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Championship-winning crew chief Rickie Jones to leave NHRA circuit in 2017

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POMONA, CA – Elite Motorsports crew chief Rickie Jones will step back from his duties with the championship-winning NHRA Pro Stock team to focus on his family in 2017.

Jones, the son of veteran crew chief/chassis builder Rick Jones, was an integral part of Erica Enders’ 2014-15 Pro Stock world championships.

“My wife Sarah and I want to start a family and have children,” Rickie Jones said. “That’s harder to do when you’re gone as much as this series demands.

“I’ve been blessed way beyond my wildest dreams to work with Erica and Richard Freeman and the entire Elite team, and I’ll still do that to a degree. But family comes first, and I look forward to spending a lot more time with Sarah as we start this new chapter in our lives.”

Jones, 29, helped guide Enders to 15 race wins and the 2014-15 championships in her first two seasons with the team. Enders, in fact, replaced him as driver at Elite Motorsports – after Jones won the 2013 season-finale at Pomona, Calif. Rickie and Sarah Jones were married in October 2014.

The affable Jones will continue to work at RJ Race Cars and Quarter-Max Chassis and Racing Components in Galesburg, Ill., the companies he and his father own. RJ Race Cars builds the race cars Elite Motorsports uses in NHRA, as well as several other cars for a variety of customers. Jones also pointed to a recent surge in demand for Street Rods and other custom work.

“Rickie has been an invaluable member of Elite Motorsports for many years, and we fully support his decision,” Elite team owner Richard Freeman said. “Elite Motorsports isn’t just a race team, it’s a family, and Rickie and Sarah are a part of that family. We all wish him nothing but the best.

Freeman said the team has no need to hire a replacement for Jones, as existing crew chiefs Rick Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Brian “Lump” Self will lead the three-car team in 2017.

Driver Enders offered her thoughts on Jones’ departure. “Rickie means the world to me, and I’ll definitely miss him at the race track,” Enders said. “He’s a man with a deep faith in God, and he was always an inspiration to me. I wish him and Sarah the best. I know we’ll still see a lot of him.”

Jones’ father will have the biggest adjustment to make as he’s always raced with Rickie by his side.

“He and I have been real tight forever,” Rick Jones said. “He’s been coming to the racetrack since he was a baby so it’s all he knows. We raced together for many years and we’ve had a lot of really good times. It’s a little sad I won’t have him with me next year but I’m going to go on, at least for one more year and Rickie’s going to stay home, run the business and start a family.

Rickie and Sarah want to start a family and my wife Bonnie and I are really looking forward to that. We’ve always been so proud of him. There are really going to be a lot of good things ahead and we are very excited about the future.”

Elite Motorsports and Mopar to part ways in 2017

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WYNNEWOOD, OK – Elite Motorsports and Mopar have announced that they will end their partnership at the end of the 2016 racing season.

“I want to thank everyone at Mopar and Dodge, from the top executives to the engineers on to the people helping us at the races for their hard work and dedication,” said Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman. “My guys should be commended. They basically worked around the clock with pretty much zero days off for the entire season, busting their butts to try and give Erica and Jeggy competitive racecars. We look forward to a fresh start into 2017.”

“We thank the entire Elite Motorsports team, including owner Richard Freeman and drivers Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr. for serving as superb ambassadors of our brand,” said Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global. “The drivers and team handled themselves with professionalism and class, constantly working hard to break into the winner’s circle. We commend them for their dedication and never-quit attitude, and wish the team, Erica and Jeg nothing but success in their future endeavors.

“For 2017, we will continue our relationship with Don Schumacher Racing in both NHRA Funny Car, which has culminated in four championships in six years, and also in Top Fuel, and we will expand our presence in the NHRA Sportsman ranks.”

Elite Motorsports drivers and multi-time world champions Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Erica Enders both competed with Mopar-backed Dodge Darts in 2016.

“We really wanted to light up the scoreboards this year with our Magneti Marelli offered by Mopar/JEGS.com Dodge Dart but we couldn’t quite get it running where it needed to be,” Coughlin said. “Like Richard, I salute everyone at Mopar and thank them for the effort. We wish them well in 2017 and beyond.”

Enders shared her teammate’s sentiments. “Mopar has been wonderful to work with,” she said. “It seems we were chasing it all year and never really got the cars where we could challenge for wins. Hopefully, we can start writing a new chapter and everyone will move forward into a better situation, including Team Mopar. We wish them nothing but the best because they’ve been great partners.”

Enders won the 2014 and 2015 Pro Stock titles with Elite Motorsports, while Coughlin finished top of the class in 2000, 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2013, prior to his time with Elite Motorsports.

Houston-based Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants to sponsor reigning champ Erica Enders-Stevens

Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants to sponsor Erica Enders-Stevens

HOUSTON, TX — Lupe Tortilla, routinely voted the top Mexican restaurant in Texas, will assume title sponsorship of the record-setting Pro Stock race car of reigning world champion Erica Enders-Stevens at the upcoming O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

A 31-year-old superstar in the world of professional drag racing, Enders-Stevens is a Houston native who attended Spring-Cypress High School and Texas A&M University. She has been supported by Lupe Tortilla founder Stan Holt, his wife Sheila, and their restaurants since she began her driving career at age 8, a relationship that continues to this day with her team owner Richard Freeman and his Elite Motorsports operation.

“Stan has always been a part of racing and my personal life for as long as I can remember,” Enders-Stevens said. “He has always been there for me and I consider him and Sheila part of my family. Stan even performed the wedding ceremony when Richie and I got married.

“We had the best year of our professional lives in 2014, winning six races and the championship. I was honored to become the first female Pro Stock champion and join my heroes Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey as the only women in history to win a major motorsports title. The neat thing is that Lupe Tortilla was with us every step of the way.

“It would be another dream come true to win this race for Stan, his sons, Sheila Mae, and all of their employees across the state. No matter what, if we can remind people to go eat at one of their restaurants, then I’ll be super happy, and trust me everyone leaves that place happy. It’s the best Tex-Mex ever.”

Based in Houston, Lupe Tortilla boasts 17 locations across the greater Houston area as well as Austin, San Antonio, Beaumont, and College Station.

“It’ll be really neat to see the Lupe Tortilla car on the racetrack,” said Holt, who drag races himself at the Sportsman level. “We came up with the idea to support Erica and the Elite Motorsports team at this race since it’s in our backyard, and when I talked to my sons about it they thought it would be a lot of fun.

“We always have a good time at the races, and many of the professional drivers and crewmen come to visit and have lunch or dinner when they’re in town. We have great relationships with so many people out there, including the Angel family, who own the racetrack. The NHRA is really a big family and we’re happy to feed them all.”

The 28th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals takes place from April 24-26 at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown.

Enders-Stevens begins defense of 2014 Pro Stock championship

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POMONA, CA — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders-Stevens will begin to defend her 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock world championship this weekend at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

But not much has changed in Enders-Stevens’ mind as she and her team prepare for the Winternationals.

“I guess it really hasn’t completely sunk in because some days it’ll just cross my mind and I can’t believe it,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s pretty cool. The off-season is busy as always, no different than any other. We’re hard at work trying to find money and horsepower.”

Though she hasn’t raced since her triumphant victory in the final round of the final race of 2014, Enders-Stevens remains as focused as ever at the task at hand: Doing her job, one round at a time.

“I haven’t gotten unfocused,” Enders-Stevens said. “What we accomplished last year doesn’t change anything ever. It’s a great accomplishment and really cool, but you can go from hero to zero really quick, week in and week out. I learned that a long time ago. We’ve got our work cut out for us, and we’re going to swing for the fences just like we did last year.”

Enders-Stevens, 31, won her first world championship with a stellar season that included six victories, six No. 1 qualifiers, and national elapsed-time and speed records.

But the championship was in doubt until the final round in Pomona, where Enders-Stevens won the race and the title when Jason Line red-lit.

Now, she returns to the site of her championship brandishing the No. 1 on the side of her Chevrolet Camaro.

“We’re the defending world champions, and it’s a pretty awesome place to be,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve never been in this situation before, and we’re really excited and honored to carry the No. 1 this year. It’ll be a memorable year, and we’re going to go to Pomona and give it our all and hopefully carry the No. 1 into 2016 also. That’s everyone’s goal.

“We know the target is on our back, for sure, but to be honest it’s been on our back. I don’t know if anything has changed. Last year, we had a very dominant car, and when some people would race us, they’d swing for the fences both performance-wise and from the driver’s seat.

“I don’t think anything will change from our angle,” Enders-Stevens added. “We’re going to stay focused on racing our car and our lane.”

Qualifying sessions are scheduled for 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. PT, Friday and Saturday. Eliminations will start at approximately noon, Sunday, with both qualifying and elimination action broadcast on ESPN2 on tape-delay basis.

Enders-Stevens crowned 2014 Pro Stock champion after NHRA Finals win

Erica Enders-Stevens hoists NHRA Championship trophy

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 16) — Taking fate into her own hands, Erica Enders-Stevens not only captured her sixth win of the season at the 50th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals but also the title of 2014 NHRA Pro Stock World Champion.

Surpassing Larry Morgan and Rodger Brogdon in the first two rounds of competition, Enders-Stevens’ Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro continued to step up round after round. But after both her and Jonathan Gray had perfect .000 lights in the semifinals, it was obvious Enders-Stevens wasn’t going down without a fight, advancing to the final round with a 6.494-second pass.

With the championship on the line during the final-round matchup against Jason Line, Enders-Stevens sealed the deal. Both drivers turned on the red bulb, implementing the “first or worst” rule, and Enders-Stevens’ -.002 reaction time beat out Line’s -.011 and secured her first season title.

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” Enders-Stevens said, “and that’s perfect proof that with the right group of people anything is possible and that’s all through God. I’ve got the right group, a group that stands behind me, and we have a blast together. That’s what it’s all about. Win, lose, or draw we love each other and that’s all that matters.”

Enders-Stevens beats Jason Line for 2014 Pro Stock Championship

Already with numerous accomplishments in the record books, Enders-Stevens joins Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey on an elite list of female NHRA champions.

“They are heroes of mine,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’m so thankful for their help and support in this venture. It means a lot to me to have my name on a list with Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey. They’re incredible racers and incredible women.

“What a blessing; this is awesome.”

Starting the dream season with a fresh start at Elite Motorsports, Enders-Stevens always knew that they were capable of going all the way. Her win in Pomona proved that.

“I definitely grew a lot,” Enders-Stevens said. “I learned a lot, I became better, and so did our team. I have them to thank for that. It was a long, hard year. I had to sit out two races and we were still able to accomplish this dream, and it says a lot of what we’re capable of. The sky is the limit.

“We’ve got a lot of great things happening for 2015, and I just couldn’t be more proud of my guys.”

Pro Stock points leader Enders-Stevens ready to make history in Pomona

Erica Enders-Stevens during Friday qualifying at Pomona

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 15) — A fast Royal Purple Chevrolet race car, a solid Elite Motorsports team, confidence in herself, and legions of fans have Erica Enders-Stevens poised to make history.

On Saturday Enders-Stevens qualified No. 3 for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway, and she carries a 19-point lead in the Pro Stock points standings into final eliminations at the season finale.

“What a blessing to be in the position that we’re in,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s going to come down to the wire, and it’s going to be a dogfight. I’ve got a good feeling and I’m happy.”

Enders-Stevens was terrific throughout the four qualifying sessions with a best pass of 6.526 seconds at 211.99 mph. She was quickest in two of the sessions and second-quickest in the other two as she chases the first Pro Stock championship of her career.

“The car’s great and it’s been good every run,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’re nit-picking thousandths of a second here and there and we’re happy. We’ve got a very consistent race car, and that’s what it takes on Sundays to win.

“We’ll go out there and do our best tomorrow, let the clutch pedal out on time, shift the car well, go A to B, and it could be a very good day. I feel confident and I’m excited.”

Enders-Stevens and Jason Line, who is in second place in the points standings, are on opposite sides of the ladder, so the championship could go down to the final round.

Should Enders-Stevens hang on to the championship lead, she would join Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey as the only female world champions in NHRA history and would become the first female world champ in Pro Stock.

She’s already had a stellar season, with five victories in six final-round appearances and six No. 1 qualifiers. She stormed back to the points lead in Las Vegas two weeks ago with a win from the No. 1 qualifying spot.

This weekend, her pit area has been swarmed with race fans trying to get a glimpse of the would-be champion.

“The fans have been incredible,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve spent hours at the back of the pit signing autographs and talking to people. I feel like I’ve got a lot of people pulling for us, which is really awesome. It shows, too, when we tow back to our pit in front of the grandstands. They’re hooting and hollering.

“I’ve been trying to take it all in because I know one day it will all disappear. I’m having the time of my life right now.”

Enders-Stevens begins her Sunday against No. 13 qualifier Larry Morgan, who made a top pass of 6.583 seconds at 209.30 mph.

Eliminations will start at approximately noon, Sunday, with both qualifying and elimination action broadcast on ESPN2 on tape-delay basis.

Enders-Stevens surges to Pro Stock points lead with stellar Vegas victory

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LAS VEGAS (Nov. 2) — When in high-pressure situations, champions deliver.

Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders-Stevens delivered under pressure Sunday, knocking out points leader Jason Line in the semifinals and then beating five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. to win the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The victory was the fifth of the season and 11th of her career, and it vaulted her into the Pro Stock points lead with one race remaining in 2014.

“It can’t get much better,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s just really incredible. I can’t be any more proud of my team. We had a meeting coming in here on Thursday. (Team owner) Richard (Freeman) just reminded us to go out there, have fun, and stop putting pressure on ourselves. There’s no pressure from him or anyone else.

“When I came in here today I told myself I was going to give it all to God and do my best. I was a nervous wreck in Reading and I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be. That’s what I wanted to change coming in here. I just wanted to go out there and do what I know how to do. I’m confident in my guys and they’ve given me a great race car. Every time I fire up the car, it’s up to me.”

After winning in the first and second rounds, Enders-Stevens lined up against Line in the semi’s with championship implications in the air, and Enders-Stevens ripped off a .009-second reaction time, getting the crucial round-win when Line turned on the red-light.

Then, facing Coughlin in the final round, Enders-Stevens was even better, cutting a .007 light against one of the best drivers in the history of NHRA. She sped to the win with a pass of 6.587 seconds at 206.36 mph to beat Coughlin’s 6.596 at 209.14 mph.

“Those were two of the most important rounds of my career,” Enders-Stevens said. “I stepped up the plate and it feels good. (Crew chiefs) Rick and Rickie Jones were talking in my helmet and telling me, ‘Give it to God, do your best, if you want it, you’ve got to take it, don’t let up, and go after it.’

“That’s exactly what they did with the tune-up on the race car and that’s what I did behind the wheel today.”

The win against Line moved her to within three points of the lead, and beating Coughlin moved her 17 points ahead with only the Auto Club NHRA Finals on Nov. 14-16 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., remaining on the schedule.

“This is what it’s all about,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve been driving for 22 years, 10 of which I’ve been trying to make this Pro Stock deal work. Everything is just starting to come together. I know God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. All of those ups and downs in my Pro Stock career make this just that much sweeter.

“We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us in Pomona but what a cool position to be in. How blessed are we to be here? Regardless of how this ends, it’s been an incredible year and I could not be more proud.”

Title push continues with Enders-Stevens locking up No. 1 spot in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (Nov. 1) — The Pro Stock championship charge of drag racing superstar Erica Enders-Stevens continued Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the 31-year-old securing her third straight and sixth overall No. 1 qualifying effort of the 2014 season.

Enders, who entered then weekend 35 points behind class leader Jason Line, managed to make up eight markers in qualifying, closing the gap to 27 points, but the Texan knows the real damage can be done in eliminations, where each round is worth 20 points.

“There was still some left in that last run that ended up putting us on the pole,” Enders said. “We’ve got to piece it together even better tomorrow, be consistent, and go A to B every run. If I let the clutch out on time, we can go to the winner’s circle with this Elite Motorsports Camaro. We’ve all got to do our jobs and not get ahead of ourselves.”

Aside from her four victories, 13 races atop the points standings, and six No. 1 qualifying efforts, Enders-Stevens has qualified in the top three another 12 times.

“That’s pretty neat,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve had six No. 1s and eight No. 2s, and several of those second-place efforts we just barely missed being on top. It’s definitely the most No. 1s in one season in my career by far. It just goes to show what this team is capable of.

“Being able to get the top spot in the fashion we did it today was pretty exciting because all the cars were hauling out there. I was optimistic going into the last round. Analyzing the data from the three previous runs, we hadn’t killed it yet. That was really encouraging, so we were able to get after it on that last run.”

For her efforts, Enders-Stevens will open race day against first-timer Jeff Isbell, who ran a best of 6.829 seconds at 204.29 mph. Should they both advance through the earlier rounds, she could face Line in the semifinals.

“I’m really excited and really proud of my team,” Enders-Stevens said. “All of this is so monumental to me. This is 10 years that we’ve worked to get to this point and it’s all coming together. Regardless of how the year ends, I’m just really proud of my team.”

Eliminations for the Pro Stock class will begin at noon. ESPN2 will carry all of the action.

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