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Erica Enders becomes first female Pro Stock winner

EricEnders is overjoyed about her triumph Pro Stock final Sunday night. | Michael DiNovo~For Sun-Times Media

Erica Enders is overjoyed about her triumph in the Pro Stock final Sunday night. | Michael DiNovo~For Sun-Times Media

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The finals

Top Fuel: Antron Brown, 3.784 seconds, 322.88 mph, def. Steve Torrence, foul.

Funny Car: Jeff Arend, Toyota Camry, 4.131, 309.20, def. Courtney Force, Ford Mustang, 4.454, 272.67.

Pro Stock: Erica Enders, Chevy Cobalt, 6.627, 207.40, def. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.641, 208.36.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.940, 192.69 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, foul.

Updated: August 3, 2012 6:28AM

The National Hot Rod Association has prided itself on numerous women succeeding in its major events, including Shirley Muldowney in the Top Fuel division in the 1970s and ’80s and Angelle Sampey in the Pro Stock Motorcycle division in the 1990s and 2000s.

But no female drag racer ever won a Pro Stock car division final until Sunday night.

Erica Enders of New Orleans and her 2010 Cobalt posted a 6.627-second time to best Greg Anderson to make history at the 15th O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals.

“When I hit my chutes and I saw the win light come on, I said, ‘Oh, my God,’ ’’ Enders said. ‘‘Actually, I can’t repeat what I said in the car. My guys were screaming in my helmet. People were pumping their fists. I’ve dreamed of this day my entire life. When I can’t sleep at night, I think about winning. I thought about the speeches I would make. It’s so awesome that it finally came true.’’

The 28-year-old Enders lost to Anderson in the finals in Joliet last year. At the time, Anderson said he didn’t want to be the first to lose a finals race to a woman.

“After the race, I gave him a hug,’’ Enders said. ‘‘He grabbed my shoulders and said, ‘Well-deserved.’ That means a lot coming from an 800 billion-time world champion and somebody I’ve been chasing to beat for eight years.”

Enders has been racing in this division since 2005 and had been to the final round six times in her career and finished second each time before Sunday’s showdown with Anderson.

It was a good day for female drivers as four made the semifinals in the three high-profile divisions — Hillary Will in the Top Fuel, Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force in the Funny Car and Enders in Pro Stock. No female driver had ever won a race at Route 66 in those three divisions, and it was the first time four women made the semifinals in one NHRA racing date.

Will lost in the semifinals to Steve Torrence and Force knocked out DeJoria before losing to Jeff Arend in the Funny Car finals.

On a day that featured a 31/2 -hour rain delay, the Top Fuel title went to Antron Brown, who bested Torrence. It was Brown’s first victory in Joliet.

Long Grove’s Tony Schumacher, a three-time winner at Route 66, had a rough Sunday. He entered first in the Top Fuel points standings and was seeded first in the elimination round after setting a track record Saturday night. But he bowed out in the first round to 16th-seeded T.J. Zizzo of Lincolnshire after the rear of Schumacher’s car caught fire midway through the race. Schumacher was not injured.

‘‘Man, that was pretty scary,’’ Schumacher said. ‘‘I can’t say that I felt something with the car before the engine let go. To be honest, we seemed to be on a good run. But then it all went bad in a real hurry.’’

Schumacher said he lives two miles from Zizzo and the two frequently go out to lunch.

It marked the first time this season a No. 16 qualifier knocked off a No. 1 in Top Fuel. The last time it happened was at Joliet last year, when Zizzo beat out Spencer Massey. It was also the third time in the last four years Schumacher lost in the first round in Joliet. Despite the early exit, Schumacher kept his lead in the standings.

Will eliminated Zizzo in the second round when Zizzo had mechanical trouble of his own.

First-round victims in the Funny Car division included last year’s Route 66 champ, Mike Neff; last year’s Funny Car season champion, Matt Hagan; and Beecher’s Dale Creasy Jr. Legend John Force, who entered Sunday as the No. 1 qualifier, was knocked off by eight-seeded DeJoria in the second round.

Andrew Hines claimed the Pro Stock Motorcycle division over defending Route 66 champ LE Tonglet. Hines won the event at Route 66 in 2007.

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