GAINESVILLE, FL — Perhaps in a last-minute bid to impress voters in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders ripped off her first 6.4-second pass of NHRA’s fuel-injected era to qualify a lofty third on the elimination ladder of the 48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
Enders’ 6.490 at 214.01 mph was more than enough to lock up her best qualifying effort since last year’s Denver race, a span of 13 national events. It also makes her one of the favorites to win the prestigious and historic Gatornationals, one of the stops on tour she has yet to conquer.
“I’m really pleased with our performance here in Gainesville and if fans recognize we’re a true contender again and vote us into the K&N Challenge based on this weekend, that would be a real blessing,” Enders said. “It’s funny but it’s always the weekends where you don’t start off on the right foot where you tend to do better. We had to abort Q1 but we’ve been awesome ever since.
“Tomorrow is going to be a warm day, just like today. The race track is very tricky, very marginal so I think tomorrow it’s going to be a driver’s race, which I love. My guys give me a consistent car that goes A to B. That’s how we won both of our championships and I’m going to do my best to drive to the winner’s circle.
“Having run what we just ran in the heat of the day knowing there was more left in the car and being second quickest of the session gives us a lot of confidence going into race day. I’m really excited. One win I lack that is really prestigious is the Gatornationals so we are going to put our heads down and go to work tomorrow.”
The jump in performance wasn’t a surprise to Enders, who reported team owner Richard Freeman had her and the rest of his Elite Motorsports group test Enders’ Chevrolet Camaro following the last national event in Phoenix.
“Hard work always pays off,” Enders said. “Before Pheonix, I tested Jeg’s car. I think I made 25 runs in his car and I asked Richard if we could test my car when we got done with Pheonix. We had some issues to sort out with it and we all want to win more than anything so we’ll do whatever it takes to get there.
“Testing a few days in Oklahoma and just being behind the wheel of a race car every day for the last two weeks straight kept me sharp for this race and allowed me to have a lot of fun. I’m blessed to be in the position I am, to have such a great team that stands behind me, all because of Richard. We’re excited about tomorrow and we’ll see what we can do.”
As the No. 3 qualifier, Enders will enjoy lane choice in her first-round race against Alan Prusiensky when Sunday’s eliminations begin at noon. Enders has her opponent covered by a tenth of a second — a stunning gap in the factory hot rod class — with Prusiensky topping out at 6.590 seconds and 211.69 mph in qualifying 14th on the grid.
FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying highlights at 11 p.m., Saturday, followed by live elimination action beginning at 1 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in EDT).