LAS VEGAS, NV — That’s more like it.
After three untimely first-round exits in the first three races of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders stormed to the semifinals of the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals on Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“You find out what real champions are made of when you have to go through a little bit of adversity,” Enders said. “It makes you dig deeper and want it more. I don’t know we could possibly want it more than we already do, but my guys are amazing.
“It was really nice to go rounds. It felt like it was back to normal. We’re used to going deep into the race on Sunday, and we’re going to get back there. We just need a little bit more time. We certainly made strides in the right direction with our engine-development program. We have work to do, but a semifinal appearance here in Las Vegas was definitely awesome.”
Enders’ brilliant driving helped lead her to world championships in 2014 and 2015, and it was on display again in Las Vegas, where she ripped off a .009-second reaction time in the first round, then won on a holeshot in the second round with a .006 light before a .021 light in the semi’s
“I knew today was going to be a left-foot day,” Enders said, referring to her clutch foot. “That was the only way we were going to go some rounds. Unfortunately, I missed it a little bit against Jason (Line in the semifinals); I knew that when I un-clutched it.”
Enders, winner of four consecutive races in Las Vegas, clearly had her best weekend since her Elite Motorsports team switched to Dodge in the off-season. She qualified a season-high fifth, and when she turned on the win light in the first round against Aaron Strong, it ended a tough start to the season.
Strong red-lit, but Enders would have been tough to beat with a .009 light and a pass of 6.767 seconds at 204.42 mph.
The second round didn’t go off without a hitch, as the engine cut off before Enders staged. Still, Enders restarted it and then had a .006-second reaction time that helped her beat Elite teammate Drew Skillman. He had the quicker elapsed time, 6.807 seconds at 204.01 mph, but Enders’ lead on the starting line was enough for her 6.845-second pass at 204.70 mph to get the win.
“The car shut off,” Enders said. “That’s the same thing that happened a couple of weeks ago. This time, thankfully, we were able to remain a little bit calm because we knew exactly what was going on. The car re-fired right away.”
Enders and her team were able to laugh it off later in the day.
“We had a little bit of a fireball come out of the right header and burn all the leg hair off one of my guys,” Enders said. “We replayed it in slo-mo about 37 times for all our team, and we got a good laugh out of it.”
Race winner Line was nearly untouchable Sunday, as his run of 6.737 seconds at 205.22 mph took out Enders’ 6.801-second pass at 204.82 mph. Still, Enders was encouraged by the performance of her team.
“We did a lot better than we expected to today,” said Enders, who owns an 18-1 round-win record in national events in Las Vegas with Elite. “It was a good day, a good points day. We’ve got to get back to the shop, fix these awesome Hemis, and go to Charlotte renewed, refreshed, and ready to win a race.”