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NHRA’s Year of the Racer

February 24, 2015

It’s widely acknowledged that 2014 was the “year of the woman” in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing.

After all, Funny Car driver Courtney Force won the 100th Wally for a woman in professional competition; Erica Enders-Stevens took home the Pro Stock crown after 24 races of intense competition and Alexis DeJoria earned three victories in the truly tough Funny Car category, while Angie Smith won her first in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

In addition, true competitors Brittany Force (who went to three finals) and Leah Pritchett mixed it up in Top Fuel and showed they’re worthy competitors in this nitro-burning class. Three-time champion Angelle Sampey returned to Pro Stock Motorcycle, joining Smith and Katie Sullivan in the class.

The car or motorcycle doesn’t know if it’s a guy or a girl driving or riding so talent has a way of putting people into competition far more than gender, although it’s true that folks need to be strong to battle one of these high-velocity vehicles on the track.

So what’s the theme of this year’s Mello Yello competition? It could be the same as last year, based on what’s happened thus far in just two races. Sure, it’s a bit too soon to tell, but thus far DeJoria has hit the lights under four seconds once in her Patron Cafe Incendio Toyota Camry at Pomona and Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS driver Courtney Force has stopped the clocks twice under the four-second mark – once in Pomona and once in Phoenix.

Courtney Force and fiance Graham Rahal take a selfie at Pomona

Courtney Force and fiance Graham Rahal take a selfie at Pomona

In Phoenix, Force claimed the top of the Funny Car field (3.996/321.58) in her Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS with DeJoria right behind her in second on Friday night. They were pushed back by the marauding Matt Hagan, but that was still plenty stout.

Brittany Force held eighth place in the field of 17 after Friday night (Steve Chrisman was eliminated after qualifying was complete Saturday afternoon) and Leah Pritchett is ninth, both with solid runs. They were pushed back to 10th and 11th respectively after final time trials.

Erica Enders-Stevens' championship bling/ring

Erica Enders-Stevens’ championship bling/ring

And Erica Enders-Stevens? She just keeps putting up resolute numbers in Pro Stock qualifying with her Chevy Camaro, even though she and her Elite Motorsports team acknowledges they’ve had a tough time thus far adjusting to the new Goodyear rear tire and Sunoco race fuel. Yep, she was No. 1 in qualifying after all four sessions.

Alexis DeJoria in a pensive mood at Phoenix - she's all business in the car

Alexis DeJoria in a pensive mood at Phoenix – she’s all business in the car

Final eliminations didn’t favor the girls this time around. Both Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria went to the quarterfinals and the latter driver took her Patron XO Cafe Incendio Toyota to the semifinals before being knocked out by event winner Hagan. Brittany Force went to the quarterfinals but Leah Pritchett fell to 2013 champion Shawn Langdon. Enders-Stevens went to her first final round of the year but was defeated by Rodger Brogdon, whose team uses the same Elite Motorsports engines as she.

So, maybe, some day no one will bother to name one year, one season or another as the “year of the woman” or the “year of the black driver” in NHRA professional drag racing. In this sport, it is far more important to judge people by the gender of their capabilities and the color of their win lights. It’s talent that wins races, not women or men. Let this season be the “year of the racer”.

Words and Photos by Anne Proffit

By Anne Proffit

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