Reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders maintains focus through tough stretch

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Norwalk 2016

NORWALK, OH — Reigning back-to-back Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders completed the 2016 schedule’s only stretch of four consecutive races with a positive outing in her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart.

The stretch of races wasn’t kind to the most prolific female racer in class history as she bowed out in the opening round in the first three of the four events. But that turned a bit Sunday when she dismissed bitter rival Chris McGaha with an end-to-end job in Round 1 and gave current points leader Jason Line a huge scare in Round 2.

“Taking McGaha down was a nice bonus,” Enders said. “I was definitely up for it, cut a good light, and just outran him. That was a positive step for us for sure.”

Enders left the starting line with a stellar .013-second reaction time and never looked back, crossing the top-end timer with a 6.728 at 205.76 mph to McGaha’s 6.734 at 209.23 mph.

That advanced her to the quarterfinals, where she ran into Line, winner of six of the first 11 races this year. Once again, Enders earned a huge starting-line advantage, leaving a whopping .051-second ahead of Line. The chase was on from there with Line barely catching and passing her near the finish line, winning with a 6.662 at 209.09 mph to Enders’ 6.737 at 205.57 mph.

“Those two KB Racing cars have been on it this year, and I knew I needed a big start to give us any sort of chance,” she said. “I hit the Tree really well and didn’t see him for a while, but his hood started creeping into my peripheral vision. I was pushing the gas pedal through the floorboard but he got us at the other end.

“We’re just having a tough time figuring out the HEMIs. I’ll still take my guys over any other group in the world. We won a lot together the past two seasons, including back-to-back championships, and we all enjoyed that time as a team. Nothing is going to change that just because we’re down a bit. This is a strong group, and to be honest, we’re not letting anything get us down. No one is super happy, but we’ve moved past beating ourselves up over it.”

Engine builders Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston, along with crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, are happy to finally have a weekend between races to work on some things that they believe will help Enders and her teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. turn in better numbers.

“Four races in a row is tough on every one, every team, especially a team like ours that switched brands in the off-season and are still working on figuring things out,” Enders said. “Having a weekend off finally will give the guys a chance to get back home, maybe recover for a day or two, and then get back to work. I’m sure the dyno will get a severe workout between now and Chicago, and I would expect Rick and Rickie will want to test some more as well. We’ll be busy.

“These guys in this pit aren’t afraid of working hard and we will get this deal figured out. I feel like a breakthrough race is right around the corner. Maybe Chicago will be the place where the switch gets thrown and we start running for trophies again.”

The Route 66 NHRA Nationals take place July 8-10 at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.