Back-to-back world champ Erica Enders ready to blaze another new path

Erica Enders wins 2015 U.S. Nationals at Indy

HOUSTON, TX — No NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series driver had a better run over the last two years than Houston native Erica Enders. Not Antron Brown, not Tony Schumacher, not Matt Hagan, not even the legendary John Force.

Enders, who now lives in New Orleans with her husband, fellow racer Richie Stevens, won back-to-back Pro Stock World Championships, winning 15 times in the last two seasons, including a dominant nine-victory 2015. Enders and her Elite Motorsports crew were the team to beat nearly every week, as crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll were able to tune their hand-crafted Elite Performance horsepower to perfection.

In 24 races in 2015, Enders qualified No. 1 six times and started from the top half of the field 22 times, thanks to powerful engines built by Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston.

Enders herself was on top of her game, too, setting an NHRA record by winning three consecutive final rounds on holeshots. No one in 64 years of organized drag racing had done that.

But that combination is gone.

“We were pretty good at what we were doing before: My guys tuning on the carburetors and me driving it,” Enders said. “But now it’s all different and all new, so we start over.”

They start over because of new NHRA-mandated changes to the Pro Stock class. Trying to catch up with the times, the sanctioning body eliminated carburetors for the cars in lieu of fuel injection.

Plus, those new engine combinations have a limit of 10,500 rpm, much lower than before, and in another big change, shorter wheelie bars are mandated, changing the dynamics of the launch from the starting line.

“It’s going to be very interesting,” Enders said. “Everybody is starting with a clean slate. None of us have run fuel injection before, and there’s only been a few teams so far that have done any on-track testing.”

Enders and her team plan to test this weekend in Denton, Texas, and again in Phoenix the week before the season opener in Pomona, Calif., in mid-February. Elite is a team that doesn’t test as often as others, but that hasn’t seem to hurt them, especially the last couple of seasons.

And there’s another ingredient to an already busy off-season: Elite Motorsports is switching to Mopar for 2016, running a two-car team with Enders and five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. Needless to say, things have been humming between the Elite shop in Wynnewood, Okla., and RJ Race Cars in Galesburg, Ill., where the Jones’ have been building the new Dodge Darts.

“The guys at RJ Race Cars — Rick and Rickie Jones and all their people — have been working really hard on getting mine and Jeg’s new Mopar Dodge Darts done for the 2016 season,” Enders said. “My car just got back from paint, and everything is on schedule.

“Rick and I are going to get together on when they’re going to be done assembling it. We built a chassis, sent it to powdercoat, put the body on it, and sent it to paint. There’s a process of assembling it, and once everything is put together in the cockpit, I’m going to fly up there (to RJ Race Cars). They built the inside just like my championship car, so everything should be the same for me, but I’m going to go up there and fine-tune everything.”

Enders said her new Dart is a masterpiece.

“Rick and Rickie take a lot of pride in the cars they produce,” Enders said. “They both have said these two cars (for her and Coughlin) are the best two pieces that have ever come out of their shop. That’s pretty cool.”

The team is also building new engines, basing their Dodge motors off their tried-and-true Chevrolet engines they will now put in teammates Drew Skillman and Vincent Nobile’s Camaros.

“We’ve had our dyno converted, and my guys have been working non-stop on trying to figure that out,” Enders said. “Their dynoing all our GM stuff now, and everything should translate to our Mopar stuff. We don’t have all the parts for mine and Jeg’s stuff, but they’re working on that.

“The plan is to test for a week or so in Phoenix before Pomona. We won’t be on-track until right before the season starts, but that’s the same schedule we have every year.”

Still, Enders remains confident in her team, which has proven itself with back-to-back championships. No title is earned without perseverance and hard work, and that continues with the switch to Dodge and the new rules.

“I always put my money on us,” Enders said. “My confidence in my team is as strong as ever, and I know there’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. There will be some bumps, I’m sure, and it comes with a learning curve.

“We’ll get through it. We’ve gotten through everything we’ve had thrown at us. We had fun doing it, we did it with class, and we were able to come out on top. My money is on us.”

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