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Erica Enders adds U.S. Nationals title to growing résumé

Erica Enders wins 2015 U.S. Nationals at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders can now add U.S. Nationals champion to her growling list of accomplishments in what is becoming a legendary career.

Enders won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway with a brilliant driving display, beating her final three opponents on holeshots, including Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final round.

The victory cemented her No. 1 spot in the Pro Stock points standings for the Countdown to the Championship, which begins at zMax Dragway in Charlotte in two weeks, and it was her 18th career win, tying her for second all-time with the legendary Shirley Muldowney.

Enders may not be a legend yet, but she has accomplished a lot. She won the 2014 Pro Stock World Championship, becoming the first female to win the class title, and now she has won the biggest race of all, three years after a crushing defeat in the final round to a teammate.

“I’m struggling putting it into words because we’ve worked so hard for so long to get here,” Enders said. “There have been times in my career, particularly the final at Indy in 2012, where I really didn’t understand why things went down the way they did. It’s worth the wait. It’s worth the wait to do it with the right people and I couldn’t be more proud of my team.”

Her team is proud of her, too, especially after her driving Monday. After dispatching Vieri Gaines in the first round, Enders was actually outrun by Larry Morgan in the second round (6.613 seconds at 209.52 mph for Morgan to 6.617 at 209.01 mph for Enders), but her .036-second reaction time and .007-second head start was the difference.

Then came a big matchup in the semifinals against Greg Anderson, who was second in the points standings and the No. 1 qualifier here. But Enders drilled the Tree (.013 to .054) and overcame Anderson’s 6.591-second pass at 210.41 mph with her 6.618 at 209.39 mph.

“It was a challenge all day long, and our big round was against Greg Anderson,” Enders said. “Beating him allows us to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 seed. Those 30 points are going to be really, really crucial to us considering last year. Had we lost to Jason Line in the final (in Pomona, Calif., last year), we would have lost by a single point, so it’s huge. It’s huge for me, it’s huge for my team, and huge for any kid that ever had a dream. I came here as a little kid and I wanted to be here. Twenty-three years later we finally made it.”

In the final against Skillman, Enders had another .013 light to Skillman’s .025, and her run of 6.611 seconds at 209.75 mph was enough to hold off his 6.606-second run at 209.98 mph. The victory was her sixth of 2015, and her career total now matches Muldowney.

“Six wins in a single season is huge because I tied Shirley Muldowney,” Enders said. “I talk about Shirley an awful lot because she’s been a lifelong hero of mine because of what she had to endure driving back then. She still managed to do it with grace and class and come out on top. Over the years she became my mentor and my friend. I’m really lucky to have her in my corner. To put my name next to hers for a tie for all-time wins is incredible.

“I remember it like it was yesterday, wanting to get on the list, period, with just one win, and to say we have 18 is nuts.”

And it came at the race where she was named grand marshal. Enders got the call from Chevrolet before the race in Seattle, but she thought it was a joke.

“I kinda was like, ‘Are you joking?’ ” Enders said. “It’s a huge honor. I’m a Chevy girl through and through, and I’m very proud to drive a Camaro. It’s very neat, and it was a big honor to be up there today before the race. Jim Campbell has done a lot for our sport, as has everybody at Chevrolet. It’s just an honor. It feels surreal because I have to pinch myself to believe that we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders gunning for first U.S. Nationals victory

Erica Enders - 2015 U.S. Nationals qualifying

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders has already accomplished a lot in her career, from winning the 2014 Pro Stock World Championship to piling up 17 professional victories — one short of matching Shirley Muldowney for second among winningest female drivers — but she still has one big thing remaining on her bucket list: win the U.S. Nationals.

Enders has a good shot at it in 2015, as she has qualified No. 4 for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“It’d be pretty awesome to win,” said Enders, a runner-up at Indy in 2012. “It would rank right up there with the championship and winning in your hometown. It’s the biggest race of the year, and I would be ecstatic if we won it.”

There is plenty more on the line for Enders and her team. She is first in the Pro Stock points standings with one race remaining before the Countdown to the Championship, and the U.S. Nationals pays 1.5 times the normal amount of points.

“It’s very crucial for us because it’s worth a point and a half,” Enders said. “I’d really like to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 position, so we’re going to fight tooth and nail for it Monday and see what happens.”

Enders’ best qualifying pass was 6.571 seconds at 210.54 mph, just .009-second off the No. 1 qualifier.

“The car is good,” Enders said. “We lost a session Friday because of the weather. Saturday morning, after 95 percent of my burnout, a coil wire came off, and we weren’t able to make that run, which put us first pair out for the third session.

“We had to be very conservative in Pro Stock, being first pair out on a racetrack like that,” Enders said. “We made a very good run and were No. 1 for a while before we ended up No. 4.”

Then on Sunday, Enders was third-quickest in each session. She’ll face No. 13 qualifier Vieri Gaines in the first round Monday after Gaines had a pass of 6.620 at 209.01 mph.

“Monday is definitely going to be tricky,” said Enders, the most recent winner on the Pro Stock tour in Brainerd, Minn. “It’s going to be hot, and that makes my crew chiefs’ jobs very interesting, but I’m fortunate to have three of the best the business has ever seen. I know they’ll give me a fast, consistent race car, and if I get up on the wheel, there’s no reason we can’t have a repeat of Brainerd.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders hopes to reap U.S. Nationals rewards

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN — The rewards are plentiful for Elite Motorsports Pro Stock driver Erica Enders during this weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

Enders, the 2014 Pro Stock World Champion, sits atop the points standings with one more race before the Countdown to the Championship begins, so a good showing at Indy could cement her status as the No. 1 seed.

She’s also coming off a victory at Brainerd International Raceway two weeks ago and is gunning for two wins in a row and her first U.S. Nationals title.

Enders has 17 Pro Stock victories in her brilliant career, and her next win would tie her with the legendary Shirley Muldowney, and she’d trail only Angelle Sampey on the all-time win list for women. Plus, Enders is the grand marshal for this weekend’s race.

“I’m real excited to head into Indy, our biggest race of the year,” Enders said. “Not only is it like our Super Bowl, but it’s double the jackpot and a point and a half this time. Being the last race before we head into the Countdown, it could solidify our No. 1 seed into the Countdown, providing we keep pace with the Summit cars.”

Enders leads Greg Anderson by 16 points after her Brainerd win, but NHRA is awarding 1.5 times the normal amount of points at Indianapolis.

“Going in as the No. 1 seed is definitely important,” Enders said. “That is one of our goals this weekend. We’re coming off a win in Brainerd, which certainly gives us a lot of confidence. Hopefully, we’ll keep the momentum on our side of things and continue the streak.”

Enders and her team tested at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis earlier this week, trying to improve their already stellar performance this season. Enders has won five times in six final-round appearances, racing to the semifinals 11 times in 17 races. Plus, she has five No. 1 qualifiers.

“We learned a lot and things went well,” Enders said. “For a team that doesn’t test a lot, it was really nice to get to try some things. That’s all good stuff heading into the biggest race of the year.”

Muldowney, one of drag racing’s pioneers, will be at the U.S. Nationals this weekend, and she certainly supports Enders.

“She’s a legend of our sport and a huge personal hero of mine,” Enders said. “To be within one pro win of Shirley is surreal, and if we win Indy, we’d be tied with her and then only trailing Angelle. I remember like it was yesterday working so hard to get our first Pro Stock win, and in three short years, we’ve not only been able to score our first win but we’ve been fortunate to win 17 of them — and the world championship. It’s pretty incredible to look at that, knowing how long it took to get the first one.

“I’m beyond excited to have my name on the list with two incredible women like Angelle and Shirley, and it’s obviously my personal goal to become the winningest female of all time. We’re working on it.”

Erica Enders vaults back to Pro Stock points lead with fifth victory of 2015

Erica Enders wins 2015 Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd

BRAINERD, MN — Erica Enders’ winning ways continued Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.

By beating Jason Line in the final round of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the 2014 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock champion:

  • Won for a class-leading fifth time this season
  • Won for the 17th time in her career, moving within one of the legendary Shirley Muldowney for second among female drivers
  • Took over the Pro Stock points lead
  • Won for the second time at Brainerd

“I had a really good feeling coming in this week, even before the weekend started,” Enders said. “I felt like it was our turn and the tables were about to turn.”

Enders had struggled somewhat in the last five races, winning six rounds since her victory in Bristol.

But Enders and her Elite Motorsports team turned it on during eliminations in Brainerd. She left first on all four opponents Sunday, including Line in the final round, and she made the quickest pass of the weekend in the semifinals against Chris McGaha.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Enders said. “We didn’t light it on fire in qualifying, but they certainly gave me the best hot rod in the world today. Throwing that 6.541 on the board in the semi’s was pretty stout.

“I think we’re working our way back to having our awesome race car, and this is definitely a great step in the right direction, at the right point of the season.”

After dispatching Mark Hogan in the first round with a .002-second reaction time, Enders dumped Bo Butner in Round 2. Then in the semifinals, after a .023 light gave her an immediate advantage, Enders made a pass of 6.541 seconds at 210.67 mph that ended McGaha’s two-race winning streak.

Enders had a .014 light against Line in the final and made her pass of 6.552 seconds at 210.34 mph hold up against Line’s quicker 6.541 at 211.06 mph.

Enders moved back into the points lead for the fourth time this season, and she heads to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis — the final race before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs — with momentum.

“We’re going to do our best to continue this momentum in Indy,” Enders said. “It’s definitely going to be a dogfight in Indy. Track conditions will be different, weather conditions will be way different, and there will be more competitors who are coming to the U.S. Nationals.

“Chevrolet has asked me to be the grand marshal for the U.S. Nationals, which is going to be a huge honor for me. We’ll do our best as a team to have an awesome weekend there. It’s the first time it’s going to be worth a point and a half, so every round is going to be crucial.”

Bizarre second round sends Erica Enders home early in Seattle

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SEATTLE, WA — A series of wacky circumstances helped end Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders’ day in the second round of the NHRA Northwest Nationals on Sunday at Pacific Raceways.

After beating Bob Butner in Round 1, Enders faced Elite teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the second, but from the start, almost nothing went right.

“I fired the car and had no oil pressure and no vacuum, so I radioed my guys and told them,” Enders said. “My crew chief just waved me in the water to start the burnout. I went to start my burnout, and then they were waving their arms to stop, so I aborted the burnout.

“They told me to shut it off, and they pulled my front-end clip off. Turns out the oil sump belt had come off, so there was no oil turning to the motor. They put that on, put the front end back on, and I fired it up. I had to reset all my switches, and the starter said I could do a short burnout. As I was pulling up, they were like, ‘No, back up.’ I backed up through the water and started my whole procedure over again. It was extremely rushed, and I was unable to do a burnout across the starting line, which means we couldn’t put any rubber down or burn through the resin.”

That’s detrimental to a recalcitrant Pro Stock car, though Enders did make a decent pass of 6.530 seconds at 211.89 mph. Coughlin, who shut the engine off in his Camaro while he waited for his teammate, won with a run of 6.532 seconds at 211.96, earning the victory on a holeshot.

“We did what we could with what we had,” Enders said. “I pulled in and pre-staged, but to be quite honest, I didn’t rise to the occasion today. I’m pretty disappointed in myself as a driver. Regardless of the distractions up there, I’m a world champion for a reason, and I didn’t show it today. It makes me mad, but at the same time, there were eight things that were horribly wrong all at one time, and it was a distraction. This is a game that’s won and lost by thousandths of a second.

“There have been multiple times when I did rise to the occasion, but today just wasn’t one of them.”

Enders, the 2014 Pro Stock World Champion, was grateful to Coughlin for waiting.

“The fortunate thing is my teammate Jeg Coughlin waited for me,” Enders said. “He didn’t have to, but we’re a team back here, and we’re a team up there. He shut his car off, and he wasn’t going to pre-stage without me. That speaks a lot about his character and the class he brings to this operation.

“The good thing about that round was that I was racing a teammate. Nobody else would have waited, and one of the red cars was going to the semifinals.”

Enders, who qualified No. 7, took out Butner with a pass of 6.518 seconds at 212.13 mph, leaving first with a .034-second reaction time. Butner’s run was 6.524 seconds at 212.39 mph.

“We feel like we made a really good move in the right direction with our race car. We’d been struggling the last two weeks, and that was evident by the scoreboard. But we fixed it, so that’s something else to be proud of.”

Enders now looks forward to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in two weeks at Brainerd International Raceway.

“You can bet I’ll show up in Brainerd mad,” Enders said, “and wanting to win that race.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders ready for ‘crazy’ competition in Seattle

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SEATTLE, WA — The Pro Stock field for the NHRA Northwest Nationals this weekend at Pacific Raceways is so insanely close that Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders is only .008-second off the quickest qualifying time but sits No. 7.

The top eight are less than a hundredth of a second apart, as Enders and Jason Line had identical elapsed times of 6.509 seconds, with Enders getting the higher position based on a faster speed, 212.16 mph to 212.06 mph.

“It’s the closest field that I can remember,” Enders said. “I’ve been racing a long time, and to have the top eight separated by a hundredth of a second is crazy.”

The close competition means race day should be extremely competitive, with drivers likely to be the difference between winning and losing, and the 2014 Pro Stock World Champion wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Tomorrow is going to be a driver’s race, and to be quite honest I’m perfectly fine with that,” Enders said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to race in Seattle again. It’s been really nice to hear how excited all the fans have been to have us back.

“I’m hoping for a long race day tomorrow. It’s going to be crazy, crazy competitive.”

Enders and her Elite team are racing in Seattle for the first time, as they skipped Sonoma and Seattle last year. Enders is racing in Seattle for the first time since 2013.

Enders is a four-time winner in 2014, and she’s currently second in the Pro Stock points standings with three races remaining before the Countdown to the Championship begins. She kicks off Seattle’s race day against No. 10 qualifier Bo Butner, whose top pass was 6.518 seconds at 212.33 mph.

“He’s a good leaver and his car has been running good,” Enders said. “We’ll all have to be on our game tomorrow, but I have a lot of confidence in myself and my crew. We’ll be ready.”

Historic race of the past has Erica Enders excited about future Seattle success

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SEATTLE, WA — Reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders is ready to make some more history at picturesque Pacific Raceways this weekend during the 28th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals.

During her breakthrough 2012 campaign, Enders and Funny Car racer Courtney Force made a mark in the record books in Seattle by becoming the first pair of female professionals to win the same national event.

“That was such a cool day,” Enders said. “I had just won my first ever Pro Stock trophy in Chicago a few races before the Western Swing, and that was a huge deal because no woman had ever won in Pro Stock before. We finally got it done and it was like, ‘How can we top that?’ Then we come up here and make some more history with Courtney. It was really neat to be a part of that, especially with my buddy Courtney.

“The Seattle win was special because it validated the Chicago win. It proved we were legit. We ended up winning a couple more times that year, but the Seattle win was one of the biggest I’ve ever had.”

Enders, who is married to fellow Pro Stock racer Richie Stevens, enters the weekend second in the Mello Yello championship points. She’s currently 47 points behind Greg Anderson and 147 ahead of third-place Jason Line.

“We have to go to Seattle and perform flawlessly, especially coming off a quarterfinal result in Sonoma,” Enders said. “We all know what we need to do in this pit and we just need to get to work. Seattle is usually a hot and tricky racetrack, so we’ll be prepared for that and try to win some rounds and maybe get back in the winner’s circle. I’ll talk to Courtney and see if we can’t recreate 2012!

“As much fun as it will be to reminisce a little bit, we’ll definitely have our work cut out for us. This year has been extremely competitive, like it seems to be every year, but I think the new fuel and tires they have us using this year have really evened the playing field more than ever before. It’s been stressful but fun.”

While in town, Enders will be sure to take in the local scene.

“Seattle is such a beautiful city,” she said. “You start taking it in before you even land, just looking out the windows of the airplane and seeing Mount Rainer and Puget Sound. I know we’ll be eating a lot of fresh seafood and taking in some glorious sunsets. I’m excited. This is definitely a race you always look forward to every year.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 1 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. ESPN2 will carry both qualifying and elimination action.

Erica Enders determined to bounce back after second-round exit in Sonoma

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SONOMA, CA — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports team are more determined than ever after a second-round exit in the NHRA Sonoma Nationals on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

Her Elite team was making its first appearance at Sonoma Raceway, and Enders was racing here for the first time since 2012. Still, she qualified No. 9 and advanced to the second round before bowing out to No. 1 qualifier and eventual race winner Chris McGaha.

“We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Enders said. “We’re going to load up and go to the next race. My guys are the most determined bunch I’ve ever met. Right now our day is over, but where are all three of my crew chiefs (Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll) and my team owner (Richard Freeman)? They’re in the lounge, going over notes and trying to figure out how to get better.

“You can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be back, and we’re just going to use this to fuel our fire.”

Enders and her team have handled adversity well in the past. Earlier this year, after losing in the first round in Gainesville, Fla., and in the second in Charlotte, Enders won the K&N Horsepower Challenge and the national event in Las Vegas and then won in Houston.

And after losing in the first round in Englishtown, N.J., she raced to the semifinals in Epping, N.H., before winning in Bristol, Tenn. Enders also lost in the first round in Norwalk, Ohio, before going to two consecutive semifinals in Chicago and Denver.

In Sonoma, her 100th consecutive race, Enders faced No. 8 qualifier Shane Gray in the first round, and she left first with a .017-second reaction time and held off Gray with a pass of 6.531 seconds at 211.93 mph. Gray’s run was slightly better, 6.530 at 212.39 mph, but Enders won on a holeshot.

“There have been plenty of days when my team has carried me,” Enders said. “I wish I could’ve carried them further this weekend. My crew chief always tells me, ‘If you can be .020 all day on Sunday, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to go to the winner’s circle with the people that we have and the equipment that we have.’ Today just wasn’t our day.”

Enders also left first on McGaha, .020 to .029, but McGaha made a pass of 6.514 seconds at 212.13 mph to run down Enders’ 6.529 at 211.93 mph.

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