Defending event champion Erica Enders returns to Charlotte in a vastly different role

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CHARLOTTE, NC — One year ago, Pro Stock racer Erica Enders arrived at the first race of NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs as the No. 1 seed, having won six regular-season national events, including the previous two stops in Brainerd, Minn., and Indianapolis.

This year, as Enders brings her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart back to zMax Dragway for the ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, things are much different. Her dominating run to back-to-back championships hangs in the balance as she finds herself a distant ninth in the rankings with no victories on her 2016 scorecard.

“It’s been a challenging year, no doubt,” Enders said. “Very different from the last two years. Switching manufacturers and making this commitment with Mopar to put them on top, we kind of knew it would take a little time and it has. Then we had the biggest rule changes in class history. It all kind of added up.

“We started a little behind and it feels like we have been in catch-up mode all year. But we have made progress, and having another week at the shop to try more things should help us in Charlotte. There are reasons to be encouraged.”

Ever the optimist, Enders has found a way to put a positive spin on her lackluster regular season as her Elite Motorsports team has struggled to get the newly mandated fuel-injection systems to match their powerful Hemi motors.

“The word that keeps popping into my head is loyalty,” Enders said. “When we were crushing everyone, there was a line out the door of people wanting to talk to us. This year, we’ve found out who our real friends are, and it’s made me so grateful to the companies and individuals that are there for us through thick and thin.

“Mopar has been awesome. They want this as much as we do. Transportation Impact has been great, and they have more than 100 employees coming up from Emerald Island, N.C., this weekend to cheer us on. Mark Stockseth is a rock. Stan and Sheila Holt of Lupe Tortilla have been with me since I raced Jr. Dragsters; I love them. Kim and Steve Bruno with United Mechanical, everyone at Melling, Carl Foltz and his group at CFE, these are the people who are true supporters, and we love them all.

“Motivation for me is never a problem, but putting this select group back on top, that’s what drives us all. And like I say every weekend, I wouldn’t trade my guys for anyone. There’s no quit in this pit. I really am a lucky girl.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:15 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast qualifying action from 6 to 7 p.m., Friday, and 11 a.m. to noon, Sunday. Eliminations will air live from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in ET).