Erica Enders is close to becoming the first woman to win an NHRA Pro Stock title.
She already is the first to advance to a final round and the first to win a top qualifying position in the professional drag racing category.
The 27-year-old Houston native added to her credits three weeks ago when she set an NHRA Pro Stock speed record with a quarter-mile run of 213.57 mph in Gainesville, Fla. It is another first for her gender.
None of those milestones garnered the attention she received by beating NASCAR star Kurt Busch in his professional drag racing debut during the first round of eliminations in Gainesville.
"It was great for us and for (our sponsor) to be able to edge him out," she said. "I think he did a tremendous job of driving; these cars are really hard to drive."
Enders will compete in her 92nd NHRA professional event Friday when qualifying begins for the three-day SummitRacing.com Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Knocking off Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, is a small part of why she is having the best start of her career.
She opened the season by wining the pole in Pomona, Calif., before losing in the second round. After beating Busch, she lost in the next round to Jason Line, who has won both event titles this year for KB Racing.
"To come out and qualify No. 1 and then go set the speed record in Gainesville and how the race occurred, it was a crazy cool experience for me," said Enders, who along with Line and several other NHRA pros will be signing autographs from 6 to 8 p.m. today at New York-New York.
With added financial support this year from her sponsor, Enders was able to return to Cagnazzi Racing, where she started to race professionally in 2005. That year she advanced to her first final round of Pro Stock and added her first pole the following year.
After two events this year with Cagnazzi and crew chief Roy Simmons, the team ranks sixth in points.
That's a long way from the past two part-time seasons with Jim Cunningham Motorsports when she failed to qualify for 26 of 29 events and was 0-3 in events when she did qualify.
Enders began competing in half-scale NHRA Jr. Dragsters at age 8 and graduated from the youth racing program at 17. Four years later, she won an NHRA national event Sportsman title in the 160 mph Super Gas category.
"I've learned huge lessons, and I guess the biggest one is how quickly everything can disappear, no matter how hard you work," she said.
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0247. Go to lvrj.com/nhra for more drag racing news.