DENVER (July 19)
KLR Group driver Erica Enders has amassed a large database of knowledge during her career in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class.
But for this weekend's 33rd annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, not much of it applies.
That's because of the effect of high altitude on Pro Stock engines, which rely on air to power the 500-cubic-inch beasts.
With thinner air in Denver, engines don't generate near the horsepower or rpm, so drivers and teams have to adjust what they do.
"Because of the altitude and how much slower our cars are and how we have to gear them and set up the clutch, driving the car is completely different than anywhere else we go to," Enders said.
"The clutch goes from being completely difficult to feeling like a street-car clutch. It's a different feel."
The staging procedure is the same, but everything else changes for Denver.
"We go from shifting pretty much at the same time in every run everywhere else in the country to the 1-2 gear change coming almost a half-second later," Enders said.
"It's different shifting, different leaving, different everything. You pretty much throw everything you know about driving a Pro Stock car out the window when you go to Denver."
And while all qualifying sessions remain important for Pro Stock because the field is separated by only a few hundredths of a second, the first session is often a learning experience - or, rather, a re-learning experience.
"Everybody will use Q1 to acclimate with the changes and with Denver," Enders said.
Despite the uniqueness of Denver, Enders is a big fan of the track, especially because the Bandimere family - which owns the facility - is so good to competitors.
"The Bandimeres are one of my favorite families in drag racing," Enders said.
"They've got a great facility, and we're excited to kick off the Western Swing there."
After Denver, Enders and her GK Motorsports team head to Sonoma, Calif., and then Seattle to complete the "Western Swing."
Sixth in the Pro Stock points standings, Enders and her team are poised to make a run at the 2012 title once the Countdown to the Championship begins.
Enders is still riding high after her first career victory, scored at Chicago two races ago, and hopes to build momentum for the Countdown through the Swing.
"Denver is always a true challenge for Pro Stock because we're naturally aspirated, and it impacts our horsepower so much," Enders said.
"But we've run there a bunch, have tested there, and I'm confident we'll be able to take whatever the mountain dishes out at us."
Enders has reached two finals this season, going to the semis three times and winning at least one round in nine of the 12 races.
She's qualified in the top half of the field nine times in 2012, and qualified No. 5 in Denver a year ago.
"Even though things are so different, I'm confident in my GK guys and in myself," Enders said.
"It'll be a fight, and it'll be tough and challenging, but we'll be all right."