By Ken Roberts
MADISON _ By her own admission, Pro Stock driver Erica Enders had a “lame” excuse for her fourth-place showing after her first qualifying session Friday afternoon.
But she made up for it on pass No. 2 Friday evening picking up the provisional pole with a 6.580-second, 207.15 miles per hour run in the 8th annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
The race is the second of six in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoff.
If her run holds up after two more sessions on Saturday, Enders will have her second pole of the season and 21st of her career.
“I tried to redeem myself,” she said. “My guys just continue to put a great race car underneath and I when I drive it right, the sky’s the limit. I’m really thrilled to be at this point with five races remaining in the countdown to have a really good race car.”
Enders, 35 of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, had a “bad ass” new painted helmet she thought she would try for her first round session, but….
“It doesn’t fit properly, so it feels like I’m driving with my hands over my ears,” said Enders, whose first run of 6.627/207.50 was good enough for fourth. “I drive with my ears and not being able to hear the pitch of the motor really affected how I shifted.
“It was not huge, but the little thousandsth of a second across the board. It is what it is. It is the coolest helmet I’ve ever had. It’s just going to take some working with the padding on the inside.”
So Enders, who playfully threatened to dropkick her new helmet if her team loses the championship by a couple of points, put her old helmet back on and promptly went from fourth to first on her dad, Gregg’s, birthday.
“As long as I can hear, I’m good,” she said with a laugh. “I love you Daddy.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle
The last time Steve Johnson earned the No. 1 qualifying spot for came in 2013 at Englishtown, N.J. or as Johnson put it Friday night “when Ronald Reagan was president.”
Johnson, 58 of Birmingham, Alabama, earned the provisional No. 1 spot for Sunday’s eliminations during his second pass of the day Friday stopping the clock in 6.838 seconds at 196.02 miles per hour.
“When I can do something exceptional…,” he said with a smile. “All of a sudden your apple pie is…you’ve got ice cream on top of it.”
“It’s exciting to be No. 1 on Friday, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “But I can tell you we are the only No. 1 qualifier who have done a rap song for Sunday morning (first round of eliminations).”
While Johnson and the other 15 racers have two more runs to complete on Saturday to determine the elimination ladder, if he can hold the top spot, it will be the fourth No. 1 pole of his career (Norwalk in 2010 and Atlanta in 1995). Johnson has six career wins.
Defending race champion Robert Hight grabbed the provisional top spot Friday night with a run of 3.877 seconds at 334.90 mph.
He has eight poles this season and, if nobody can surpass Hight in the final two sessions on Saturday, Hight will start from the top for the ninth time this season.
“Yeah I did,” he said when asked if his run would be good. “We stayed after Reading (last weekend) and there’s very few days when you have a test session as productive as that one. Obviously you don’t know exactly how it shakes out until you get to another track and compare yourself with everybody else.
“We had high hopes. We made four really good runs testing and (crew chief) Jimmy Prock was not going to let this car slow down. We were able to get it manageable and keep it fast. It’s pretty exciting here in Triple A country, my sponsor’s race.”
Hight, who is third in points (2,155) behind leader Jack Beckman (2,179) and teammate John Force (2,160), has five wins this season and 50 for his career. He would like to add No. 51 on Sunday and he would like to be able to know he wins.
Last season, Hight crossed the finish line first in the final beating Tim Wilkerson, but Hight’s car blew up. Hight was injured and eventually had surgery for a broken left collarbone because of the explosion and wreck that followed.
“No one could tell me whether I won or not,” he recalled. “That hurt worse than a broken collarbone.”
Billy Torrence raced to the No. 1 provisional Friday night and did so with the benefit of his parachute.
After a run of 3.699/321.88, his parachute failed to deploy as he crossed the finish line.
“The run felt good all the way,” he said. “I knew the car was running really well. It got down there and put out two or three holes (cylinders) before the finish line and, interestingly enough for some reason, the parachute mechanism failed to come out.
“They didn’t come out and I noticed I was going a little bit too fast. I had a hold of that brake handle. I probably should have pulled that manual lever. But I wasn’t going to let loose of that brake.”
Torrence, 61 of Brownsburg, Ind. and the father of Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, had been seventh after the first session. Billy Torrenc