Scoreboard fools Enders in Pro Stock final, Anderson wins

Cagnazzi/GK Motorsports Chevy driver Erica Enders (foreground) advanced to the Four-Wide Nationals Pro Stock final round, but the zMAX Dragway scoreboard was wrong and Greg Anderson won. (Photo by Ron Lewis)

The Pro Stock class saw an unfortunate finish all around Sunday at the National Hot Rod Association Four-Wide Nationals. Greg Anderson was heartened by his 72nd victory, although he never got to see a win light, and Erica Enders was heartbroken because a cruel scoreboard glitch made her think she had won her first Wally trophy.

With the factory hot rods already close enough in performance, it's a monumental chore each weekend to beat the stiff competition round after round. And Enders has come oh-so-close to winning, with six runner-up finishes (including three in a seven-race stretch last summer).

This time, two-time winner and No. 1 qualifier Jason Line took himself out of contention with a red-light foul. Vincent Nobile went silent right away. And that left Enders -- who had an outstanding .016-second reaction time to begin the run -- and four-time series champion Greg Anderson to battle it out on the zMAX Dragway quarter-mile.

Enders' win light flashed in oversized numbers as she crossed the finish line in 6.608 seconds at 210.93 mph in her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt. Team owner Victor Cagnazzi and the hard-working crew jumped up and down in celebration, joy, and the chance finally to head to the winners circle in Enders' 116th race (the majority of which she has spent with the Charlotte-area-headquartered operation).

But up in the race-control booth, public-address announcer Bob Frey had the disappointing truth for Enders on his computer screen. And the numbers didn't lie. Anderson had won with his 6.540-second, 212.23-mph clocking, though his win light never indicated that.

Frey mentioned the facts at least twice, but the Cagnazzi team, awash with elation, never heard it and continued to celebrate.

"I see my win light on at the end of the race track on the wall, and all I hear in my helmet are my guys on the radio: 'We freaking did it! We finally won! Good job! We love you!' Everybody's on the radio screaming, and I'm like, 'Thank you, guys! I love y'all. You're awesome!'

"We pull off the track, and everybody's coming around my car," Enders said. "I'm just stoked, and then two seconds later, I get out of the car, and everybody goes to Greg's car."

Enders' crew members couldn't have been more shocked and saddened. Engine specialist Rich Saulino said he'd never seen anything like that in his 48 years of racing.

"I thought it was our day," Enders said. "To have it and then lose it, it's definitely a roller coaster of emotions. But either way, win or not, I couldn't be more proud of my guys. I'm really blessed to have them. Maybe God's storing us one up for Houston."

The Houston-area native, who makes New Orleans her home now, was referring to the upcoming O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway at Baytown, Texas. "Our spirits are definitely high. We'll go to Houston, my home track, and hopefully got one for real this time," she said.

"It was a really weird, confusing deal, but he did win," Enders said of Anderson. "He ran a great lap, and it was evident on the replay. Light malfunction or not, he won the race, and that's all there is to it. It sucks that it was such a roller coaster of emotion for a team that's worked so hard to make history. To think you have it and have it taken away in an instant is difficult to swallow.

"We got last lane choice, and I knew I had to get in the Tree and get after it," Enders said. "I was .17[of a second in reaction time] in the semis and .16 in the finals. You really can't ask for much more than that. I knew I had to get all over it. I let the clutch out, and I was like, 'I got this.' "

But ultimately, Anderson got it.

So while Anderson claimed his second victory in his fourth final round in five races this year and his second straight Four-Wide title, Enders once again had to accept that she was the bridesmaid.

Even Larry Dixon, the three-time Top Fuel champion and student of the sport, "She is a win waiting to happen." And sadly for her, it’s still waiting to happen.

Enders was less concerned with trying to become the first female to win a Pro Stock race, aiming instead to win for the first time. And the way the final unfolded, she'll appreciate heading to another comfort zone, Houston, in sixth place in the standings.

Like Enders, Anderson and his KB / Summit Racing Pontiac teammate Line, also work out of the Charlotte area. So it was especially rewarding for his entire team to witness the four-wide spectacle, Line's record-setting No. 1 qualifying achievement, and Anderson's victory that kept him No. 1 in the standings).

Enders might take some comfort in knowing she wasn't the only driver or the only female to go though a disheartening time in the final round.

Leah Pruett, last season's zMax Dragway Pro Mod winner, missed her chance to repeat Sunday when her R2B2 Racing team couldn't repair her ProCare Rx turbo-charged Ford Mustang in time for the final round. Instead of racing Mike Castellana for the trophy, she could only watch from her assigned lane.

"I was there. I was in my lane. I just didn't have a racecar," Pruett said. "All I could do was watch Castellana drive down the track and take the win light. We should have been out there but we weren't.

"It was a pretty complicated weekend all the way around with the car and the mechanical issues we had," she said. "And with the pro classes running four-wide the time between rounds for Pro Mod was really constricted. I sheared the converter off in the semifinals, and we just didn't have time to repair it in the 30 minutes we had to turn the car around for the finals."

Ironically, Pruett's car was damaged in the semifinals as she raced her crew chief, Brad Brand. He was substituting for ill team owner Roger Burgess this weekend. Both her car and Brand's were struggling to find traction, and she pedaled the car -- got on and off the throttle -- to try to get it to hook back up. In the process, the powerful torque ripped off the converter between the engine and the transmission.

"It shocked it so hard it just sheared it right off," Pruett said. "That was the second time it happened this weekend. It could have been a good race with Castellana, but it never happened."

One female was sure to win in the Super Comp class. Michelle Furr, of Galax, Va., scored a second triumph in as many trips to zMAX, defeating Lauren Freer, of Lewisville, N.C., who red-lit in the final round.

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