BRISTOL, Tenn. (June 15) — When Erica Enders starts her ZaZa Energy Pro Stock Chevrolet at this weekend’s Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, she’ll begin a long procedure that has made her one of the best drivers off the starting line in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
It’s the same procedure she’s used for years, and she repeats it every time she makes a pass down the drag strip.
The procedure actually starts long before she crawls in the ZaZa Energy Chevy Cobalt, when Enders takes 10 minutes of quiet time to begin focusing on the task at hand. Soon, she’ll begin to clear her mind of outside thoughts and think only on cutting the best light.
“Once I buckle in, all the outside thoughts go away,” Enders said. “I’m able to get all the distractions out of my head, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I do a good job.”
Easier said than done, of course, so Enders first asks for a little help from above.
“I pray for a clear head,” Enders said. “Something my dad told me a long time ago was, ‘Once you get in the racecar, you can’t change anything on the outside.’ There are times when it’s challenging to be able to do it but most of the time I’m able to forget everything else.”
Before she actually fires the powerful Cagnazzi engine on her car, the actual starting-line procedure begins. And though the entire process only takes a few moments, Enders needs several minutes to verbally explain it.
First, she goes through a 12- to 15-step mental checklist before starting the 2,400-horsepower engine.
“That helps me to never forget anything,” Enders said.
Then comes an array of moves, settings, and adjustments that boggle the mind: Enders fires the car, puts the transmission in first gear and rolls through the water box. She puts it in second gear and then stops to make sure it’s in gear. Next, she sets the brake pressure and revs the engine twice.
On the second rev, she drops the clutch and goes through the gears – third, fourth, and fifth – as she drives across the starting line for the burnout.
When she stops after smoking the tires, she pushes in the clutch and begins to back up, listening to crew chief Dave Connolly on her radio as he position her on the track and tells her where to stop.
Enders then goes through another mental checklist, this one more extensive than the first. Switches are toggled, and then Connolly directs her forward to the correct spot.
Crew member Rich Saulino then takes over at the side of the car and guides Enders to a spot just short of the start line, inches from the pre-stage light.
And the checklist continues.
“I re-check everything,” Enders said. “I’m one of the few drivers who hasn’t ever forgot to turn my fuel pumps on or forgot to do this or that. I double-, triple-, quadruple-check everything.”
She’s communicating with her crew, too, confirming switches or changes, so she can check it off in her head and eliminate more things from her mind.
Before staging, Enders then puts the car in neutral to set the brake and clutch as the crew makes its last-second adjustments.
“Dave says, ‘It’s all yours,’” Enders said. “I take a deep breath, put my visor down and make sure all my switches are in the right spot.”
Enders pushes in the clutch and puts the transmission in first gear, rolling forward to turn on the pre-stage bulb. She sets the brake pressure and gets her left arm – her steering-wheel arm – in the correct position.
She revs the motor, gently lets the clutch out a little and stages shallow in the second beam. The Christmas Tree will then begin, and Enders jams the throttle to launch, hopefully cutting a good light somewhere in the .020-second or quicker range.
Enders will then repeat the procedure – exactly – for the next session. And the next, and the next…
“There’s always going to be something different every time you get in the car,” Enders said, “but for the most part, I do my procedure the exact same way every time.”
And that’s with an incredibly long list of things to do, though Enders insists on repeating it every time – and with good reason.
“That’s one of the things that is important to me,” Enders said, “and I think it helps me drive better.”
Qualifying for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals gets under way at 5 p.m. EDT on Friday. Qualifying continues at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by a Fan Fest in the pits immediately following the final round of qualifying.
Eliminations get under way at noon. ESPN2 will air the qualifying show at 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday and the elimination show at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Enders has several media and fan opportunities scheduled for Thunder Valley, from an appearance in the Bruton Smith Suite on Friday at 2:15 to the Fan Fest to the Track Walk before eliminations Sunday.
Please visit www.ZaZaEnergy.com for more information.