Reigning champ Erica Enders nipped by .01-second in Gainesville

Erica Enders Gainseville 2016 Sunday

GAINESVILLE, FL — Back-to-back and reigning world Pro Stock champion Erica Enders went door-handle-to-door-handle with Allen Johnson in the opening round of eliminations at the 47th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, ultimately losing by a hundredth of a second, her third straight first-round loss.

“We’re getting so close to where we want to be, and we knew making the switch to Mopar would take some adjustments, but it’s still frustrating when you lose a drag race,” Enders said, “especially when you consider all of the success we’ve had the last two seasons.

“I know we’ll be alright and the guys are upbeat and telling me not to get down, but I suppose I’ve gotten a little spoiled. At the same time, I know we have the best team, the best crew guys, the best tuners, the best engine builders in the world under this awning, so there’s no doubt we’ll be back to our winning ways very soon. We just have to be patient.”

Johnson left with a miniscule .006-second head start but was able to hold off Enders’ Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart as the two streaked down Gainesville Raceway. The margin of victory at top speed was estimated to be about four feet.

“I could see ‘Brutus’ (Johnson) out of the corner of my eye the whole way down,” Enders said. “That’s one big advantage we have without the hood scoop any more — you can see everything. I just did my thing and tried to be perfect going through the gears, but we came up a fender short.

“I keep saying it but we’ve only had these Hemi motors for a month, so it’s new to all of us, but when Jake Hairston and Nick Ferri tell me there are big things to come, I believe them. The more and more runs we make and the more dyno time those two have, the better it will be. Like I said, we have to be patient.”

The next stop on the NHRA tour is the 17th annual Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, April 1-3, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, although Enders thinks she’ll be in the seat before that race begins.

“I’d imagine the guys will want to test some more,” Enders said. “It’s easy for us to go to Keith Haney’s track in Tulsa (Okla.) because it’s close to the race shop and that track is so good it’s just like anything we see on the national tour. We’ll probably hit it hard when the truck gets back to Oklahoma.

“Thanks to the fans here in Gainesville. They’ve been awesome. I wish we could have done more for them, but their support hasn’t wavered one bit. I’ll tell them all the same thing: Be patient with us.”

Today’s race will be televised from 1 to 4 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.