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Erica Enders starts chase for third championship after Indy

Erica Enders | NHRA Indy 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has been to the winner’s circle at the sport’s biggest race — the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals — in 2015, but she could not return to the hallowed ground at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis this year as the fan-favorite racer bowed out in the opening stanza of eliminations.

Enders, a Houston native and the most acclaimed female racer in the history of Pro Stock, qualified her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro in the No. 11 position (6.604 seconds, 209.10 mph). In round one, Enders’ bright red racer had an untimely performance lapse and she was defeated by Chris McGaha, 6.703, 206.99 to 6.660, 206.42.

“We slowed way up,” Enders said. “Until we sort out our issue, we are on a hope and a prayer every time. It’s really an unfortunate situation to be in, especially at Indy.”

Before the 63rd running of the U.S. Nationals, the NHRA mandated a new Goodyear rear tire for Pro Stock competition. The change in how the race car maintains its valuable traction affected some of the factory hot rod teams more than others.

“It’s just more changes and it’s throwing us for a loop, and we have to work on it,” Enders said. “Pro Stock has a had a lot of significant changes in the last three years, but we just have to keep working at it and do our best to just roll with the changes. Rick and Ricky (Jones, crew chiefs) will get it figured out – They always do.”

Despite a disappointing showing in Indy, Enders locked in the No. 6 position in the NHRA playoffs, the Countdown to the Championship, which begins at the next event in Charlotte and continues through five more events concluding in Pomona, Calif. in November.

“After we get back from Indy, we are going testing again,” Enders said. “You know, at some point after all of this hard work and money spent we are bound to figure something out. Our Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports team is resilient and certainly knows how to win championships. We’ll get things straightened out.”

Two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders remains bullish on her chances in Indy

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Indy 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders has been to the top of the drag racing world twice, finishing as Pro Stock world champion in 2014 and 2015. She’s the most decorated female racer in class history and she even has a victory at the sport’s biggest race — the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals — in 2015.

Maybe that’s why she sounds so bullish on her chances of winning drag racing’s crown jewel for a second time Monday when eliminations begin at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indy.

“I say it every time but my money’s always on my guys because they’re the best in the business and we’ve proven that time after time,” Enders said. “When they give me a car that goes A-to-B, nine times out of 10 we’ll turn the win light on. I’m optimistic about tomorrow. We’ll do our best and see what happens.”

Enders qualified her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro in the No. 11 position after posting a best pass of 6.604 seconds at 209.10 mph Friday night in the first of five time trials.

“I feel like we have definitely put in the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears to earn some round wins tomorrow,” Enders said. “We’ve collectively made 65 runs in the past five days between testing my car and Jeg’s (Coughlin Jr.) car plus all the runs the four Elite cars have made in qualifying.

“We still have some issues but we are chipping away at them. We feel like together we can accomplish anything. This is the good stuff about this team that keeps us always going in the right direction.”

It’s not just Enders who has a positive outlook about their chances against first-round opponent Chris McGaha, who qualified sixth with a 6.577 at 209.95 mph. Veteran crew chief Rick Jones, Enders’ tuner since she joined Elite Motorsports nearly four years ago, offered his opinion.

“We always have a chance with the way Erica drives,” Jones said. “We made two solid runs today, maybe a little conservative but we’ll get better tomorrow. Race day is always a different deal, especially at Indy. The track usually gets worse and we already know it’s going to be way hotter. The bottom line is Erica’s going to be leaving first and we’ll see if they can catch her.”

Pro Stock eliminations are slated to start at noon, Monday. FOX Sports 1 will air the first round of eliminations live from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Monday. The main FOX Network takes over from there, airing the remainder of eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Monday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

“Mark Melling and his son are here from Melling Performance and we are proud to have them on board with us for the rest of the year,” Enders said. “We also have Gallagher Insurance and a couple of their guys out here this weekend as well so we have a lot of exciting things working on the business side of this program. That’s the key to making it work on the race track.

“Everyone is working hard and nothing would be better for us than another U.S. Nationals win.”

Native Houstonian Erica Enders heads to U.S. Nationals with her heart firmly in Texas

Erica Enders | 2017 NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — The annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is drag racing’s biggest event, but native Houstonian Erica Enders admits it will be hard to focus on the task at hand when the weekend arrives considering the epic devastation in her hometown.

“My heart is broken,” Enders said. “It’s impossible to get your mind around this catastrophe. I watch the news and see so many areas I know and they are under 10 feet of water. Most of the people I grew up with around the Cypress area have gotten some level of flooding. It’s going to take months to recover.

“It’s kind of spooky because 12 years ago this week Richie (Stevens, husband) escaped to Indy after Katrina wiped out his hometown (New Orleans). Now here we are heading back to Indy and my hometown is wiped out. I feel so helpless but we are definitely going to do all we can to raise awareness to help the people of Houston.”

To that end, Enders and her sister Courtney Enders-Lambert are arranging a grassroots campaign to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey. They hope to be collecting donations and dry goods at the U.S. Nationals.

Although under the circumstances, her racing endeavors seem secondary, Enders has a few reasons to be optimistic about her chances of success at this year’s “Big Go.” The Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports team has tested extensively since the last NHRA tour stop in Brainerd, Minn., and she has a long history of success at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.

“We went straight to Tulsa with my car and my teammate Jeg Coughlin’s car and tested for three straight days,” Enders said. “We made probably 40-50 passes, working 15-plus hours every day. Jeg is taking over now and the team will be in St. Louis testing some more with Vincent Nobile and Alex Laughlin. We will arrive at Indy with lots of new data for all four Elite cars.

“I remember going to Indy in 1994 when they had the inaugural Junior Dragster championships and we were runner-up. Then you take it all the way to 2015 when I won in Pro Stock. That catapulted us to three Countdown wins and we won our second championship going away. Indy’s an historic place and we love being a part of it all.”

Pro Stock drivers can make five qualifying runs, beginning at 7:15 p.m., Friday. There will be two more sessions at 2:30 and 6:15 p.m., Saturday, and another two at 11:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m., Sunday. Eliminations are slated to start at noon, Monday.

FOX Sports 1 will air live qualifying from 12-2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m., Sunday, and the first round of eliminations live from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Monday. The main FOX Network takes over from there, airing the remainder of eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Monday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Consistent Erica Enders still asking for more from Melling Performance/Elite Camaro

BRAINERD, MN — Fresh off a runner-up finish at the NHRA tour’s last stop in Seattle, two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has proven her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro is very consistent this weekend at the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Enders qualified mid-pack in the No. 8 position in the elimination field, running a best of 6.665 at 206.42 mph to go with a 6.679, a 6.682 and a 6.695. While the car is repeating well, Enders says an issue getting out of the starting blocks is holding them back.

“It’s obvious we have big horsepower based on the speeds we’re running in relation to the other cars,” Enders said. “At the same time, it’s certainly no secret we are struggling with all three of these Elite Motorsports cars in getting them off the line. It’s vital to have big horsepower if you want to contend in this class but you’ve got to be able to apply it right at the initial hit.”

Enders has reached the final round four times in the first 16 races of the 2017 season, winning the trophy in Epping, N.H., and coming in second in Atlanta, Chicago and the tour’s last stop in Seattle.

“We’ll continue to chip away at it,” she said. “That’s what do — work and work until we fix whatever is holding us back. No sense in shoulda, coulda, woulda, we just need to make it run properly. I have extreme confidence in my crew to get us running strong again.”

Enders has the unenviable task of racing one of her teammates, five-time class champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., in Round 1. Coughlin was a touch slower with a best time of 6.669 at 207.40 mph, giving lane choice advantage to Enders. The two have raced just one other time this year with Coughlin taking the win in Round 1 at Englishtown.

“This class is so challenging and extremely humbling,” Enders said, “and now I’ve got my teammate Jeg in the first round. He’s only a five-time champ. The one bright side to that whole deal is one of us is going to the second round. We’ll continue to chip away at it and see what we can find for all of our team cars but we’ve got to find it quick with the Countdown to the Championship (playoffs) approaching.”

Brainerd International Raceway has been good to Enders in the past. She won this race in 2012 and 2015 and was runner-up in 2011. Her win in 2012 came from the No. 1 starting position.

Pro Stock eliminations begin around noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air the action live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Multi-time Brainerd champ Erica Enders an eyelash away from her next victory

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017

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.)

Erica Enders finishes second in Seattle after closest race of NHRA season

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Seattle 2017

KENT, WA — Professional drag racing is the only motorsport in the world with the need to time things to the 10-thousandth of a second, an increment of time put to the test in the final round of Sunday’s 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals when two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders was edged by Drew Skillman by .0006 seconds, or an estimated one inch, making it the closest drag race of the entire season.

“That was so close,” Enders said. “I thought I had him. It felt like we were just a sliver ahead of him but it’s really hard to tell at that speed. You’re not really looking over because 100-percent of your focus is getting to that stripe first. I was pretty sure I was going to push the gas pedal through the floorboard.”

Had Enders gained one more tick at the starting line — she left five-thousandths of a second ahead of Skillman — her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro would have reached the other end first, but Skillman’s 6.604 at 209.33 mph was just enough to take the win ahead of Enders’ 6.609 at 209.49 mph.

“Good for Drew,” said Enders, the 2012 Seattle winner. “He’s my bud so it’s cool, but I will say he owes me one or two now so we’ll have to get him next time. It was cool to be in the closest race of the year and really cool to make a little personal history in the semifinals also.”

In reaching her 39th career final round, Enders reached the impressive milestone of 250 elimination-round victories when she beat a red-lighting Tanner Gray in the semifinals. Gray was an over-eager -.068 at the tree and could only watch as Enders zoomed to a 6.633 at 208.71 mph.

“Saying 250 round wins is pretty crazy because it was so hard to get there,” Enders said. “But it’s also been so rewarding. I wouldn’t change my life for anything.”

Earlier in the day, Enders beat quarterfinal opponent Jason Line with a 6.595 at 209.46 mph to Line’s 6.603 at 209.30 mph. She opened the day with a 6.592 at 210.08 mph victory over a resigned Matt Hartford.

“If you had told me last Saturday night after four so-so qualifying runs that we’d turn the corner Sunday over there and learn enough to come here and get this car all the way to the finals I would have said you were crazy,” Enders said. “But my guys pull through in the clutch time and time again.

“It’s easy to have down times in the course of a season when you want to just go crazy but these guys never let us get down on ourselves. We rise up like champions and just get to work. That’s what we’ll do leaving here. We still have plenty to do to these Elite cars but we’re chipping away at it.”

The NHRA tour takes a weekend off before returning to action Aug. 18-20 with the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Two-time champ and No. 4 qualifier Erica Enders looking for more Seattle success

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Seattle 2017

KENT, WA — Erica Enders was fighting for her playoff life the last time the NHRA tour passed through Pacific Raceways. This time around, she easily secured her spot in the 2017 Countdown to the Championship by simply qualifying for the elimination field of the 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals.

Even better, Enders is four spots better and a world away from the struggles of last season. To wit, she’s qualified a lofty fourth on this weekend’s ladder in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro and she’s one of nine different winners the class has produced in the first 15 races.

“We have a shot, that’s all we ever ask for, and certainly we’re in better shape than we were last year,” Enders said. “It’s definitely been a different feeling coming into this weekend without the pressure we had one year ago. But to be honest, we’re still not super happy. We’re better, but nowhere near where we want to be.

“It seemed like we were really onto something earlier this summer when we won Epping and that every weekend one of these Elite Motorsports cars was racing for the trophy. But we’ve found out how extremely finicky the electronic fuel injection can be. It’s been a fight, not only for us but for everyone. That’s why we’ve had so many different winners.”

After a couple of down weekends, Enders and crew found the heartbeat of their Chevrolet last weekend in Sonoma during an elimination race against good friend Bo Butner.

“We didn’t win the race but it was the first really good pass we had made in a while,” Enders said. “It gave us a new baseline tune-up that seemed to work. We came in here with something to build on and it’s worked to some extent. We’ll keep chipping away.”

A winner here in 2012, Enders’ best pass this weekend flashed a 6.575 at 210.31 mph on the Seattle scoreboards. She also ran a 6.596, a 6.614 and a 6.631 in the other three qualifying sessions.

By qualifying fourth on the modified 14-car grid, Enders first opponent on Sunday will be No. 11 qualifier Matt Hartford, who closed qualifying with his best pass of the weekend, a 6.643 at 207.46 mph. Enders opened the 2017 season by beating Hartford in Pomona in their only head-to-head meeting of the year.

“We’ve got a car that goes A-to-B, which is a big start,” Enders said. “We have a tune-up that seems to be working and we’ve got all the talent in the world in this pit. I know the guys won’t rest until we’re back running like we were in Epping.”

Pro Stock eliminations will begin at noon, Sunday. The FOX Network will broadcast the action live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (Times are local and subject to change.)

Seattle success on the mind of two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | NHRA 2017 Pro Stock

KENT, WA — Erica Enders has placed a push-pin in this weekend’s 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways as the place she would most like to get her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro back into the winner’s circle.

There are many reasons the two-time world champion is feeling especially optimistic as the NHRA series completes its Western Swing of consecutive races in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle. First, she opened the newly created Eastern Swing with a win. Second, her team had a nice up-tick in performance last Sunday in Sonoma. And third, she’s a past winner in Seattle.

“There’s definitely a lot of optimism in the Elite Motorsports pit after our race day run in Sonoma,” Enders said. “We have been struggling for a few races but the guys made a big move between qualifying and eliminations in Sonoma and the car really responded. Now we can start fine-tuning that setup and hopefully we’ll be back where we were when we won Epping a few months ago.

“We’re going back to a track where we’ve had some success. We made it to the winner’s circle there in 2012 and it’s always been a really fun place to race. The city of Seattle is so pretty and it’s a race weekend we always enjoy. I’m definitely looking forward to getting there.”

Bracketing the two NHRA “Swings” with wins would represent a huge step towards securing a position in the Countdown to the Championship, drag racing’s six-event version of playoffs. Races in Seattle, Brainerd and Indianapolis will complete the regular season. At that point, only the top 10 drivers in the points are eligible to run for the title.

“There definitely is a renewed sense of hope here,” Enders said. “We are back to believing the sky’s the limit moving forward. We are closing in on the Countdown to the Championship and we’ve got to get this Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports car headed in a more consistent direction. We are going to do our best to get there.”

To get the team primed for the stretch run, team owner Richard Freeman arranged a white-water rafting trip this week in Oregon. It was just what the group needed, according to Enders.

“It was definitely a wild deal,” Enders said. “I’m an adrenaline junkie but I had never whitewater rafted before. I was a little nervous about it ahead of time but anything this team does together, we always end up having a blast. (Fellow racer) Bo and Randi Lynn (Butner) were able to join us as well so it was a lot of good fun with some great friends.

“You need these times to get business and racing off of your mind, even if it’s just for a day, and focus on the family side of this crazy sport. It was another great team-building experience, something we were blessed to do together. All-in-all, a really cool experience.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 and 5 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air the first two rounds of qualifying action from 6-7 p.m., Friday. The main FOX Network will broadcast eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

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