Neither Alexis DeJoria or Erica Enders-Stevens thought about becoming a standard bearer for women when they first took up driving dragsters years ago.
Yet that’s what DeJoria and Enders-Stevens have become, and both could play a role in setting a significant milestone during this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
Since Shirley Muldowney opened the door with her first Top Fuel win in 1976, 14 different women have gone on to win 98 NHRA national events.
With DeJoria and Enders-Stevens both winning their divisions at the last NHRA event, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the possibility exists that the 100th win by a woman could come during Sunday’s final eliminations.
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“I didn’t realize we were that close until last week,” said Enders-Stevens, who leads the Pro Stock points – the first woman to ever do so. “It’s a significant milestone, and if we can get it done, it would be awesome.
“I would certainly be happy if it was Alexis, Courtney (Force) or Brittany (Force) who got it, but we’re all racers at heart. Secretly, we all want it for our own team.”
In the male-dominated world of auto racing, women have a long track record of success in the NHRA.
Muldowney went on to win 18 Top Fuel events and three championships (1977, 1980 and 1982). She was named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2004.
The bar was raised by Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Angelle Sampey, who won 41 events – making her the winningest woman in all of motorsports – and three straight championships (2000, 2001 and 2002).
Now, there are eight women racing in the NHRA’s top four divisions. In addition to DeJoria and Enders-Stevens, there are Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, Courtney Force in Funny Car, and Angie Smith, Katie Sullivan and Sweden’s Elvira Karlsson in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Of that group, three have recorded NHRA event wins: DeJoria (two), Enders-Stevens (seven) and Courtney Force (three).
“We’ve had women like Shirley Muldowney, Angelle, Melanie Troxel, Ashley Force-Hood,” said DeJoria, who has won two of the season’s first four Funny Car events. “It’s just how NHRA is, but it’s because people like Shirley Muldowney made it that way.”
Even with all the wins, NHRA’s female racers are still given short shrift from the national media in comparison to Danica Patrick, whose trials and travails in NASCAR have been widely documented.
Yet there’s no jealousy of all the attention Patrick gets, according to Enders-Stevens. Still, the lack of attention at times does rankle her.
“Danica has raced her entire life, just like we have, and she’s worked her way up,” she said. “She’s just under a different microscope, and at a much crazier level. … But we’re getting stuff done, and we get a paragraph in USA Today.
“Being a female in a male-dominated sport, you’re always going to catch (some flak). But at the end of the day, we want to be looked at as racers.”
Two rounds down: Shawn Langdon, Ron Capps, Chris McGaha and Michael Ray were at the top of the timing charts after Friday’s qualifying rounds for the Four-Wide Nationals.
Langdon, the defending Top Fuel series champion, led with a 3.753-second run at 323.35 mph. Capps topped Funny Car qualifying with a 4.059-second run at 314.24 mph. McGaha had two runs of 6.523 seconds at 213.10 mph to lead the Pro Stocks, and Ray led Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying with a 6.816-second run at 197.02 mph.
Two more qualifying rounds will be held Saturday to set the final brackets for Sunday’s elimination rounds at zMax Dragway.