CONCORD, NC — Two-time world champion Erica Enders went one-up, one-down Sunday at the first of six races in the 2017 Countdown to the Championship, the 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway.
Enders scored a mild upset over Elite Motorsports teammate Alex Laughlin in Round 1 when the slightly higher-qualified Laughlin was forced to surrender his run. She then matched her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro up against local Tanner Gray with Gray evening their season record against one another at 3-3.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t make a race out of it but we broke a motor,” Enders said. “We definitely have a better race car (since prerace testing) but in Round 2 there, right after I did the burnout and backed up, I could hear the motor was broken. I radioed my guys and told them, then looked at my team owner, he doesn’t wear a radio but my engine guy does and he was right here to relay what happened. I looked at Richard (Freeman, team owner) and motioned, ‘Do you want me to go?’ and he pointed down the track to tell me to send it. We may kick the rods out but you’ve gotta try. It’s the playoffs.”
Geared up for the start of the Countdown to the Championship, Enders blistered good friend Laughlin at the starting line, leaving with a .016-second reaction time to Laughlin’s .042-second launch. She never looked back, as Laughlin began to get out of shape and pushed in the clutch of his hot rod, allowing Enders to win with a 6.653 at 208.36 mph to Laughlin’s 7.886 at 108.36 mph.
Against Gray, Enders once again left first but traveled less than a football field before her car’s powerplant expired. That allowed Gray to speed away for the win in 6.586 seconds at 210.47 mph.
Up next, Enders and crew move immediately to Maple Grove Raceway for next weekend’s 33rd annual Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa.
“We are testing tomorrow here at zMax Dragway,” Enders said. “There are still five races left and I enjoy having our backs against a wall. I feel like we have the best team period and we are always able to perform under pressure so I am ready for the Countdown to continue. We will test both of these cars tomorrow and make them better and go on to Reading with our chins held high. We are getting better with these Chevy Camaros but time will tell and I am up for the challenge.”