Archive for the Qualifying Category

Erica Enders emotional as race against retiring pro Allen Johnson looms

Erica Enders | Pomona 2017 NHRA Finals

POMONA, CA — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders found herself getting emotional as the race day ladder for the 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals came together and she realized she’d be facing retiring pro and fellow champion Allen Johnson in the opening round of Sunday’s eliminations.

“Me and Allen, his wife Pam and (my husband) Richie took a photo right before that last qualifying session and it was definitely emotional,” Enders said. “He’s my best friend out here and after his final qualifying run I watched him do an interview at the top end and he was crying. It was very hard to watch because I love him and Pam so much.

“It will definitely be emotional to race him but, like we say every time we race each other, may the best man or woman win.

“We want to win this race, right here, right now, and we have got the car and the team to get it done. I’ll hate to load him first round but that’s just the way the ladder fell this week.”

Enders knows the way to Pomona’s promised land. She’s won 22 national events in her career, including the historic 2014 final right here at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Her tally also includes a victory earlier this season in New Hampshire to go with three runner-up results this year.

Now her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro seems to have regained its early-season form with decent qualifying efforts in all six Countdown to the Championship races.

“We definitely did a better job of qualifying down the stretch,” Enders said. “This weekend we ran 6.56 every single qualifying pass we’ve made down the track. We definitely have a race car. It’s going A to B, it’s consistent, it’s under control and I’m driving well. I have a lot of optimism going into tomorrow. It’s the final race day of the year and even though it’s not been the best year, I’d really like to go out with a bang.

“The fact we’re racing Allen, yeah, it definitely wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for but A.J.’s a competitor and every time we put our helmets on we try to rip each other’s throats out. It doesn’t matter who’s in the other lane. Tomorrow the goal will definitely remain the same. We want to win.”

FOX Sports 1 will air elimination action live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (Time is local and subject to change.)

Six-time Las Vegas winner Erica Enders looking for lucky no. 7 in Sin City

Erica Enders | Las Vegas 2017 NHRA

LAS VEGAS, NV — In a city that lives on numbers, Erica Enders is looking to roll “7” on Sunday when the 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals turn to elimination racing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Enders won six consecutive races here in her championship years of 2014 and 2015, including both the spring and fall national events and back-to-back K&N Horsepower Challenges.

“We know the way to the winner’s circle here, that’s for sure,” Enders said. “It’s pretty crazy because this car feels just about as strong as the ones I had those two years. We made some big changes to the car after St. Louis and it has been working way better since then, both in Dallas and here this weekend. We’re kind of getting excited.”

Enders’ McLeod Clutches Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro has looked sharp during qualifying with runs of 6.704 at 205.72 mph, 6.687 at 206.42 mph, 6.708 at 205.26 mph and 6.715 at 204.79 mph. Her best pass of 6.687 slotted her sixth in the elimination field, setting up a first-round battle with good friend Allen Johnson, who qualified 11th with a 6.717 at 203.25 mph.

“We’ve got race day in Vegas and race day in Pomona and that’s all we’ve got left for the year so we are going to do our best to finish strong,” Enders said. “The car is definitely running better. We’re not exactly where we want to be but it is directionally correct for the time being so we are definitely pleased.”

Currently sixth in the points, Enders is hoping another victory this year — she already won in Epping, N.H. — will help her climb higher in the final rankings.

“Tomorrow will be a tough day but Vegas is my track,” Enders said. “I’m definitely driving better. I’m going into tomorrow with a lot of optimism and positivity and high hopes.

“If I can beat Allen it will help my teammate Jeg Coughlin because he’s right behind Allen, plus it’ll keep us moving in the right direction. Anything less than the championship after you’ve won it in the past is a letdown but we want to win every race we enter so if we do that and we move up a few spots, that’ll work.”

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

Weeks of exhaustive testing finally paying dividends for Pro Stock champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | Dallas 2017 NHRA

DALLAS, TX — Ever since her Elite Motorsports race team began to experience a performance downturn a few months ago, two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has been testing the wheels off Richard Freeman’s Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.

It appears all of that extra work, along with some reconfigured parts dreamed up by car builder and crew chief Rick Jones, are paying off big for the 22-time national event winner.

Enders posted four very competitive runs during qualifying for this weekend’s 32nd annual AAA Texas NHRA Fallnationals — a 6.651, 6.634, 6.652 and finally a 6.629 at 207.72 mph — to qualify a lofty fifth on the elimination grid. It’s her best qualifying effort since the Seattle race, which was six national events ago.

“This weekend has definitely been a big step in the right direction,” Enders said. “No surprise but we tested again in Noble, Oklahoma, earlier this week, both my car and Jeg (Coughlin Jr., teammate’s) car, and we did really well which gave us a little extra confidence coming in here.

“Rick did some things to the cars after St. Louis and they’re working much better so we certainly have a lot of optimism. We definitely felt like we had a much better handle on these Rick Jones Chevy Camaros after the test but you never know until you come here and run them against a pro field. Now we have, and the results are very promising.”

Enders will open eliminations against part-timer Kenny Delco, who qualified 12th with a 6.659 208.07 mph. Enders and Delco have not raced one another this season.

“After Friday’s sessions we were third overall,” Enders said. “We didn’t make a great run this morning and got bumped back a couple of places to fifth but that run was still a lot better than we have been doing. The last qualifying session, which was the worst session of all four as far as conditions go, we made our best run.

“Running your best run in the worst session is not something that normally happens with the field but it’s something we’ve accomplished a lot in our careers, especially during our two championship runs. It’s nice to be back in that position where we have a race car for Sunday that can win rounds.”

Adding to Enders’ upbeat attitude is the weather forecast, which is calling for cooler, Pro-Stock-friendly temperatures.

“We’re looking forward to tomorrow,” Enders said. “It’s definitely going to be a big change of weather with the cold front coming in overnight. I’m pleased about that because I feel like we are better at big weather changes than most teams so I think tomorrow will be a good day for us. We’ll do our best all day long. It’ll be tough race day like it always is but the main goal tomorrow will be the cowboy hat they give the winner.”

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

Upset-minded two-time World Champ Erica Enders ready to wreak havoc

Erica Enders | NHRA 2017 St. Louis Gateway Motorsports Park

ST. LOUIS, MO — Currently sixth in the Championship to the Countdown playoff standings, two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders knows a third career victory at Gateway Motorsports Park would propel her up the rankings at the midway point of this year’s title chase. She also knows knocking off a few of the drivers ahead of her would throw a huge wrench in the fight for the sport’s top prize.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” Enders said. “With just four Sundays left in the Countdown, we’ve got a lot of work to do to see if we can move up in the points. Part of that is knocking off the drivers ahead of us in the points so I say line ’em up and let’s go. We’ve worked our way to the top of the mountain twice before so we know what it takes. The plan is to keep chasing it until it’s over.”

Slotted seventh in the elimination field of the sixth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals after a best pass of 6.550 at 210.83 mph, Enders will begin her quest for glory against good friend Allen Johnson, who qualified 10th with a 6.560 at 209.65 mph. Enders and Johnson have not squared off against one another this year.

“Today was fair at best,” Enders said. “That last run was a step in the right direction. The first session of the day, all of our team cars blew the tires off so we basically came back here and changed everything. We turned right around and every single one of us went right down the runway so that is definitely a step in the right direction.

“We get to go to bed tonight knowing that at least our race cars go down the track. That’s always a comforting feeling because you know you have a chance.”

Enders won her 22nd career race earlier this year in Epping, N.H., proving her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro is capable of going the distance. She also is a two-time winner at this facility, having won consecutive Pro Stock trophies here in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s been a struggle for about 10 races now, really ever since we won that race up there in Epping,” Enders said. “We continue to work on it. We’ve made about 125 test runs since Indy just trying to figure it out so it’s not for a lack of effort or check writing for that matter.

“I’ve got the best guys in the business in my opinion and I wouldn’t go to battle with anyone else. Like I said, it’s easier to go to bed Saturday night knowing you’ve got a good run under your belt instead of not knowing what the heck is going on. It definitely improves morale and gives us a little confidence going into tomorrow. It’s going to be tough out there tomorrow racing on a nice, warm track.”

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

World champ Erica Enders dealing with ‘unhappy’ car as Reading turns to eliminations

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017 Reading

READING, PA – Two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders only made one decent pass in qualifying for the 33rd annual Dodge NHRA Nationals, but the ever-hopeful Texan says she’s confident team owner Richard Freeman has the crew in place to turn their fortunes around during Sunday’s eliminations at Maple Grove Raceway.

“At the end of July when we were racing in Sonoma (Calif.), we didn’t get down the track in any of the four qualifying rounds,” Enders recalled. “On Sunday, we go out in the first round and we were second quickest of the entire session. It just so happens we had Bo (Butner) in the other lane and he was quickest so we lost, but we would have beaten any other car.

“That’s why you race on the track, not on paper. Anything can happen on race day. I have the best guys on the best team in the sport and we will remain positive. I’ve been known to get up on the wheel on occasion so we will see what happens tomorrow. All we can do is remain positive, do our best and let God do the rest.”

Enders opened qualifying for this weekend’s race with a 6.594 at 210.28 mph Friday early afternoon. She then slowed to a 6.638 at 210.47 mph in Round 2 later in the day. But the wheels came off Saturday with back-to-back shutoff runs.

“We came here with a slight renewed sense of hope after our test session in Charlotte,” Enders said. “I drove both mine and Jeg’s cars there. We felt like we were getting somewhere with the set-up and were pretty happy.

“We came here and start off Q1 with a 6.594 and we were qualified No. 4 after session 1. We came back and looked up the data and it was a terrible run so, we thought, ‘this is awesome, we can tune on this and get way better.

“We came back for Q2 and just kinda blew the tire off the car. I got it down the track but it went 6.63. Today we went out there both runs and shook the tires. I was in the right lane, almost hit the wall, this evening I was in the left lane and almost crossed the center line so the car is not happy.”

At the close of qualifying, Enders was slotted ninth, so she’ll surrender lane choice in Round 1 of eliminations to Chris McGaha, who qualified eight with a 6.593 at 210.24 mph.

“Something is bad wrong with the car but I wouldn’t want another group of guys to work on this Camaro than the crew I’ve got,” Enders said. “I’ll sleep good tonight. I have the best guys in the world working hard on making things right so we will continue to keep our chins up and remain positive.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 2-5 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Melling Performance pro Erica Enders excited about eliminations in Charlotte

Erica Enders | Charlotte 2017 NHRA Pro Stock

CONCORD, N.C. — Throughout her record-setting career, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders always has done her best work in pressure-packed situations. When others wilt, she blossoms, which is one of the many reasons she’s excited about the first of six race days left in the 2017 season.

“The playoffs are definitely a different animal,” Enders said. “We’ve lived it, we’ve fought down to the last round of the season, we’ve felt the most pressure you can feel in this sport and we’ve come out on top. If that gives us an edge this year, we’ll take it.

“Of course, the guys that are going to make the biggest challenges are all veteran teams and most have them have won it all in the past. Either way, whoever wins this year’s championship will have earned it, no doubt.”

Enders’ first test will come Sunday at the 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway. Enders will start the day as the No. 9 qualifier after posting a best pass of 6.602 seconds at 209.75 mph in time trials.

“We’ve been testing the tires off these cars the last few months and we are really optimistic about our latest changes,” Enders said. “We can already see some big gains in Jeg (Coughlin’s) car and my guys are going over that data to make my car better. I know for sure I already feel a lot more confidence in our direction.

“The playoffs are a fight from start to finish. The pressure you feel is because every round feels like a final round with a million dollars on the line. You just know you’ve got to find a way to win every matchup. There’s no holding back.”

For her qualifying efforts, Enders will be matched up against part-time teammate and close friend Alex Laughlin in the first round of sudden-death eliminations. Laughlin qualified eighth with a 6.600 at 209.17 mph. The two racers have only squared off once this year and it was during the four-wide race in Charlotte last spring. On that day, Laughlin was one of the two racers to advance out of their quad of racers.

“This team has been in the championship wars and come out on top two different times so we know what it takes,” Enders said. “We’ll fight this fight until we have nothing left. No matter what, I love these guys and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

“We have a lot of support here this weekend also, which is always great. Our friends from Arthur J. Gallagher, Transportation Impact and Melling Performance are with us. We’re having a good time and everyone is excited about the possibilities.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. Live action will air on FOX Sports 1 from 2:30-5:30 p.m., Sunday. (Times are local and subject to change.)

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.”

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.)

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