There is no denying the fact that Bo Butner has made the most of his opportunities to open the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The 2017 Pro Stock world champion has put together four wins in the first five races, but count two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders as someone who is ready to snap that hot streak at this weekend’s 22nd annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals at state-of-the-art Route 66 Raceway.
Enders is still looking for her first win of the 2019 season in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro and Route 66 Raceway might be the perfect place to get it. It’s the site of her historic first career Pro Stock win, becoming the first female to ever win in the class, and the 23-time event winner is hopeful her team is up to the task this weekend.
“When things cycle in your favor, you have to take advantage,” Enders said. “Once you get it, it’s also hard to keep it. You have to be as prepared as possible, the tune-up has to be spot on and you have to be driving well. There’s no room for error, but that’s what attracts me to Pro Stock and I think we have a team that’s capable. But you have to capitalize when the chances are there. You have to grab it and try not to let it go, and treat every round like a final round.”
Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 2. It is the sixth of 18 races during a 2019 Pro Stock season where Enders is still looking to find her footing.
She had two early-season semifinal appearances, but Enders and her team are looking for more than that, including her first win in more than a year. She’ll be challenged by the likes of Coughlin, who has six wins at the track, Butner, Richmond finalist Greg Anderson, Matt Hartford and Alex Laughlin, but Enders is more focused on getting where she needs to be as a driver.
“I just want to get back to where I’m bulletproof and confident in myself and my equipment,” Enders said. “I hate the lack of performance from me this year and that’s something I have to get under wraps. As a whole, we just have to race like we know how to race. That’s our goal for Chicago and I’m confident we can do it.”
Like Butner in Pro Stock, Andrew Hines has dominated in Pro Stock Motorcycle through the same amount of races, also winning four times. He has built a commanding points lead, but watching that run has only motivated second-year rider Ryan Oehler. He has made impressive strides on his Flyin’ Ryan Racing EBR, currently sitting fifth in points through five of 16 events during the 2019 Pro Stock Motorcycle season. But Oehler is still searching for his first Pro Stock Motorcycle victory, knowing full well he may have to go through Hines to get it.
“It’s great to see how quickly we’re catching everybody and we’re hopeful it shows big things are going to come,” Oehler said. “It’s great to have someone like Andrew and Eddie (Krawiec) to go after. I like to be the guy chasing everybody down.”
There will be plenty of opportunity for that in Chicago, and Oehler is confident he will be ready. Hector Arana Jr. is the only other rider to grab a victory this season, but Oehler has come close, advancing to the final round in Charlotte and putting together a string of consistent performances. The team continues to make progress in developing more power, and the Bloomington, Ill. native is anxious to perform at a facility less than 100 miles from his home.
“We know we still have some work to do, but the power’s there and that’s clear,” Oehler said. “We just need to keep testing and testing. It’s just experience and tuning right now. But we’re coming in right where we left off in Virginia and we want to keep getting better. You just have to keep chipping away and that’s what it’s going to take in this class.”
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Route 66 Raceway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their Route 66 NHRA Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:30 and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, May 31 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 1, at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 2.