Archive for the Race Preview Category

Erica Enders concludes 2017 season with renewed optimism for bigger things ahead

Erica Enders | Pomona 2017 Preview

POMONA, CA — Returning to the site of her biggest single triumph — the 2014 title-clinching, final-round victory against Jason Line — Erica Enders is prepped to finish the year at this weekend’s 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals with firm designs on a brighter future.

“For the second year in a row we didn’t quite have the season we wanted or expected,” said Enders, driver of the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. “But this season we made so many strides in the right direction that we have huge expectations for our future.”

After winning back-to-back Pro Stock championships in 2014 and 2015, anything less than another brass ring was sure to be a bit of a letdown. Such is the welcomed curse of those who have reached the pinnacle of their sport.

However, unlike 2016 when her Elite Motorsports team didn’t reach a final round and finished ninth in the points, Enders and crew returned to the winner’s circle this year (in Epping, N.H.) and logged three runner-up results, proving they’ve gained a lot of ground during this year’s campaign. She’s likely to finish sixth overall.

“When you’ve been champions it’s definitely a bummer when you don’t do it again,” Enders said. “You get spoiled and addicted to the success. But the reality is it’s very hard to do what we do and to have great results year after year. There’s been a lot of changes since we won our second title.

“The key is having the right people around you to overcome and adapt. We’re on our way to another championship year, no doubt, and it very well could be next season. That’s the plan. I know I have the best team in the sport, from (owner) Richard Freeman, to our engine guys on to the crew chiefs and mechanics, we’re world class. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when’ for us.”

Aside from her 2014 win at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Enders has been top qualifier here twice, in 2011 and 2015.

“Pomona has been decent to us, especially when we won that winner-take-all race in 2014,” Enders said. “I mean, we had to win the race and beat our biggest rival that year, Jason Line, to earn the title and we did it. There’s a lot of history here and the races always symbolize either the start or the end of a season, so there is always a level of excitement. We’re ready to race and close out strong.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 12 and 2:45 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day qualifying action live from 3:30-4:30 p.m., Friday. The network also will air the second day of qualifying from 3-4 p.m., Saturday. Live eliminations will air from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Nothing but positive Vegas memories for multi-time champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017 Reading

LAS VEGAS, NV — In her championship years of 2014 and 2015, Erica Enders was untouchable at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, winning six straight events, including both the spring and fall national events and consecutive K&N Filters Horsepower Challenges.

The spunky Texan is hoping to recapture some of that magic this weekend when she returns to her favorite racetrack for the 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the penultimate race of the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“It’s no secret I love the Vegas track,” Enders said. “Those two years were pretty darn special. It felt like we could do no wrong but believe me it took a lot of hard work from these guys at Elite Motorsports. We had it all figured out back then and we even clinched our second title at the fall race in 2015 so nothing but good feelings for this place.”

Although her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro is slightly off the blazing pace she set during those two glorious years, Enders is a winner this year and she’s desperate to grab another Wally trophy before the season ends.

“It might as well happen in Vegas,” Enders said. “We certainly had a better car at the last race in Dallas, both in qualifying and on race day. That progress should definitely translate to The Strip.

“We wanted more out of this year when we switched back to Chevy but a lot of little things have slowed us down a touch and we all know it doesn’t take much to get beat at this level. Those championship years we always seemed to be on the right side of every close race and we haven’t had that kind of luck this year.”

Nevertheless, Enders’ trust and confidence in her Elite race team hasn’t wavered.

“There’s no lack of love in our pit,” she said. “And there is no lack of hard work. You work extremely hard for world championships and you work just as hard during down years. It’s just the nature of the game.

“I say all the time I have the best team in the sport and that will never change. I’ve never felt so good or been more comfortable with a group of guys in my life. We do everything together. We’re truly a family. I want to win my family another Wally.”

Aside from her Pro Stock duties, Enders will be racing in Buddy Wood’s Super Comp dragster for Wood Racing this weekend.

“It’s something we’ve done throughout the year,” Enders said. “It’s been a lot of fun and it gives us another chance to win so I’m all for it. You kind of keep your mind in race mode when you have more hits at the tree so I welcome the opportunity. Big thanks to Buddy for trusting me with his racecar.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:45 and 4:15 p.m., Friday, and 1:15 and 3:45 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day qualifying action live from 3-4 p.m., Friday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders dreams of a ‘white hat’ day in her home state

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock

DALLAS, TX — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders scratched a huge entry off her personal bucket list during her 2015 visit to Texas Motorplex when she won the annual AAA Texas NHRA Fallnationals, thereby completing a sweep of the races in her beloved home state of Texas.

As is tradition at the event, Enders was outfitted with a cowboy hat in the winner’s circle and she picked a black one for a very specific reason.

“We were bad hombres that year and that win in Dallas went a long way to locking up our second straight championship,” Enders said. “We were taking no prisoners and kicking a lot of butt and it seemed fitting that I put on a black hat that day.”

Should Enders return to the winner’s circle this time through, she has a different plan, one that once again would reflect her mood.

“You never know how we’d feel at the end of the day because it depends on the journey the day presents,” Enders said, “but if you asked me right now I’d say it would be a great feeling and one that would make everyone on this Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro race team pretty damn happy.

“If we’re lucky enough to win again, and I know we’re fully capable of making it happen, I’d probably ask for a white hat. It would be nice to be the good girl at the end of the day for once. We’re probably not in the title fight at this point so the next best thing is to win these last few races and move up as high as we can.”

Enders already won a race earlier this year in Epping, N.H., making her one of nine different Pro Stock drivers who have scored this season. She also was runner-up in Atlanta, Chicago and Seattle.

Aside from her victory at Texas Motorplex in 2015, the Houston native was runner-up at this facility in 2012.

“It’s always a big deal for me whenever we race in Texas,” Enders said. “No matter where my travels may take me, this is the place I love the most. Racing in my home state also means lots of extra support and family at the track, and that carries over to all the guys on the Elite team because we’re based in Wynnewood, Okla.

“We plan on testing more before the race so we’ll be fully prepared to get after it and try to win another hat, a white one.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:15 and 5:15 p.m., Friday, and 1:15 and 4:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day qualifying action live from 5-6 p.m., Friday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Back-to-back champ Erica Enders, a back-to-back winner in St. Louis, wants more

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017

ST. LOUIS, MO — Gateway Motorsports Park has always been a favorite track for two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders, dating back to her adolescence when she raced a Junior Dragster at the facility. Her warm feelings for the track have only strengthened since she’s turned pro, one of many reasons she’s excited to return for this weekend’s sixth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

“We’re feeling like we’re on a bit of an uptick after posting two good runs Sunday in Reading (Pa.) and then you add in the fact we’re going to St. Louis, one of my all-time favorite tracks, and I can sense a little excitement in the pit,” Enders said. “We’re being realistic about where we are and what we need to do, and we’re still fighting hard.

“We’ve had a great string of successes at Gateway. We won there in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013. Then we earned the pole in 2014. We went back to the finals in 2015 and finished as runner-up, so yeah, it’s a great track for us.”

The most prolific female racer in Pro Stock history and the third most decorated female in NHRA history, Enders points to St. Louis as the place where her professional career officially began.

“Back in 2004 at St. Louis we announced that I would be racing Pro Stock,” Enders said. “It was a moment I’ll never forget. Finally getting to that point in my career was so huge. To go from a kid in the garage with my dad handing him wrenches to racing Juniors, to running a bunch of different sportsman cars, and then finally turning pro, it was a dream come true.

“It’s never been easy and we had plenty of struggles along the way but we persevered and reached the top of the sport in 2014 and 2015. Now our focus is on getting back to the top of the mountain and we won’t give up until we do.”

Through two of six Countdown to the Championship playoff races, Enders remains in sixth place in the Mello Yello world rankings. She knows going rounds in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro every weekend from here on out is tantamount to her ultimate success.

“We have tested and tested these cars and we keep finding little things that make us better,” Enders said. “The tire change really threw us a curve but we can’t complain because everyone is dealing with the same components. I say it all the time and I’ve never meant it more, but there is no other team, no other group of people I would rather be with in this journey. Hopefully I can reward my guys with a trophy or two before we’re done this year.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 and 6:15 p.m., Friday, and 1:15 and 3:45 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day qualifying action live from 5-6 p.m., Friday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Pro Stock ace Erica Enders focused on flying high in Pennsylvania

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock

READING, PA – As the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Countdown to the Championship playoffs continue with this weekend’s 33rd annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has her sights set on gaining traction in championship points by taking her bright red Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to another winner’s circle.

Enders, a feisty 33-year-old Houston native, goes into the second round of the Countdown to the Championship sixth in points. Even though she and her Richard Freeman-owned team have been challenged recently with a change in rear tire specs, Enders remains highly confident in her group’s ability to contend for a third title and add to her glowing legacy as the most-acclaimed female driver in the history of the factory hot rod class.

“I’ve done well at Maple Grove, but I’ve never won there so that’s something I would like to knock off of my to-do list,” Enders said. “I’m glad we’re heading back East because that’s big Pro Stock country. The fans absolutely love this class and that’s something that will be refreshing to see after the tumultuous year this class has had. I’m also looking forward to a little break in the weather. It’s been a little hot this summer.”

Although the forecast looks iffy, Reading usually gives racers a break from the heat of summer as fall begins in eastern Pennsylvania. Maple Grove Raceway takes advantage of its locale and cooler temps to give competitors and fans some of the quickest and fastest racing on the planet with record-setting performances the norm at the charming facility. For Enders, it also provides her an opportunity to relish in some family time.

“I’m looking forward to the weekend,” Enders said. “My sister and brother-in-law live 15 minutes from the racetrack and there’s a lot of family and friends up there so we will take all four of these team cars, along with Larry Morgan, our newest engine leasing customer, and see what we can do. We’ll have five of us up there battling it out. I’m very optimistic and looking forward to racing at Maple Grove.”

Enders and her Elite Motorsports teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr., Vincent Nobile, and Alex Laughlin as well as the rest of the Pro Stock class have dealt with many changes this year, including a switch to a new spec rear tire. Enders is hoping Reading will help her and her team get a better grip on the change.

“The new tire has been a challenge for us to get a hold of and we are just going to continue to fine tune on our 60-foot times,” Enders said. “That’s where we have struggled. If we can make up the .02 (seconds) and .03 we lack down low, it will translate to .04 or .05 at the top end.

“Horsepower is not a problem in our Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, it’s just managing the horsepower with the new tire. We will just keep chipping away at it.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:45 and 4:15 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day qualifying action live from 2:30-3:30 p.m., Friday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 2-5 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders says ‘Don’t bet against us’

Erica Enders

CONCORD, NC — Erica Enders’ two Pro Stock championships both came in the 10-year-old playoff era so she has intimate knowledge of how the six-race Countdown to the Championship works. With the first playoff race taking place this weekend at zMax Dragway, Enders and her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports crew know it’s time to put up or shut up.

“The regular season is all about securing a spot in the top 10 so you’ve got a ticket to the playoffs,” Enders said. “We’ve done that part. Now it’s time to get to work and see what we can do about winning another championship. We’re only a year removed from our last title but it seems like forever and we’d love to get it back.

“I’ve said time and again, in the glory times and when we’ve been down, that Elite Motorsports is the best team in professional drag racing and I tell people, ‘Don’t bet against us,’ because I know what this group is capable of doing. We’ve won this year, we’ve had three runner-up finishes, we’ve had the quickest and fastest car in plenty of sessions, now we just need to put it all together and keep it moving through the Countdown.”

Enders enters this year’s playoffs in sixth place, placing her 60 points or three rounds of elimination racing behind leader Bo Butner. Her most recent final-round appearance came just three races ago in Seattle.

“We ran well in Seattle but we’ve done so much work since then the car is totally different,” Enders said. “I personally made 40 passes in my car and Jeg (Coughlin Jr., teammate’s) car before Indy and after Indy we went and tested for three more days. We invited some friends along on this most recent test to give us a fresh perspective on how the cars were set up and what we have been doing with the engines and the changes they suggested look really promising.

“This team doesn’t have ego issues. They are happy to bring in people to help us when we’re struggling with something. That’s why Richard Freeman (team owner) has been so successful; he knows winning championships takes extreme effort. He knows there is nothing simple or routine in this sport.”

Charlotte has been good to Enders in the past. She raced to runner-up results in 2012 and 2013 and was top qualifier at the facility in 2014.

“If you can put together a string first race in the Countdown it really makes a difference moving forward,” Enders said. “We’re going to give it all we have and see what happens. There will certainly be no lack of effort put in for the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:15 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day of qualifying action live from 6-7 p.m., Friday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 2:30-5:30 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

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.”

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.)

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