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Auto Racing: Erica Ensor makes impressive midgets series debut

EricEnsor finished fourth her debut behind wheel an Illini Racing Series midget Saturday Grundy County Speedway. | Supplied photo

Erica Ensor finished fourth in her debut behind the wheel of an Illini Racing Series midget Saturday at Grundy County Speedway. | Supplied photo

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Updated: September 2, 2014 6:15AM



The back of the field is a common and ultimately smart place to be for a driver making his or her first start in a new division.

Erica Ensor sure didn’t stay there, though, after starting in the 14th position in Saturday’s Illini Racing Series Sportsman midget feature at Grundy County Speedway.

The 17-year-old Sheridan native did what she pretty much has always done during her racing career: head straight for the front.

She passed several cars early via the outside and won a couple of side-by-side battles on the bottom. Ultimately, she finished fourth behind Patrick Bruns, Jimmy Clark and Dave Ohlendorf.

“It was exciting,” Ensor said. “I enjoyed it a lot. Starting last was a definitely a huge challenge, so going into it I knew I had a lot of work to do as far as passing cars.

“We had one or two cautions and were just picking them off. By the end of it we were up to fourth, and ran the last 10 laps like that. It was a lot of fun.”

Ensor doesn’t strap herself into a race car just to have fun. The girl can drive.

She’s been going fast since age 8, when she made her debut as a straight-line snowmobile competitor. She captured her first oval-track title at age 12 as a rookie in a traveling mini-cup division.

In 2012 Ensor, driving a car owned by her father, Ed, had four feature victories and was the champion in the STARS Classic Modified division, which races Saturday nights at Grundy and also at other tracks, dirt and asphalt. She returned to the class in 2013 and won the division crown again, parlaying four seconds, two thirds and three fourths into gold.

Ensor has a late-model car sitting in the garage that she’s test-driven at Grundy, but she had different sights in mind when the subject of moving up was discussed during the offseason.

“I’ve always wanted to drive in the midgets,” she said. “Convincing my dad was the big thing. I think he’s worried, obviously, because it’s a little more dangerous with no fenders.

“The STARS Midgets (a traveling series) is the biggest national series right now. Racing there is a big dream of mine.”

She took her first big step in March, acquiring her midget ride from open-wheel veteran Sean Murphy.

“The car was totally rebuilt so it took a little longer than we thought and we missed the first pavement race,” Ensor said.

Rainouts also have played a part during a truncated 2014 season in which she’s made just two appearances in her Classic modified.

That should change during the home stretch. Meanwhile, Ensor still has convincing to do with dad. The Illini sportsman midgets, as well as the National midgets, run on both dirt and asphalt.

“We pretty much built this car for pavement, and my dad is the biggest clean freak ever,” she said, laughing. “He would never put his stuff on dirt. It stinks, but if I can find a ride hopefully, I’ll try dirt.”

On second thought ...

Getting tapped by Brett Sontag and spinning out as he was roaring toward the white flag and a potential win Friday night didn’t sit well at first with late-model competitor John Nutley.

It especially didn’t sit well because Nutley and Sontag both have the same car owners (Tony and Tammy Phillips). Nutley kind of inferred (OK, he said it) that Sontag wasn’t being a good teammate.

But things changed. Sontag went over to Nutley and offered an apology. Nutley sneaked to winner Ricky Baker’s car and had some fun by swiping his trophy and bringing it over by his own car.

Nutley then had a playful encounter with Sontag in which the two engaged in a mock fight, Nutley “threatening” to hit Sontag with the trophy.

It was all good-natured, a little different than the usual “You’re going down” rhetoric you hear after most late-race dustups.

“We’re still good friends, we’re still teammates,” a smiling Nutley said. “When you come down to it, it was just hard racing. I was a little upset when I got out of the car. I spit on his number and he knew it. I was ticked. But he said, ‘Sorry, little buddy,’ and he weighs a little more than me, so ... ”



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