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Multi-time Brainerd champ Erica Enders an eyelash away from her next victory

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017

BRAINERD, MN — Just a few days removed from competing in the closest drag race of the entire NHRA season, two-time Brainerd champion and crowd favorite Erica Enders knows she only needs to gain an eyelash of performance to score her next victory, which she hopes will come at this weekend’s 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Enders finished the recent Seattle race just .0006 behind Drew Skillman. The almost imperceptible margin between the two cars has only served to motivate and inspire the two-time series champ to grind even harder for her second win of the year and 23rd of his illustrious career.

“We’re feeling good in our camp coming off such a big weekend,” Enders said. “Losing by less than an inch is tough but on the flip side, we gained a lot of ground on our tune-up and to even be in that position considering the little slump we had this summer is a real credit to my guys.

“I know we’re all looking forward to Brainerd. We’re excited for a break in the weather because it’s been so hot at the shop in Oklahoma and back in Louisiana. Plus, we’ve had some great success at BIR in the past. That’s always a good feeling when you’re heading to a race, knowing you’ve done well at that track.”

The driver of the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro claimed wins at this event in 2012 and 2015. She also was runner-up there in 2011 and earned top qualifier honors in 2012.

“Brainerd also is where you get to pin your name on the Countdown to the Championship big board, showing you earned a spot in the playoffs,” Enders said. “I’ll never forget the first time I got to do that in 2011. It was quite a feeling of accomplishment. We’ve been lucky enough to do it every year since and we’ll do it again this weekend, so that’s really exciting.

“Back in 2014, the first year we went on to win the championship, I was able to pin my name up there in the No. 1 spot. That was incredible. We ended up starting the Countdown in second, but at Brainerd we were No. 1 and it felt special.”

The native Texan has some very specific goals for this visit to BIR.

“We want to win,” Enders said, “and we’re very hopeful about gaining another spot or two in the rankings before the Countdown starts. Ultimately, the last six races of the year are the ones that matter the most, so even though the NHRA resets the points at the start of the playoffs, the higher ranked you are the better it is for your team.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3:45 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first two rounds of qualifying action from 8-9 p.m., Friday, and the final two rounds of qualifying from 6-8 p.m., Saturday. Live eliminations will air from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Seattle success on the mind of two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | NHRA 2017 Pro Stock

KENT, WA — Erica Enders has placed a push-pin in this weekend’s 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways as the place she would most like to get her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro back into the winner’s circle.

There are many reasons the two-time world champion is feeling especially optimistic as the NHRA series completes its Western Swing of consecutive races in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle. First, she opened the newly created Eastern Swing with a win. Second, her team had a nice up-tick in performance last Sunday in Sonoma. And third, she’s a past winner in Seattle.

“There’s definitely a lot of optimism in the Elite Motorsports pit after our race day run in Sonoma,” Enders said. “We have been struggling for a few races but the guys made a big move between qualifying and eliminations in Sonoma and the car really responded. Now we can start fine-tuning that setup and hopefully we’ll be back where we were when we won Epping a few months ago.

“We’re going back to a track where we’ve had some success. We made it to the winner’s circle there in 2012 and it’s always been a really fun place to race. The city of Seattle is so pretty and it’s a race weekend we always enjoy. I’m definitely looking forward to getting there.”

Bracketing the two NHRA “Swings” with wins would represent a huge step towards securing a position in the Countdown to the Championship, drag racing’s six-event version of playoffs. Races in Seattle, Brainerd and Indianapolis will complete the regular season. At that point, only the top 10 drivers in the points are eligible to run for the title.

“There definitely is a renewed sense of hope here,” Enders said. “We are back to believing the sky’s the limit moving forward. We are closing in on the Countdown to the Championship and we’ve got to get this Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports car headed in a more consistent direction. We are going to do our best to get there.”

To get the team primed for the stretch run, team owner Richard Freeman arranged a white-water rafting trip this week in Oregon. It was just what the group needed, according to Enders.

“It was definitely a wild deal,” Enders said. “I’m an adrenaline junkie but I had never whitewater rafted before. I was a little nervous about it ahead of time but anything this team does together, we always end up having a blast. (Fellow racer) Bo and Randi Lynn (Butner) were able to join us as well so it was a lot of good fun with some great friends.

“You need these times to get business and racing off of your mind, even if it’s just for a day, and focus on the family side of this crazy sport. It was another great team-building experience, something we were blessed to do together. All-in-all, a really cool experience.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 and 5 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air the first two rounds of qualifying action from 6-7 p.m., Friday. The main FOX Network will broadcast eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Melling Performance pro Erica Enders vying for vintage victory at Sonoma Raceway

SONOMA, CA – Two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has her sights set on some racing redemption in her bright red Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro this weekend at the 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at scenic Sonoma Raceway, set in the heart of Northern California’s wine country.

“We love going to Sonoma,” Enders said. “It’s one of my favorite places to race, and let’s face it, a trip to the wine country is certainly fun and something my whole team looks forward to every year. This year I’m hoping to finally get a Wally (trophy) in Sonoma and get a little payback on the Christmas Tree after Denver.”

Enders has reached at least the semifinals in three of the previous four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events, including the latest event in Denver. However, a red-light foul start in the semifinal round on Thunder Mountain cost her a chance to race for her second national event victory of the season.

“You know, there’s a saying in baseball that essentially says if you don’t get caught stealing base sometimes then you’re not trying hard enough,” Enders said. “I completely agree. The Pro Stock class is the most competitive class in the NHRA. Sometimes you push it just a little too much and that bright red bulb comes on.

“We’ve obviously got our Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro running very well. Our performances lately attest to that. We just need to seal the deal and get more Wallys. I’m always a pretty optimistic person, but right now I have the highest amount of confidence in Richard (Freeman, team owner), Rick and Ricky Jones (crew chiefs) and our team to get the job done.”

Enders, a Houston native, has yet to race in a final round at Sonoma Raceway in her 13-year career. This weekend marks the midpoint of the NHRA’s Western Swing, three events in consecutive weekends ending in Seattle.

Last month in Epping, N.H., Enders won her first event of the season, the first win for the fan-favorite since the fall of 2015. She has collected 22 Wallys in her already legendary career.

A trip to the final round in Sonoma would not only be a first for Enders in the wine country, but it would also signify a historic milestone for the 33-year-old – 250 elimination round wins.

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:15 and 7 p.m., Friday, and 1:10 and 4:20 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first two rounds of qualifying action live from 8-9 p.m., Friday, and live eliminations from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

A Bandimere prayer comforted, inspired two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders

DENVER, CO — In the anxious moments just before Erica Enders clinched her first Pro Stock championship in Pomona, Calif., John Bandimere stopped in the staging lanes to wish her luck. Being a spiritual man, Bandimere, longtime owner of Bandimere Speedway in Denver, site of this weekend’s 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, said a quick prayer with Enders, an impactful moment that has stuck with the 22-time national event winner.

“Mr. Bandimere has a real presence about him and it really calmed me down and reminded me who is really in charge,” Enders said. “We always put ourselves in God’s hands and that upcoming round was easily the biggest of my life, but Mr. Bandimere put it all in prospective for me with that prayer. I’ll never forget it.”

Soon after her moment with Bandimere, Enders beat Jason Line to win the race trophy and secure the 2014 championship, all in one 6.480-second pass.

“It was really neat because my relationship with the Bandimeres goes back to the very beginning of my driving career,” Enders said. “Not just my pro career, I’m talking about my Junior Dragster career when I was 8 years old. We used to run in the Western Finals at Bandimere every year so I’ve been around their family and this racetrack for more than 20 years now.”

Surprisingly, Enders has never won on Thunder Mountain, but it seems this year’s trip may be the perfect time to break her Denver duck. She’s coming off a strong runner-up result at the NHRA tour’s last stop in Chicago and is just four races removed from a big victory in Epping, N.H.

“This year has been such a huge improvement from last year, not just for my group but for all four of our team cars,” Enders said. “Richard Freeman (team owner) made the commitment to put our program back on top and we’re all working very hard towards that goal. It’s really cool to see it coming together and hopefully by the time we get to the Countdown, we’ll be rolling.

“Denver has been a pretty good place for us, even though we haven’t won here, we always do pretty well. Last year our best race of the season came at Bandimere so despite the fact it’s hard to tune here because it’s unlike any other place we go, my guys know how to make all the right adjustments. We’ll be ready to race come Friday.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m., Friday, and 4 and 6:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first two rounds of qualifying action live from 6-7 p.m., Friday. The FOX Network will carry eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

“I hope to see Mr. Bandimere and maybe we can have another little prayer together,” Enders said. “Who knows, we started the Eastern Swing with a win. Maybe we can do the same thing to start the Western Swing.”

Erica Enders eager to take her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Pro Stocker to Chicago

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Norwalk 2017

CHICAGO, IL – Two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has a wealth of quarter-mile excitement to draw from this weekend as she takes the controls of her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro at the 20th annual Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals, just outside of Chicago.

“Chicago has a lot of meaning to me because we won our first Pro Stock race there in 2012 after seven long years of trying,” Enders said. “It was such a huge deal, a culmination of so many things. It felt wonderful. It was a big relief and also immediately made you want to do it again. I’m always excited to head back to Chicago.”

Enders, a 33-year-old native of Houston, and her team are also excited about getting additional primary sponsorship backing on the sides of her red racer from marketing partner Melling Performance this weekend as well as NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ events in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., Seattle, and Indianapolis.

“Having Melling Performance step up and take the doors for the rest of the summer is really big for our team,” Enders said. “We’re going to do everything we can to put our red Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro in the winner’s circle at least few times.”

Chicago holds many opportunities for Enders to celebrate at one of the NHRA’s historically quickest and fastest racetracks. Among those is the running of the JEGS Allstars event, a unique race-within-a-race Saturday for the “Best of the Best” from the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

“I’ll definitely be up in the stands watching the JEGS Allstars race,” Enders said. “My Elite Motorsports teammate, Jeg (Coughlin) Jr., and his family put on the biggest and best race of the year for the top Sportsman drivers and the competition is intense. You know I’ll be rooting for Division 4!

“We’ve had significant success in Chicago over the years, not only in Pro Stock, but I always do well there in my Sportsman cars too. I’ve never won a Sportsman race there, but I always seem to go deep on race day. I have a good vibe with that racetrack, for sure.”

Last month Enders, one of the sport’s most popular drivers, won in Epping, N.H., marking the first win for the Houston native since the fall of 2015. However, the feisty resident of New Orleans and her team are not resting on their laurels after a taste of success and some overdue time off.

“The week off was definitely needed after racing four weekends in a row,” Enders said. “It gave all of us a chance for a quick rest and then get back to work on some things we need to do. We stayed to test after Norwalk in an effort to get the car a little more consistent for these summer races.

“We’re doing so much better this year, but we’re nowhere near satisfied yet. There’s a lot more on the horizon and our goal right now is to reach a strong level of consistency before the Countdown to the Championship (playoffs) starts.”

Pro Stock will hold qualifying sessions at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m., Friday, and 3:15 and 6 p.m., Saturday. First round of eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. NHRA TV on Fox FS1 includes live Chicago coverage 5-7 p.m., Saturday, and 3-6 p.m., Sunday. Times are local and subject to change.

Two-time champ Erica Enders set to scoop up another trophy in Norwalk

Erica Enders | Factory Stock Showdown COPO Camaro

NORWALK, OH – Two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders’ confidence going into the weekend’s 11th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park is extremely high.

The spunky 33-year-old driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro is excited about her team’s momentum and she’s anxious to build on her group’s recent successes, which have her eying a run at a third NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship.

“Norwalk is always a fun race for us; this year’s going to be awesome,” Enders said. “The weather forecast looks great and hopefully it’s not going to be 9 million degrees like it normally is there. We’ll carry the performance gains we made in Bristol (previous event) to Norwalk, and I think we’ll be just fine.”

Earlier this month in Epping, N.H., Enders tallied her first win since the fall of 2015. The Houston native is hoping to continue the hot streak she started in New England at a Norwalk facility known as much for its record-breaking performances as it is for its one pound of ice cream for one dollar promotion.

Only three years removed from her previous Norwalk trophy, Enders’ ambitious heart will be pumping icy blood through her veins when she rolls her Camaro to the starting line this year.

“I really think Epping was just the tip of the iceberg for us,” Enders said. “I didn’t execute properly in Bristol but going into Norwalk it’s go time. I’m ready to win again. We did get a team win in Bristol when Alex (Laughlin) got the victory so we’re firing on all cylinders. I actually won Norwalk in 2014, and I have a really cool ice cream scoop they gave me that sits proudly on my trophy shelf.”

Along with her 2014 victory, Enders, a resident of New Orleans, posted No. 1 qualifying efforts in Norwalk in 2015, 2014 and 2011.

Accustomed to the driver’s seat in just about any racecar, Enders will also be competing in a unique race-within-a-race event this weekend behind the wheel of one of the most powerful production cars rolling off the assembly lines in nearby Detroit.

“I’m get be drive the Omaha Track COPO Camaro in the Factory Stock Showdown so that will be exciting, too,” Enders said. “I’ve got lots to do and that’s the way I like it. We’ll see if we can get back on the right track in Norwalk.”

The Pro Stock racers hit the track Friday with two qualifying sessions at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. They return for two more qualifying sessions Saturday at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. First round of eliminations begin Sunday at 1 p.m. NHRA TV coverage on FOX Sports 1 includes original Norwalk programming at 10:30 p.m., Friday, and at 6 p.m., Sunday. Times are local and subject to change.

Erica Enders eager to go racing at her all-time favorite track — Bristol Dragway

Erica Enders | NHRA Thunder Valley 2017 Preview

BRISTOL, TN – Like with most things in life, people have favorites. Some may have a favorite pizza joint, while others may have a favorite golf course they like to play. Most times these favorite places are special to a person for a reason unique to them.

Bristol Dragway is one of those favorite places for two-time world champion NHRA Pro Stock driver Erica Enders. This weekend as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competes in the 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Enders will be at her favorite race track with high hopes of even more success at the picturesque quarter-mile.

In her back-to-back championship years of 2014 and 2015, the feisty 33-year-old driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro took home Wallys from the Thunder Valley Nationals. That stat in itself is enough to make a track near and dear to her heart, but she also has two runner-up finishes (2013 and 2011) and a No. 1 qualifying effort in 2015 at Bristol Dragway.

“Bristol is my favorite track on tour and I’m not saying that because we are going there this weekend, it just is,” Enders said. “I’ve had a lot of success there in the past and we are looking to carry our momentum from our win in Epping on through to Bristol and just do the best we can.”

Two weekends ago in Epping, N.H., the Houston native, broke through for her first win since the 2015 fall race in Las Vegas. Even though she and her team struggled to continue their ascension back to the top of the Pro Stock elite last weekend in Englishtown, N.J., the New Orleans resident sees their setback only as an anomaly.

“We continue to feel like we’re on the rise,” Enders said. “Throw E-town out the window because that track was in really bad shape. The starting line was completely bald and it was freshly ground when we showed up with the worst grind job we’ve ever seen. If you look at the Pro Stock field collectively, from 1-10 was one hundredth of a second apart so the starting line was a huge equalizer. You couldn’t be aggressive at all down low, you just had to kinda baby it through low gear to get it to go down the race track. Like I said, I don’t think our performance this past weekend is indicative of what we are capable of at all.”

It’s said of the atmospheric conditions in East Tennessee, “Don’t like the weather now, just wait five minutes.” With a moving target as far as the weather goes, Enders knows getting the right tune-up in her Elite Motorsports Camaro will be a thorny proposition.

“You know it will probably be hot and tricky there,” Enders said. “Bristol also has a few bumpy spots so it will definitely be a survival-of-the-fittest type weekend. It’s okay because like I always say, I’ll put my money on us every time.”

The Pro Stock racers hit the track Friday with two qualifying sessions at 5 and 7:30 p.m. They return for two more qualifying sessions Saturday at 1 and 3:30 p.m. First round of eliminations began Sunday at 1 p.m. NHRA TV coverage on Fox FS1 includes original Bristol programming on Friday at 8 p.m., on Saturday at 11 p.m., and on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. (Times are local and subject to change.)

NHRA’s most recent winner, two-time champ Erica Enders, hungry for more

Erica Enders | NHRA New England Nationals 2017

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. — Fresh off her impressive victory Sunday afternoon in New Hampshire, two-time world champion Erica Enders is anxious to keep the ball rolling and score another win at this weekend’s 48th annual NHRA Summernationals.

“We’re all really excited coming off of the win in Epping,” Enders said. “It certainly gives all of us on this Elite Motorsports team a boost of confidence and everyone knows momentum is important in this game so we’ll see if we can carry it into E-town. I’m so ready to race; I wish qualifying started today.”

Enders drove like a true pro in Epping, beating reigning series champ Jason Line and red-hot Bo Butner with back-to-back holeshots to reach the 37th professional final of her career. With the trophy on the line, Enders dropped the hammer on rookie Tanner Gray and won going away, taking the stripe by six feet.

“I’m so proud of the way my team performed on race day,” Enders said. “We had quick turnarounds because of TV and a lot of work had to get done every round. I had Kyle (Bates) and Casey (Gardner) from my teammate Jeg Coughlin’s team jump right in and help us on Sunday. It was a real team effort to get to the winner’s circle.

“I think it’s so awesome that we have three different jerseys at Elite Motorsports but it’s truly one team. It’s a unique atmosphere to work in, for sure. I’m so blessed to be one of the drivers. Tough times don’t last but tough people do. That’s what we have at Elite. We are Elite for a reason.”

Prior to the start of the race on Wednesday afternoon, Enders and her sister Courtney Lambert will be the featured athletes at special event at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. The fete is a celebration of 25 years of Junior Dragster racing. The Enders sisters started their careers in the Junior Dragster ranks and were so successful that Disney made a movie entitled “Right On Track” about their time in the class.

“I’ve told the story many times but I can still clearly remember being in the garage with my dad when he was working on his hot rod and I flipped through the National Dragster on the work bench and read a story about Junior Dragsters,” Enders said. “I was like, ‘look Dad, kids as young as 8 years old can race these things! Can I get one?’ My life was pretty much changed forever that day.

“It’s so cool to see how popular Junior Dragsters have become and I am always so proud of the kids that come over to meet me and show me pictures of their dragsters. I’ve watched so many of them grow up over the years and it’s cool to see them year after year in the various towns where we race. I am forever indebted to the Junior Dragster series.”

Four Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 and 6:15 p.m., Friday, and 1:45 and 4:15 p.m., Saturday. Sudden-death eliminations will begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will feature live coverage of Saturday’s qualifying action from 2-4 p.m., Saturday, followed by live elimination coverage from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Sunday. There also will be an elimination show running from 6-7:30 p.m., Sunday. (Times are local and subject to change.)

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