INDIANAPOLIS – Erica Enders won't change about the way she races, not even for the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus at Lucas Oil Raceway.
And why should she? Enders is the hottest driver in the sport these days, winning three of the last six races in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class, including the last two in a row. Friday, she earned the provisional No. 1 qualifier for Indy with a lap of 6.624 seconds at 208.84 mph in her KLR Group Chevrolet.
Other provisional No. 1s Friday were Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel, Jack Beckman in Funny Car and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
"I honestly have the same mindset going into every event, no matter what it is, where we're at, who we have to race," Enders said. "The wins didn't really change much for me. We've always had the confidence, the team chemistry. We had all the tools we needed to be successful. But to be able to finally get that monkey off our back and for me to finally quit answering the question, 'When are you going to win?' it does take a weight off my shoulders. But it by no means changes my thought process going into the weekend."
Not even for Indy, drag racing's crown jewel. Enders is looking to become the fourth woman to win The Big Go, joining Top Fuel's Shirley Muldowney, Funny Car's Ashley Force-Hood and Pro Stock Motorcycle's Angelle Sampey.
She's clearly one of the favorites after her recent uptick in performance, which also includes a No. 1 qualifier at Brainerd and a track record at Sonoma.
"We've just had a really, really great race car," Enders said. "My crew chief, Dave Connolly, spent a lot of time testing some stuff that we've been working on. We were hoping it would carry over to Indy. We all know this is our Super Bowl of drag racing, and it's a very prestigious race. I'm just really honored to be here and to be able to carry the momentum that we've had over the last few races into this event."
Her provisional No. 1 could last all the way to Monday's eliminations, as the remnants of Hurricane Isaac threaten to dump lots of rain on Central Indiana, possibly cancelling the remaining four qualifying sessions over the next two days.
"Isaac's been giving us hell all week long, being from New Orleans," said Enders, who left her home she shares with fiancé Richie Stevens before Isaac hit. "It stinks that it's swinging up this way, but knowing that we're in the field solid, we'll have the data we collected from tonight and from what we've run in previous years and use that to our advantage if we don't get another qualifying session."
Her run wasn't perfect, she admitted.
"We wanted to be kind of conservative, knowing what the weather's going to do tomorrow and Sunday," Enders said. "We're hoping this is not going to be our only hit, but in case it is, we needed to get down the race track. I let the clutch out, and it was very soft. It kind of bogged through low gear, and I was surprised at the ET they called out to me on the radio."
Enders moved up to fifth in the Pro Stock points standings with the Brainerd victory, though she has her sights higher. The Countdown to the Championship begins in Charlotte, the race after Indy, and since the points will be reset, Enders will find herself in the thick of the title battle.
"Being that we're on a hot streak right now, we've got the momentum," Enders said. "We've obviously found something pretty decent in our engine department. We want to be able to carry that through. Our goal is definitely to win the championship this year. We're definitely not here to visit, and it's very important to us."
Vincent Nobile, running in the same pair with Enders, was second with a pass of 6.631 seconds at 208.78 mph, with points leader Allen Johnson third at 6.634 seconds at 208.42 mph.
Schumacher expected to see a lot of Top Fuel cars run in the 3.7-second range after the test here last week. But weather – both current and future conditions – precluded that. Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster went 3.814 seconds at 324.67 mph to secure the provisional No. 1.
"I kind of expected we'd see five or six .70s because cars were running good enough in testing," Schumacher said. "Probably because of the weather conditions and the forecast of rain, more cars are more conservative. You had to play it smart and get it down the track. We heard it at the drivers meeting: 'We're not sure what we're going to do. We're going to the best to get the race in.' To me, that means, get the car to the finish line."
Khalid alBalooshi was second with a pass of 3.817 seconds at 320.97 mph, with Doug Kalitta third at 3.824 seconds at 321.88 mph.
The two drivers locked in competition for the 10th and final spot in the Countdown, Clay Millican and Bob Vandergriff, were eighth and ninth, respectively.
Beckman topped the Funny Car chart with a pass of 4.051 seconds at 302.62 mph in the Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger, but from his perspective they run was deceptively good.
"We were in the right lane, and the things was trying to move over to the center line during the first half of the run," Beckman said. "I kept trying to move it over a little at a time, then I moved it over a lot. Then it dropped a hole, then dropped another hole. I let off and threw the 'chutes.
"I looked up at the scoreboard, saw the 4.051 and thought, 'That's got to be in the other lane. It didn't feel like that good of a run.'"
Johnny Gray (4.079 at 310.98 mph) was second, with Courtney Force (4.085 at 311.56 mph) third.
With weather being a threat the rest of the weekend, notable drivers Tony Pedregon, Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon are all outside the Top 16.
The Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidsons continued their dominance of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, as Hines roared to the provisional No. 1 with a pass of 6.928 seconds at 194.21 mph. The Harleys of Hines and Eddie Krawiec have won all nine races this season and have won 11 in a row dating back to last season.
"We want to be fast out of the truck," Hines said. "This is the air that our Harleys breathe all year long in our dyno, since we're only two miles down the road in Brownsburg. It makes it a little easier for us to come out here, but this is The Big Go, and it's our home race, so we've got all the added pressure of our co-workers being out here. It's a totally different weekend than a normal weekend. A lot of drivers say they try to treat it like a normal weekend, but this is one you just can't. It's great to come out and be No. 1."
Lucas Oil Buell rider Hector Arana Jr. was second with a pass of 6.932 seconds at 189.66 mph, with Krawiec third at 6.953 at 192.93 mph.
1. Tony Schumacher, 3.814 seconds, 324.67 mph; 2. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.817, 320.97; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.824, 321.88; 4. Shawn Langdon, 3.825, 304.19; 5. Brandon Bernstein, 3.835, 321.19; 6. Antron Brown, 3.844, 319.37; 7. David Grubnic, 3.844, 317.79; 8. Clay Millican, 3.872, 316.30; 9. Bob Vandergriff, 3.898, 317.64; 10. T.J. Zizzo, 3.908, 307.30; 11. J.R. Todd, 3.913, 313.00; 12. Terry McMillen, 3.964, 311.49. Not Qualified: 13. Cory McClenathan, 4.004, 295.08; 14. Scott Palmer, 4.050, 278.52; 15. Ike Maier, 4.115, 264.75; 16. Tommy Johnson, 4.121, 227.38; 17. Luigi Novelli, 4.150, 241.45; 18. Troy Buff, 4.192, 270.97; 19. Hillary Will, 4.220, 203.86; 20. Keith Murt, 4.348, 193.43; 21. Pat Dakin, 4.437, 204.57; 22. Steve Torrence, 4.822, 151.15; 23. Bruce Litton, 4.948, 144.32; 24. Spencer Massey, 5.984, 103.69; 25. Morgan Lucas, 6.511, 109.25; 26. Chris Karamesines, 7.196, 78.86; 27. Brady Kalivoda, 7.449, 78.35.
1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.051, 302.62; 2. Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.079, 310.98; 3. Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.085, 311.56; 4. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.089, 306.53; 5. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.107, 303.50; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.108, 310.55; 7. John Force, Mustang, 4.119, 309.20; 8. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.122, 308.00; 9. Jeff Arend, Camry, 4.144, 310.27; 10. Jim Head, Toyota Solara, 4.151, 292.33; 11. Todd Lesenko, Chevy Impala, 4.209, 296.05; 12. Blake Alexander, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.224, 280.25. Not Qualified: 13. Matt Hagan, 4.225, 294.95; 14. Bob Bode, 4.232, 292.58; 15. Tim Wilkerson, 4.533, 192.93; 16. Jon Capps, 4.693, 201.79; 17. Tony Pedregon, 5.851, 118.60; 18. Robert Hight, 6.584, 81.88; 19. Cruz Pedregon, 8.201, 87.49.
1. Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.624, 208.84; 2. Vincent Nobile, Dodge Avenger, 6.631, 208.78; 3. Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.634, 208.42; 4. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.646, 208.52; 5. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.655, 208.17; 6. Mark Martino, Pontiac GXP, 6.659, 207.69; 7. Richie Stevens, Avenger, 6.673, 207.46; 8. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.674, 206.70; 9. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.678, 207.66; 10. Ron Krisher, GXP, 6.687, 206.42; 11. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.693, 206.83; 12. Jeg Coughlin, Avenger, 6.705, 207.27. Not Qualified: 13. Rodger Brogdon, 6.714, 206.13; 14. Chris McGaha, 6.716, 206.16; 15. Larry Morgan, 6.734, 206.80; 16. Greg Stanfield, 6.735, 205.16; 17. Richard Freeman, 6.745, 205.79; 18. Jerry Eckman, 6.771, 201.55; 19. Kevin Lawrence, 6.777, 203.86; 20. Lewis Worden, 6.790, 203.43; 21. Dave River, 6.879, 201.13; 22. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.919, 199.82; 23. Warren Johnson, 8.119, 122.05; 24. Mike Edwards, 11.826, 73.66; 25. Steve Spiess, 14.111, 53.93; 26. Kurt Johnson, 16.064, 67.76; 27. Steve Schmidt, 16.555, 49.88; 28. Mark Hogan, 26.083, 28.60; 29. Dave Connolly, broke.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.928, 194.21; 2. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.932, 189.66; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.953, 192.93; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.978, 188.67; 5. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.992, 191.46; 6. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.998, 191.19; 7. Chip Ellis, Buell, 7.011, 190.43; 8. Matt Smith, Buell, 7.019, 190.22; 9. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.038, 189.52; 10. Kieth Burley, Buell, 7.059, 189.73; 11. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 7.069, 185.31; 12. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.073, 192.28. Not Qualified: 13. Dawn Minturn, 7.091, 187.47; 14. John Hall, 7.118, 187.63; 15. Redell Harris, 7.127, 189.87; 16. Jim Underdahl, 7.140, 190.54; 17. Katie Sullivan, 7.247, 183.00; 18. Michael Phillips, 7.275, 179.33; 19. James Surber, 8.114, 176.51; 20. Steve Johnson, broke.