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Driver overcomes bad breakup to win Pro Stock title

07/07/2014, 12:04am EDT

Enders-Stevens tops former crew chief at NHRA Nationals

Driver overcomes bad breakup to win Pro Stock title

Erica Enders-Stevens defeated Dave Connolly in the Pro Stock division at the NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, on Sunday. NHRA

NORWALK, Ohio — For a few seconds, Erica Enders-Stevens had to race for a trophy against someone who had been her crew chief, her de facto guidance counselor and her sounding board in drag racing.

She acknowledged that when Dave Connolly chose to leave the helm of her team after two seasons and return to driving, the separation didn’t come without its baggage.

Neither did their meetings on the track.

Connolly and Enders-Stevens are now on different NHRA racing teams, as an offseason merger between Cagnazzi Racing and Gray Motorsports allowed Connolly, an Elyria native, to return behind the wheel for one of three teams.

Enders-Stevens said the two are no longer on speaking terms, only racing terms. Each time she’s faced Connolly, she’s had to put her emotions aside and focus on driving.

Sunday at Summit Motorsports Park, the stakes were a little higher: Enders edged Connolly by .033 seconds to win the Pro Stock title in the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.

“Relate it to somebody that you have a decade-long relationship with, that you cared about, he was a groomsman in our wedding,” said Enders-Stevens, the No. 1 seed in the 16-driver field at Norwalk.

“Relate it to your best friend in the world and then all the sudden, you’re not friends anymore. And then having to get a 215-mile-an-hour race car down the track successfully and safely, and putting that out of your mind.

“You cannot focus on anything but what you have to do. I struggled with that at the beginning of the year. I was pretty [ticked] about everything, but it is what it is. I’ve got to stay positive. That’s my job.”

Enders-Stevens was one of four title winners Sunday, joining Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Brown earned his fifth win of the season, his second win in seven days and his 30th Top Fuel career win — and won despite his team working through a main engine bearing problem in the minutes leading up to the finals against Shawn Langdon.

“We caught it after we warmed up because the car was smoking pretty bad before the warm-up,” Brown said.

“We had to loosen everything on the car and only had 15 minutes to get up there.”

Brown and his team, however, ran interference before lining up against Langdon.

“We were telling each other, ‘stall them! Do whatever you can do! Tell [John] Force not to get in his car yet! Tell [Ron] Capps to talk some junk to Force!’ ” Brown said. “We ran every game possible to try to slow the pace down.”

Force defeated Capps and Hines beat Hector Arana, Sr., for his 35th career win, only a few days after rebuilding his motorcycle.

“The fourth win light was definitely the prettiest of the day,” Hines said.

MARATHON CLASSIC PRO-AM: Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson will play in the LPGA Marathon Classic Pro-Am on July 14 at Inverness Club. Johnson is second in the Pro Stock standings, and will golf in Toledo before competing that week in the NHRA Mopar Mile High Nationals on July 18-20 in Denver.

RISE AND SHINE: While the first two days of racing at Summit Motorsports Park had afternoon and evening events, Sunday’s racing required an early wake-up call for several drivers and their crews.

“Everybody was sluggish,” Brown said. “All the Top Fuel teams and Funny Car teams didn’t get out of here until after 12 o’clock last night.

“They have to do a full service on the car, look it over, do full maintenance and be back out here in the morning by 7 a.m. They probably got about 5 or 6 hours of sleep. That tolls on them, and they had two late nights in a row.”

In fact, Cruz Pedregon sat out Saturday night’s Funny Car session to conserve energy for Sunday’s race.

ESPYS: Force is one of five nominees for a 2014 ESPY as the Best Driver, joining NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson and IndyCar drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon.

ESPN’s annual awards will be presented July 16 in Los Angeles.

Force had one request after winning Sunday: “If you haven’t voted yet, vote for me!”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at:, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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