Despite stellar driving effort, Erica Enders falls in Chicago first round

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CHICAGO, IL — Route 66 Raceway will always hold special memories for Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders.

The track is where Enders scored her first Pro Stock victory in 2012, helping elevate her to superstar status in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

The 2016 race, the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals on Sunday, won’t carry the same memories, but it could become a memorable event. Enders, the 2014-15 Pro Stock champion, has struggled this season as her team continues to develop their new Dodge Dart with fuel-injected engines.

Recent work, however, has helped Enders close the gap on the quickest teams.

“We definitely made some strides in the right direction this weekend,” Enders said after falling to Elite Chevy teammate Vincent Nobile. “It wasn’t evident today on the scoreboard because we were first out and we spun and the car went right and back left and just was not a happy race car. We did the best we could with what we had, and we will continue to work on it to get better.

“The better we get, the better we qualify, the farther back in the order we’ll get, and hopefully have a better outcome first round the further back we get.”

Higher-qualified racers get to choose when they’ll run in the first round, and they generally pick to be among the last to race. Enders qualified No. 9 and raced No. 8 Nobile, and they were the first pair down the track.

“The good news, just focusing on the positive, I had to race my teammate and at least Vincent went to the next round,” Enders said. “I sure would have liked to accumulate some points for this Mopar Dodge Dart to get back in the top 10. It wasn’t meant to be today.”

Enders flashed her driving prowess against Nobile, who had a .013-second reaction time but got off the starting line second because Enders was .005 on the Christmas Tree. Nobile, though, made a better pass, 6.643 seconds at 208.55 mph to 6.686 seconds at 208.36 mph, to get the win light.

“I set up to be .003 to .008 and I hit it right in the middle, so no regrets there,” Enders said. “I knew I had to be good on the Tree.”