BRAINERD, MN — Just a few days removed from competing in the closest drag race of the entire NHRA season, two-time Brainerd champion and crowd favorite Erica Enders knows she only needs to gain an eyelash of performance to score her next victory, which she hopes will come at this weekend’s 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Enders finished the recent Seattle race just .0006 behind Drew Skillman. The almost imperceptible margin between the two cars has only served to motivate and inspire the two-time series champ to grind even harder for her second win of the year and 23rd of his illustrious career.
“We’re feeling good in our camp coming off such a big weekend,” Enders said. “Losing by less than an inch is tough but on the flip side, we gained a lot of ground on our tune-up and to even be in that position considering the little slump we had this summer is a real credit to my guys.
“I know we’re all looking forward to Brainerd. We’re excited for a break in the weather because it’s been so hot at the shop in Oklahoma and back in Louisiana. Plus, we’ve had some great success at BIR in the past. That’s always a good feeling when you’re heading to a race, knowing you’ve done well at that track.”
The driver of the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro claimed wins at this event in 2012 and 2015. She also was runner-up there in 2011 and earned top qualifier honors in 2012.
“Brainerd also is where you get to pin your name on the Countdown to the Championship big board, showing you earned a spot in the playoffs,” Enders said. “I’ll never forget the first time I got to do that in 2011. It was quite a feeling of accomplishment. We’ve been lucky enough to do it every year since and we’ll do it again this weekend, so that’s really exciting.
“Back in 2014, the first year we went on to win the championship, I was able to pin my name up there in the No. 1 spot. That was incredible. We ended up starting the Countdown in second, but at Brainerd we were No. 1 and it felt special.”
The native Texan has some very specific goals for this visit to BIR.
“We want to win,” Enders said, “and we’re very hopeful about gaining another spot or two in the rankings before the Countdown starts. Ultimately, the last six races of the year are the ones that matter the most, so even though the NHRA resets the points at the start of the playoffs, the higher ranked you are the better it is for your team.”
Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3:45 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first two rounds of qualifying action from 8-9 p.m., Friday, and the final two rounds of qualifying from 6-8 p.m., Saturday. Live eliminations will air from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)