August 1, 2014

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NHRA Nationals: Elyrian Dave Connolly takes 2nd in Pro Stock after falling in final to ex-friend, ex-teammate Erica Enders-Stevens

Elyria native Dave Connolly places second in the Pro Stock finals Sunday at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, losing to Erica Enders-Stevens. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Elyria native Dave Connolly places second in the Pro Stock finals Sunday at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, losing to Erica Enders-Stevens. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

NORWALK — Elyria driver Dave Connolly fell short of grabbing his second Pro Stock championship at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals on Sunday, but he still managed to put together a successful performance in front of his hometown fans.

Connolly advanced to his second final of the season, and was narrowly beaten — 6.632 to 6.665 — by former teammate Erica Enders-Stevens.

The sting from the loss was intensified when Enders-Stevens decided to reveal that the pair had ended their decade-long friendship.

“We don’t speak … at all,” she said during her post-race interview. “We were friends for 10 years and then he was my co-crew chief for three years, and he stood behind me when I got my first (Pro Stock) win … then all of a sudden we’re not friends anymore.

“You have to leave emotion out of it. It is what it is.”

Connolly echoed the sentiment when contacted by The Chronicle-Telegram on Sunday night.

“It is what it is … friendships come and go, I guess,” he said. “I honestly have no hard feelings toward her. It just came about at the end of last year. She wasn’t into the merger (with Gray Motorsports), and we went our separate ways. I couldn’t be happier with the team and what we’ve been doing this season.”

Cagnazzi Racing merged with Gray Motorsports late last year, and the original plan was for Shane Gray, Connolly and Enders-Stevens to all have teams under the new banner. Enders-Stevens decided to sign with Elite Motorsports, and Shane’s younger brother, Jonathan, became the team’s third driver.

Connolly did plenty Sunday to help the team. Besides moving from No. 7 to No. 4 in the Pro Stock points standings with his individual performance, he helped Jonathan Gray, the division rookie, with a first-round win over veteran Greg Anderson.

“(Anderson) and Jonathan have been fighting back and forth for that 10th and final (playoff) spot,” Connolly said. “Greg’s got one of the best teams out here, and he’s one of the best behind the wheel. I’ve hooked him for the first round the last two races and we’ve been lucky enough to come out on top. But I know that’s not going to last forever.”

The team unity took a pause in the quarterfinals when Connolly and Shane Gray faced off.

They had met four times previously — Gray won in 2010 in the first round in Pomona, Calif., and in 2012 at the Four-wide Nationals in Charlotte, while Connolly won in 2011 at the Four-wide and in the 2010 semifinals in Reading, Pa. — but Sunday’s was the first head-to-head battle as teammates.

“We’ve had a lot of opportunities (to meet), but it’s usually me dropping the ball before we get a chance to face each other in the semis,” Connolly said. “It’s nothing we try to do. Shane has become such a great teammate and friend.”

Connolly defeated Gray thanks to a .016 reaction time, then advanced to the final when he edged Allen Johnson in a pedalfest.

“Being the first pair out is always a little bit difficult for the Pro Stock cars,” Connolly said. “It blew the tires off in low gear, and I got it into second gear and it stuck. I saw A.J. over there and just shut off. I had some luck there that round.”

The luck ran out against Enders-Stevens, who had the top run during each round of qualifying and breezed through the bracket before her close victory over Connolly.

“We had a lot of fun here,” Connolly said. “After last week (in Chicago), Vincent (Nobile) went around me (in the points standings) and that put some pressure on me to perform well this week. It’s very tight between No. 2 and No. 7.

“But we had beautiful weather, the friends and family were here … it turned out to be the perfect weekend.”

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @ShaunBennettct.

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