Rare first-round exit for world champion Erica Enders in E-town

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ENGLISHTOWN, NJ — For just the third time in the last two years, reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders suffered a first-round departure Sunday at the 46th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals.

Enders rolled up to the starting line for what should have been a routine race against Round 1 opponent Alan Prusiensky, who qualified more than a tenth of a second behind Enders, but as she executed her prerace burnout, Enders knew that something was wrong with her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.

“I could hear something was off in the motor on the burnout,” she said. “I radioed the guys and they said to go ahead and stage to see if the other guy would red-light (foul out) and give us a gift. I had a pretty good feeling we couldn’t make any sort of run, so that was the best hope we had.”

Following team owner Richard Freeman’s instructions, Enders staged her car and even peeled off a fantastic .016-second reaction time, well ahead of part-timer Prusiensky’s .042-second launch, but as she progressed down Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Enders could sense that her motor was laboring, so rather than risk further damage she pushed in the clutch and aborted the run.

“Fortunately we came into this race with a cushion at the top of the points, so if we have to give away a race, this is as good a time as any,” said Enders, who is married to fellow Pro Stock racer Richie Stevens. “Our lead will be gone by the end of the day, but we’ll regroup and be back to full strength by next weekend’s race.”

The Oklahoma-based Elite Motorsports team will repair the motor on the road as the NHRA tour heads straight to Epping, N.H., for the NHRA New England Nationals, which runs Friday through Sunday at New England Dragway.

“We have several motors on the truck, so we’ll fix this one and see how it runs and either use it in Epping or swap it out with another one,” Enders said. “All of the powerplants we have are about the same, so it won’t be an issue.

“I’m sure when they take the motor apart it will be something little. It happens in this sport. We’re running these motors at such a high rpm that stuff like this happens from time to time. I have the best team and the best engine guys in the world, so we’ll get her fixed up and ready for Epping.”