITH:  Talk about the female aspect of it.  Look at Shirley Muldowney, what she accomplished as one of the main pioneers.  This success, would any of that be happening without her and what she first did back in the '70s? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  In my opinion, no.  I mean, Shirley certainly paved the way for all of the females who have followed in her footsteps.  She is certainly a hero of mine, a legend in our sport.  She's an idol, she's awesome.  I looked up to her and to Angelle and Shelly Anderson Payne.  Those were my heroes when I was a little kid going to the racetrack.  My dad drove in the sportsman classes.  I'd run around and get autographs.  Those are my three favorite women and I'm sure I stood at the back of their pits more than they wanted to see me. 
She's had a huge hand in us being able to accomplish the things we do now. 
SCOTT SMITH:  We'll go ahead and take questions for Erica. 

Q.  Erica, you've had a little bit of experience with winning now.  What does that win and now the lead mean to you and your team?  After you get good results like this, how long does that linger for you and your team? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  Well, aside from my first win in Pro Stock back in 2012, what we accomplished in Gainesville, those two events to me are the most significant of my career, the only two that I've continued to think about for weeks after, weeks following those events.  It's certainly been fresh on my mind and still makes me smile.  It's like, Wow, I can't believe we've accomplished this. 
What happened last weekend in Vegas was huge.  To set the speed record the week prior in Gainesville, we had the fastest car on the property there, make the final round there, it's huge.  Then, like Scott mentioned, taking over the points lead in Pro Stock for the first time in my career, it means a ton to me knowing what we've been through and how many holes we've had to dig ourselves out of to get to this point over the past 10 years I've been trying to race Pro Stock. 
Having said that, we're only four races into a very long season.  There's a lot of racing left.  But I've got all the confidence in the world in my team, my driving abilities.  I think this year is going to be a really great year for the entire Elite Motorsports team. 

Q.  The entire class in Pro Stock is so competitive.  Do you take that into account when you come to a race? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  Absolutely.  I mean, the talent pool in Pro Stock is pretty awesome.  There are a lot of guys racing that I've looked up to prior to my start in Pro Stock, then a couple young guns.  It's so competitive.  To have a 16-car field separated by only a couple hundredths of a second, every Sunday's anybody's race and it's just got to be your day.  You've got to have the car to do it, the team behind you to get the job done. 
In Pro Stock, it's a very challenging car to drive.  It's five gears.  We have to shift four times.  We're shifting at almost 1100 rpms.  There's little room for error.  A lot of that pressure is on the driver's shoulders to be as perfect as possible.  I like that aspect of it and I'm sure the other drivers do, as well.  It's a very tough car to drive. 

Q.  I know how big a deal it is to win the K&N Horsepower Challenge.  To you personally how big a deal was it to beat your former crew chief?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  There's a lot of history there.  Dave and I were friends for the last 10 years.  He was a groomsman at our wedding.  There's a lot of off-track history there as well as him being my crew chief and helping tune me to six of my Pro Stock wins.  I'm sure he felt the same way.  We were up there wanting to cut each other's throats out. 
To be able to accomplish what we accomplished, the fashion we did it in, that win means more to me than a lot of them in my 22-year racing career. 

Q.  Moving into the Four-Wides, how tough is it in that Pro Stock car trying to judge when to get on the throttle, the staging process?  In the Fuel cars, they have their own challenges, but you leave at wide-open throttle.  How tough is it for you to do that and how much more concentration do you have to have to race at that race?
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  It certainly takes a different mindset racing the Four-Wides as a Pro Stock driver.  The Fuel drivers, both nitro classes, are a little more courteous to each other.  Pro Stock, we have more staging duels than any other class out there.  It certainly poses an interesting atmosphere up there. 
You've got two additional drivers up there.  We're a little bit more courteous at the Four-Wides than we are at any other event.  But I think drivers tend to get in a rush up there because the first two years we had the Four-Wides, there were a few drivers that got timed out.  I think that's in the back of everybody's mind up there. 
Once all the top bulbs are lit, it's very rare that somebody goes in and double vaults at the Four-Wide event.  You have to wait to get on the throttle until everybody's bottom bulbs are lit, but you can't be late doing it or you leave last. 
You really have to have the right mindset going up there.  If you go on the throttle too soon, we have a rev limiter set, so the engine rpms won't exceed what we have it set at unless there's some failure with the ignition, but when you deck it up there, the pressure kicking back on your clutch pedal is very significant.  You don't want to be on it too long.  It's very fine-tuned and you have to have the right mindset.  It's a little bit more challenging at this event than others. 

Q.  Are we back to ham and cheese sandwiches? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  Gosh, my team owner, Richard Freeman, is a comedian, I swear.  But we eat cold cuts at the racetrack.  He always says, We're busted, we're broke.  He's full of crap if you ask me.  He jokes and now he says, We're a hundred grand from broke in Vegas. 
We had cold cuts for lunch, but he did say he had a nice dinner planned for the whole team once we arrive in Charlotte.  It's a fun atmosphere over there and I'm just blessed to be a part of it. 

Q.  Erica, I know with winning the K&N Horsepower Challenge and winning your races, that has injected some new money into the team.  How best will that help you?  I know money is hard to come by.  Your team is excelling already.  How much will this move you forward? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  Any little bit helps, that's for sure.  I mean, sponsorship is the toughest piece of our puzzle, aside from being able to find the horsepower, which my engine department, Elite Performance, headed by Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston, they've done a great job with that. 
Money is the hardest part of this puzzle.  To have $100,000 added to our program will only help us, will only benefit our team.  We plan on running the entire year.  We're still out there pushing, knocking down doors, making phone calls, just trying to get every little bit of sponsorship help that we can to continue this program for years to come. 
But it certainly will go a long way with our team. 

Q.  How personally gratifying is this to you to be at this point in your career this season this early? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  It's huge.  I don't really know how to put it into words for people on the outside to understand how much time and effort and money goes into building a program like this.  Like I mentioned earlier, Richard Freeman has given us all the tools we need to be successful. 
For the success we've had thus far this season, to happen so quickly, it's almost unheard of in Pro Stock.  I couldn't be more proud.  I want to reiterate how tough it is to be on top in Pro Stock.  It certainly goes in cycles.  Right now things are going our way.  I'm so excited. 

Q.  How difficult is that Four-Wide?  What is the best lane to be in?  You indicated you have to be sure the bottom bulbs are lit before you hit the throttle. 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  Yes, the staging procedure is definitely the most challenging in the Four-Wide event.  Having said that, most of the racing occurs on lanes one and two year round at Charlotte.  When we test there, it's in one of those lanes.  They try to run some sportsman cars in three and four to get some rubber down. 
Lane choice usually goes to lanes one and two for first picks on Sunday.  The good news is, each qualifying session we each get one run in every lane, so we're able to collect the data, see what our car needs come Sunday. 
It's definitely a little bit more challenging. 

Q.  If you're in lanes two or three, you have to look left and right to check the bulbs.  In one or four, you only have to look one way.  Is that correct? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  Yes.  I guess I misunderstood your question. 
As far as staging is concerned, for drivers's peace of mind, being on either outer lane so you only have to look at that last bulb, because some drivers in the past have gotten confused as to which prestage and stage bulbs are theirs and continue to roll in when they're actually already staged. 
It's very different up there.  But lanes one and four, the two outer lanes, make it I think easier - that's my opinion as a driver - as far as controlling the situation and knowing which bulbs are yours. 

Q.  Is there competition between you and your fellow female drivers to see who is going to record the hundredth female win in NHRA? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  I didn't know we were actually so close to a hundred until Vegas when Lewis Bloom, the stat guy, from ESPN informed me of that and NHRA did some stuff with social media this week. 
It would be a huge honor to be the hundredth.  But I'm friends with Courtney, Alexis and Brittany.  We're all working towards the same goal.  It was awesome to share the first double women's winner's circle with Courtney in Seattle in 2012 and then again last week with Alexis in Vegas. 
So I think we're all rooting for each other, but of course we all secretly want to get that hundredth win for ourselves and our team. 
We'll see how it goes.  I'm excited about it. 
SCOTT SMITH:  Erica, your dad raced in the sport so you've been around it a long time.  Why have we seen the success of female racers in the NHRA where maybe other forms of motorsports you haven't seen people breaking through as we have in this series? 
ERICA ENDERS-STEVENS:  I think NHRA provides a great platform for girls, for any driver, to come in even as a spectator, like me growing up at the racetrack watching my dad drive.  But all the different levels that are raced at every national event, you know, when you go there, you get to see the junior dragsters make exhibition runs, all of the sportsmen classes that the drivers step through to get to the professional ranks are all at the same facility.  I think it gives us a great platform to take those steps to get to where we need to be. 
Of course, it's all based on opportunity.  Some of it's luck, being at the right place at the right time.  It's also years and years of hard work, trying to go out there and piece the sponsorship together, find a way to their dream, like my deal.  I've always wanted to race Pro Stock.  Nine years in junior dragsters, five years in Super Comp, Super Gas, getting my license in Alcohol Funny Car, then trying to make this Pro Stock deal work for the last 10 years, I've dedicated my whole life to get to this point.  I know a lot of other racers and females alike have done the same thing. 
NHRA is just the best form of motorsports in the world. 
SCOTT SMITH:  Thank you very much for your time. 

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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