COMMERCE, GA — It may be too early to say Erica Enders is completely back to the championship form that carried her to back-to-back world titles in 2014 and 2015, but she certainly seems to be trending in the right direction. That seems to be the general sentiment after her impressive runner-up finish Sunday at the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, which was highlighted by a pair of Enders’ trademark holeshot wins.
“It should have been three holeshot wins today but yes, this race was definitely a confidence booster,” Enders said. “I wish we were holding the Wally right now but there are a lot races left this year and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg for us. The coolest part is everyone knows we’re back and we’re back to being a force to be reckoned with again.”
Enders scored her first big holeshot victory in the quarterfinals when she dusted three-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Jason Line at the starting line with a humongous .048 seconds headstart. That early advantage translated to an easy 6.578-second, 210.77-mph win in front of Line’s quicker-but-losing 6.563 at 210.93 mph.
It was more of the same in the semifinals against rookie Tanner Gray with Enders leaving the line with a near-perfect .002-second light to Gray’s decent .020-second reaction time. Just as it was against Line, Enders slower lap of 6.611 at 210.77 mph was enough to earn a holeshot win over Gray and his 6.600 at 210.83 mph.
The second most prolific female winner in NHRA history tried to pull off the trifecta in the finale, leaving .010 seconds ahead of Bo Butner, but on this day he simply had too much muscle under the hood, driving by Enders and taking the win by. 014 seconds, his 6.569 at 211.26 mph in front of her 6.593 at 210.97 mph.
“I’m proud of my team and the performance we’ve found lately,” Enders said. “Jake Harrison and Nick Ferri, who build our motors, along with all of the guys back at Elite Performance, have been working around the clock and the scoreboards are finally indicating the hard work that goes on to make us look good. I’m proud of them.
“I’m really glad I did my job, especially after red-lighting in Houston and getting timed out in Charlotte — two moments I would like to forget. I’m a better driver than what I’ve shown the last two weeks. Getting a little bit of redemption here, even if it was just for myself, is what I needed.”
Enders racked up 15 of her 21 career victories during her championship run but remarkably this was her first chance at a “Wally” trophy since the fall race in Las Vegas at the end of 2015, a span of 32 national events.
“We nearly didn’t get a chance at the trophy,” Enders said. “I went to fire up this morning and just hitting the starter button I could tell something was wrong. We ended up having to pull that engine out and replace it and we hurried up for first round. Thankfully Alan Prusiensky went red against me because we hurt that motor as well and I barely limped it to the finish line.
“We had to make another engine swap for Round 2, which was a huge round against Jason Line, and we were able to get the win there. And then go on to beat one of our rivals Tanner Gray in the semifinals, that was definitely an exciting couple of rounds for everyone here at Elite Motorsports and Transportation Impact. I’m proud, I’m excited and I cannot wait for Topeka.
“Lastly, happy birthday to Sheila Holt from my oldest sponsor, Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants back in Texas. Also, get better soon!”
Enders and her Elite Motorsports crew will enjoy a week off for Mother’s Day before resuming action May 19-21 with the 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Park Topeka.