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Pro Stock champ Erica Enders excited to defend her U.S. Nationals title

Erica Enders | Indy US Nationals 2016 | Pro Stock

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — A big part of two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders’ success is the ability to see the positive in everything and then make the most of that optimism.

Enders qualified her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge in the No. 14 qualifying spot for Monday eliminations at the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. That may be disheartening to some, but Enders is the defending U.S. Nationals champion and knows race day is a new day.

“This is our worst qualifying position in a long time but I’m OK with that,” Enders said. “I’m excited about tomorrow. I need to go to work because Shane (Gray’s) got a fast car, but I have the best guys in the whole world and I can drive. We’ll do our best.

“We’ve got to go to battle tomorrow, (teammate) Jeg (Coughlin Jr.) and I, to keep our positions. It’s definitely going to be interesting for sure because Alex (Laughlin) has the fastest race car he’s had all year.”

Enders, Coughlin, and Laughlin are battling for 10th place in the Pro Stock points standings. The top 10 will race in the Countdown to the Championship, which begins after the U.S. Nationals. Enders is in ninth, 13 points ahead of Coughlin and 45 ahead of Laughlin.

Elimination rounds are worth 30 points at the U.S. Nationals, instead of the usual 20, so a good day here will be crucial to making the points standings, but Enders has more than points on her mind.

“There are seven race days left, and it’s crazy to think that after the last two years, we’ve gone 17 events without a win,” Enders said. “But tomorrow’s a new day. It’s going to be hot with a tricky racetrack, and that’s where we have strived in the past.

“This year is completely different — different car, different motor, different everything — but one thing remains the same, and that’s my team and their determination and ability to perform under pressure.”

Enders raced two Dodge vehicles at the U.S. Nationals, taking a Challenger to the third round of Stock Eliminator.

“It was a fun opportunity to drive the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak in Stock Eliminator at the U.S. Nationals,” Enders said. “Every run it got progressively better. I’m excited about it. I think I found my comfort level in the car, and I was able to have some good reaction times in eliminations. That last run, a couple of my Pro Stock tuners came over and helped, and that really changed the attitude of the car. It left better and didn’t blow the tires off.

“It was definitely fun and a team effort. I’m proud to drive for (car owner) Joe Welch and have gotten to know him and his wife better. It’s been a fun weekend so far, and now I’m looking forward to getting in my Mopar Performance Dodge Dart and racing for the Pro Stock trophy tomorrow.”

Eliminations begin at noon, Monday. FOX Sports 1 will air the early part of Monday’s eliminations live from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Live TV coverage will then shift to the main FOX Network with action from 1 to 4 p.m. (All times listed in ET).

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders fulfilled lifelong dream with 2015 U.S. Nationals title

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders was drained after the U.S. Nationals in 2015, and understandably so, because she put everything she had into the race. Having won it, fulfilling a lifelong dream, Enders was physically and mentally exhausted.

Enders, driver of the Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge, returns as defending champion of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, held this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

“That was probably, aside from the championship, the coolest racing accomplishment that I’ve ever had,” Enders said. “To try to accomplish something for 25 years and to finally get it done was one of those culmination moments.

“I think my crew chief, Rick Jones, put it in perspective. We have to be tough out here, especially being a girl, and it’s very crucial to show no emotion, but it was hard to be emotionless after that win. Rick summed it up best. He said that he had been trying to win that race for 40 years, so my 25 years looked pretty measly compared to that.”

Enders’ victory was one of many highlights of her 2015 season, one where she won nine races and repeated as Pro Stock champion. She beat V. Gaines, Larry Morgan, Greg Anderson, and Drew Skillman to win the U.S. Nationals for the first time.

That win came two years after Enders was the fastest racer on the property at Indy, but she slowed down in the final and lost.

“In 2013, I literally had one stolen from me, and I didn’t understand why at the time, but to be able to accomplish it with such a tremendous group of men (at Elite Motorsports), people that I love more than anything, that’s why God made us wait,” Enders said. “It was a huge accomplishment, and we are going to the U.S. Nationals this year with our heads held high because we are the defending champions, but it is also a very crucial race because it’s the final race before the Countdown is set.”

The 10-driver field for the Countdown to the Championship, which determines the 2016 champion, is set after Indianapolis. Enders moved into ninth place in Brainerd, Minn., but she has yet to clinch a spot.

Last year, Enders led the points standings heading into Indy and wrapped up the No. 1 spot heading into the Countdown with her semifinal win over Anderson.

“Things are a little different than they were last year,” Enders said. “I had to win the semifinals over Greg Anderson last year at Indy to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 position, and now we’re fighting for a top-10 position, which is kind of ironic. We will do our best and see what happens.

“It’s a fun race, it’s a long race. It’s definitely a marathon race. We have five qualifying passes and race day on Monday, so I am looking forward to it. Indy is something that every racer wants to accomplish, so we will see if we can do it again.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 7:15 p.m., Friday; 2:45 and 6:45 p.m., Saturday; and 11:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Sunday. Eliminations start at noon, Monday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., Sunday. Eliminations will air live Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on FOX Sports 1 and from 1 to 4 p.m. on FOX. (All TV times listed in ET).

Enders to race in Factory Stock Showdown at Indy

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Downtime will be rare for defending NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock champ Erica Enders at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. In addition to steering her Mopar Performance Dodge Dart Pro Stocker, Enders will also compete in a Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak vehicle in the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown at Indy. She’ll take the wheel of a supercharged 354-cubic-inch Gen III Hemi engine-powered Mopar Dodge Drag Pak prepped by the Joe Welch Racing organization and outfitted in official Dodge and Mopar graphics.

“We are thrilled to have an NHRA champion like Erica Enders carry the Mopar and Dodge colors into competition not only in Pro Stock but also in the Factory Stock Showdown,” said Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global. “The U.S. Nationals event provides a great opportunity to put Erica in the seat of a supercharged Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak and reach a wider audience of fans at one of the most prestigious events on the NHRA circuit.”

“Dodge already has the most powerful muscle cars on the street with the 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcats, and now America’s performance brand brings even more muscle to the track with the supercharged Drag Pak,” said Tim Kuniskis, Head of Passenger Cars – Dodge, SRT, Chrysler, and Fiat, FCA – North America. “The ‘Domestic. Not Domesticated.’ Dodge spirit will be at full throttle for racing fans to see at the NHRA U.S. Nationals.”

“I’m pretty excited,” said Enders. “It’s definitely a cool deal that Mopar and Dodge asked me to drive the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak at Indy. It will be something interesting. I have never competed in that before, and being that it’s at the U.S. Nationals, it’s obviously very prestigious, so we will go out there and see what happens.

“I already have a license in Stock, so it wasn’t a big deal. I’m licensed in almost every class except for Funny Car and Top Fuel, so that wasn’t an issue. I did, however, go up to Detroit and get fitted for the car, and we tested for one day. I was able to do some burnouts and take the Tree a couple of times. I haven’t foot-brake raced since Jr. Dragsters, so that’s 20-something years ago. To go up there and not have a Pro Tree and not leave with a clutch or a transbrake button, it’s definitely a different procedure. It was fun and exciting. It’s a blower car, so that will be cool.”

Pro Stock qualifying for Enders doesn’t begin until Friday night, but she’ll be in the lanes at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis starting on Wednesday, along with nearly 200 fellow Sportsman competitors hitting the strip.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders flashes driving skills in Brainerd semifinal finish

Erica Enders | Brainerd 2016 | NHRA Pro Stock

BRAINERD, MN — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders stared down the pressure and responded in championship fashion — again.

Enders won on a first-round holeshot for the second race in a row and advanced to the semifinals of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway before falling to points leader Jason Line. But she put up a fight in that race, too.

“We tried,” Enders said. “If you’d have asked me after Friday whether we’d go to the semifinals, I’d have never thought it was possible, but Saturday went a lot better, and we made strides in the right direction on Sunday.”

Drivability issues hampered Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team on Friday before she made two solid passes Saturday to claim the No. 11 qualifying spot. That put her up against Shane Gray in the first round, but Enders pulled off a 024-second reaction time and made her pass of 6.619 seconds at 207.94 mph hold up.

Gray, the No. 6 qualifier, had the third-quickest run of the round at 6.593 seconds at 209.36 mph, but it wasn’t enough.

Enders also won on a holeshot in the first round in Seattle, beating Alex Laughlin to take over the No. 10 spot in the Pro Stock points standings. After beating Allen Johnson in the second round, Enders climbed over teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. to ninth in the points.

“To have a turnaround weekend like we did, to make up the ground on Alex, to solidify our spot in the Countdown is extremely important to me,” Enders said. “It was an exciting day.”

Unofficially, Enders is 13 points ahead of Coughlin and 49 ahead of 11th-place Laughlin. The top 10 race in the Countdown to the Championship, which is locked in after the next race, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

“It was definitely a fun weekend,” Enders said. “Another positive note is our Hemi powerplant stayed together, and that’s going to be crucial going into these last seven races. We’ll try to continue to spread the gap, and game on come Charlotte.”

Enders left first on all three higher-qualified opponents she faced Sunday. She had a .013 light against Johnson and made her pass of 6.656 seconds at 207.40 mph hold up as No. 3 qualifier Johnson slowed to a 6.732-second pass at 189.34 mph.

Line, the No. 2 qualifier, was nearly five-hundredths behind on the starting line, as Enders had a .024 light to his .072 reaction time, but Enders fell just short after a pass of 6.644 seconds at 207.75 mph couldn’t hold off Line’s 6.595-second run at 209.79 mph.

“E2 and E3 didn’t go like we thought they would, as far as e.t. is concerned, and I did not do my job against Jason,” Enders said. “All it takes is .022 to win that round, and that makes me mad because I’m better than that 97 percent of the time I let the clutch out. Just one of them deals. It’s got to be your day.”

It felt like old times for most of the day, as Enders raced to her second semifinal of the season. Enders and her team reached the semi’s regularly in 2014-15, but 2016 has been a struggled with the switch to electronic fuel injection and Dodge.

“We were all a little bit out of shape, it seems like, for going rounds on Sundays,” Enders said. “Everybody was huffing and puffing, trying to get things done before we got called to the lanes the next time. Before we fired (before the semifinals), I told (crew chief) Rick (Jones), ‘It’s fun to go rounds on Sunday, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘Heck yeah! We barely made it.’ I told him, ‘Believe it or not, we used to do this every week.’ He’s like, ‘I know, but we’re out of shape.’ “

With determination and passion, Pro Stock champ Erica Enders is ready to battle

Erica Enders | Brainerd 2016 NHRA Pro Stock | Mopar

BRAINERD, MN — When the calendar turns to Sunday, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team know anything can happen.

So though Enders qualified No. 11 for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals on Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway, she is confident in her and her team’s ability to make things happen.

“Sunday is a whole different day,” Enders said. “You just look at what happened in Seattle. It’s anybody’s day on race day, and you go out there with the mentality that we always do: It’s crunch time right now. We’ve got two race days left before the Countdown, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ll see what happens.”

Enders jumped into the top 10 in the Pro Stock points standings in Seattle, and she leads Alex Laughlin by nine points heading into Brainerd. Two races remain before the Countdown to the Championship begins, and only the top 10 get a chance to race for the 2016 title.

Enders’ best qualifying time in Brainerd was 6.660 seconds at 207.08 mph, but that was an improvement over Friday’s performance.

“Friday was definitely one of the worst days, for sure,” Enders said. “The fact that we were able to go from A to B today is pretty significant. It’s humbling that we’re this deep into the season and still are struggling as much as we are.

“But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to be doing this with anybody else other than the group of people we have at Elite Motorsports.”

Drivability issues limited Enders on Friday, but her and her Elite team simply went to work.

“As frustrated as they are, they still are so determined and so passionate about what they do,” Enders said. “They put their heads down and get to work. It was a long night last night, especially for our EFI guys. They came back today with a whole new setup for these cars, and for (teammate) Jeg (Coughlin Jr.) and I to be able to have good drivability with these cars is pretty crucial. We haven’t been able to stage and do the best burnouts or backups smoothly.”

That did happen Saturday, when Enders made two somewhat conservative runs.

“Everything went as planned today, “Enders said. “That was a baseline run for us in Q2 because he and I had two bad runs yesterday. They were very conservative, get-down-the-racetrack runs. We have a lot of room to improve.”

Pro Stock eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m. CT, Sunday.

Erica Enders hoping for a surprise title defense this weekend in Brainerd

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BRAINERD, MN — Erica Enders was cruising to s second straight NHRA championship the last time she passed through Brainerd International Raceway, winning her fifth of nine races in her dominating 2015 campaign at the annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.

This weekend, as she returns to Central Minnesota, things have changed quite a bit. The most successful woman in class history, Enders finds herself winless in 2016 and clinging to the 10th and final playoff berth with two races left in the regular season.

“Last year we were fighting for the No. 1 spot in the playoffs; now, we’re just hoping to make the playoffs,” Enders said. “It’s a crazy, humbling sport, but that’s why we love it so much. Nothing out here comes easy. It wasn’t easy when we won and it’s not easy when you have stretches like this, but these downtimes make the good times that much better.

“We made a lot of changes to our program joining up with Mopar, and they’ve been wonderful to work with. The NHRA also made its biggest changes to the class they’ve ever made (switching from carburetors to electronic fuel injection), and obviously some teams have adapted quicker than we have, but we’re not giving up. You can’t beat a team that never gives up.”

Enders remains optimistic because she knows the Elite Motorsports team working on her Dodge Dart is the same group that helped her to back-to-back championships and 15 national event victories over the past two seasons.

“Rick and Rickie Jones are still tuning my car, Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston are still building our motors, all the crew guys are the same, Richard Freeman (team owner) is still giving us all the tools we need to win; it’s just a matter of time,” Enders said. “It’s not easy at times because we got used to winning, but the guys up at the top right now have been through downtimes as well. It’s the same in every pro class.

“There are just lots of peaks and valleys in this sport. The thing is, you really discover what you’re made of when things are tough, and all I see with this team is that they will never quit. They’re just as relentless now as they were last year. The other day they were doing burnouts in the parking lot of the race shop working on our launches. They never stop.

“We’ve won Brainerd twice (2015 and 2012), and it would be great to get a third one this time through. It would certainly shock the world, but we’re pretty good at that.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 1 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 9 to 11 p.m., Saturday, and eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in CT).

Clutch holeshot win puts Pro Stock champ Erica Enders in Countdown position

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Seattle 2016

SEATTLE, WA — When the pressure is on, champions rise to the occasion.

When Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team needed to have a good performance in the first round of the 29th annual Protect The Harvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil on Sunday at Pacific Raceways, they put one on.

Enders ripped off a .009-second reaction time against Alex Laughlin, winning a crucial round despite a slower elapsed time. And in beating Laughlin, who came into the race 10th in the points standings, Enders took over 10th, the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship.

“I said in my interview at the top end that it reminded me of the U.S. Nationals last year, racing Greg Anderson in the semifinals, where the winner of that round got to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 position,” Enders said. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Under pressure, we are awesome together.”

Enders’ pass was 6.581 seconds at 209.39 mph, but her .048-second advantage on the starting line was enough to hold off Laughlin’s 6.569 at 210.90 mph.

“My guys gave me a good race car,” Enders said. “It wasn’t a great run. We feel like we could have definitely gone a .56 out there first round, and it was important to put a little bit of a spread on Alex. It’s not a big spread, but we will take what we can get at this point.”

Enders now unofficially leads Laughlin by nine points with two races before the Countdown.

Enders had another excellent reaction time in the second round, .031, and was in front of No. 14 qualifier Aaron Strong before she had engine issues. Strong had beaten No. 3 qualifier Greg Anderson in the first round.

“We got a break with Greg going out first round,” Enders said. “Performance-wise, we had him covered a little bit and shoulda, coulda, woulda gone to the semifinals at least today. Jeggie (Coughlin Jr.) and I had a chance to meet up in the semifinals. He had Bo (Butner) covered three-hundredths on the Tree, I had Aaron covered five and a half and everything went away.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders faces another test in Seattle’s first round

Erica Enders | Pacific Raceways 2016 NHRA

SEATTLE, WA — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders faces a big test in the first round of the 29th annual Protect The Harvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil on Sunday at Pacific Raceways.

After qualifying No. 11, the Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver will race Alex Laughlin in the first round on Sunday. The battle could go a long way in deciding which driver reaches the Countdown to the Championship, as Laughlin is 10th and Enders 11th, just 11 points out of the top 10.

Should Enders win, she’ll move around Laughlin in the Pro Stock standings with two races left before the Countdown begins. That sounds like a lot of pressure, but Enders has been there before, performing well under pressure in winning the 2014 and 2015 championships.

“No, no pressure at all,” Enders said. “Tomorrow is just another race day and my guys will give the best car they know how to. I’m gonna have to get up on that wheel, that’s for sure. We’ll get it all sorted out tonight before we go to the hotel and come back tomorrow fresh and ready to roll.”

Enders rallied from a difficult Friday to post two good runs on Saturday, the best being a run of 6.572 seconds at 209.75 mph. Laughlin’s best pass was 6.552 seconds at 211.53 mph to snare the No. 6 qualifying spot.

“Yesterday, aside from crashing and blowing things up, was probably the worst day in drag racing I’ve had,” Enders said. “Today was a new day and my guys really rallied and worked hard on these Dodge Darts to get them to run right. Not just my car but our Mopar/Magneti Marelli team (of Jeg Coughlin Jr.), too. That was just one of those days you like to chalk up to a total loss, but today did go better.

“I get to control my own destiny tomorrow. I’ve got Alex Laughlin first round, who is the one standing in front of us to get into the Countdown. He’s probably one of the nicest kids out here, but it’s go time tomorrow.”

Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 5 to 6 p.m., Friday, and 11 to 12 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in PT).

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