NORWALK - What a difference a year makes.
In 2010, Dave Connolly won the Pro Stock title in Reading, Pa., as well as the Super Gas competition in Gainesville, Fla. He also collected wins in the Norwalk and Mid-Michigan divisional in Top Alcohol Dragster.
Though he spent many years as a drag racer, his responsibilities have changed and now the Elyria native finds himself as the crew chief for Erica Enders in the Pro Stock Division of the National Hot Rod Association.
He will lead the team at this weekend's Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk.
"It's actually a lot tougher," Connolly said. "I knew it was a tough job going into it, but there's a lot to these cars from front bumper to back bumper. It's definitely been a learning curve.
"This is only my sixth or seventh race as a crew chief," he added. "It's a learning experience every day, but it's been fun and exciting, especially times like Bristol where we got to the final round. Watching Erica develop as a driver and do well, it's been a lot of fun."
While there has been an adjustment period for Connolly, teaming with Enders has been a positive experience for both sides.
"We both respect each other and I have all the confidence in the world that she can get the job done," Connolly said. "She showed she could last week. Unfortunately, I kind of dropped the ball there in the final, but we're looking to make sure that doesn't happen again, getting her in the winner's circle and making her the first female winner in Pro Stock."
"He's been a good friend of mine for a lot of years and being able to take our friendship into working together has been great," Enders said. "He's a tremendous driver and it's really been nice having him in my corner. He's very smart out of the racecar.
"He's related to me that he's really enjoying having the crew chief position on this car and he's done a great job. He's really helped me, not just from a driver's standpoint, but also understanding the data points on the computer and why we're doing what we're doing with the set-up. It's something no other crew chief has really taken the time to help me with."
In addition to the regular rounds of racing at Norwalk, Enders will be one of the eight participants in the K&N Horsepower Challenge. She won a fan vote to get the final spot in the Challenge and will race for $50,000 this afternoon.
"It's something that's fun for us and is a little added bonus coming into the weekend," Enders said. "There's a double-up bonus in there as well, so if we can go out and kick some butt this weekend, we could definitely leave here with fat pockets. At the same time, our mindset's the same coming into this weekend as it is any other weekend. We've just got to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and leave no room for error."
"Go out there and have some fun," Connolly said of advice he will give Enders before the Challenge. "It's one of those races where it's a specialty race with a lot of big money on the line. You want to get up on the wheel for it, but in the same sense, you don't have the pressures of the Countdown and the points that are involved in the weekly ins-and-outs of the Full Throttle Series."
Connolly and Enders came to Norwalk with a lot of confidence based on past performances.
Under Connolly's direction, Enders advanced to the final round of the Thunder Valley Nationals at the Bristol Dragway in Tennessee last Sunday. Enders had an 0.040 reaction time off the starting line, but she experienced problems, pulled in the clutch and fell to Mike Edwards.
"We knew going into the season that we had the right people, the right people back at the shop, the right people at the track to put this car in the winner's circle and we've just had a lot of tough breaks so far," Connolly said. "Last week, we finally got the breaks. Unfortunately, we didn't get to capitalize on it quite as well there, but it was definitely a confidence booster and we know we can compete with these guys."
"We ran four 6.70s in qualifying and three 6.69s on Sunday," said Enders. "Unfortunately, we were unable to get down the racetrack in the finals. We had five in the bank on the starting line, so that was definitely our race to win.
"The good thing about that is everybody knows that we're here and we're a contending team to be out there and win any race we enter. If I keep driving the way I do and Dave and the boys keep setting up the car like they've set it up, there is no reason why we can't go out and win us some Wallies (the event trophies) this year."
Contact Matt Florjancic at 329-7135 or email@example.com.