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Pro Stock champ Erica Enders holds special memories of Topeka

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TOPEKA, KS — Heartland Park Topeka has a special place in the heart of Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders, the two-time Pro Stock champion.

Heartland Park, site of this weekend’s NHRA Kansas Nationals, is where Enders became the first woman to earn a No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock, and it’s also the track where she scored a dominant victory in 2015, nine years after that first No. 1 qualifier.

Enders was in her second full year of Pro Stock in 2006, driving the Slammers car. In the second round of qualifying for the NHRA Summer Nationals, Enders made a pass of 6.785 at 203.06 mph to jump to No. 1. She held on to that spot to become the 52nd driver to earn a Pro Stock No. 1.

“It was a huge milestone for me and my young Pro Stock career,” said Enders, who was 22 at the time. “It was definitely exciting. The fans were crazy. I signed a lot of autographs that weekend and got a lot of congratulations from a lot of people: a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls. It’s definitely a neat memory.”

Enders got to share the memory with her father Gregg, who helped start Enders’ career as an 8-year-old driving a Jr. Dragster in her home state of Texas.

“It was cool to share that moment with my dad,” Enders said. “He’s the reason why I was in that position in the first place.”

Fast-forward to 2015, and Enders is now driving for Elite Motorsports. She had won in Las Vegas and Houston earlier in the year, repeating race victories from her 2014 championship, but her Topeka success had been limited to that No. 1 qualifier in 2006.

“At that point of the season, we had won the same races that we had won the year before,” Enders said. “Every race we went to where we hadn’t won, we were hoping to break that. Topeka was a track that we typically didn’t have much luck or success at, so to win in the fashion that we did was pretty cool.”

Enders was low for all three of the qualifying sessions (the fourth was rained out) and set the Pro Stock track record of 6.515 seconds at 211.43 mph to again win the No. 1 qualifying spot.

On race day, Enders was quickest in all four rounds, beating Greg Anderson in an early-evening final round to win the race.

“We were low for every session, No. 1 qualifier, and we beat Greg in the finals,” Enders said. “It was a rain delay on Sunday, and we finished under the lights. It was pretty cool.”

Rain had delayed the final, and the winner’s circle celebration had to be moved indoors — not that Enders or anyone on her Elite team minded.

“The winner’s circle was in the barn with the scales,” Enders said. “It was different, for sure, but still awesome.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET, Saturday. Elimination action will be broadcast live from 2 to 5 p.m. ET, Sunday.

Enders will also compete in Sportsman racing this weekend, as she returns to the Super Gas ranks behind the wheel of the ORTEQ Energy Technologies roadster for owners Buddy Wood and Cody Ortowski.

Champ Erica Enders lauds Elite Motorsports Dodge crew as Atlanta race nears

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ATLANTA, GA — Reigning back-to-back world champion Erica Enders beams with pride whenever she talks about her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Pro Stock race team, and with the 36th annual NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway just days away, the 21-time national event winner says her next trophy celebration is coming soon.

“I am feeling really good about things,” Enders said. “We had some great days testing in Denton (Texas) and Tulsa (Okla.) and the cars are getting better and better. The engines look good on the dyno. All the things we want to see are happening and that has me very excited.

“We got used to winning a lot the last two years, and it’s easy to get frustrated when you go six races into a season without a win, but when I take a minute and think about this race team, I know I’m the luckiest girl on the planet. We didn’t win 15 races and two titles in the last two years by mistake.”

Enders’ best result to date was her semifinal finish in Las Vegas. She also reached the second round of the four-wide event in Charlotte. At the last race in Houston, she had her second-best qualifying result of the year.

“Rick and Rickie (Jones, co-crew chiefs), our team owner Richard Freeman, Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston (engine builders), Royce Lee (Freeman, crewman), and the rest of the guys — there’s no better group in the sport,” Enders said. “They always have my back and I have theirs, in good times and bad.

“Switching manufacturers is a huge deal and we didn’t get started until late in the off-season. We’re catching up fast and we’re going to be right back in the mix real soon. You can really look at it negatively or positively; I choose the positive route because I know first-hand what this group can do. I’ve lived it.”

While Enders hasn’t visited Atlanta Dragway’s Victory Lane, she has had her moments in the sun at the historic track. In 2014, en route to her first world title, she was the top qualifier at the event.

“Atlanta Dragway, although it looks very different than my home track in Houston, can be a lot like Houston this time of the year because of the heat and humidity of the early summer months,” Enders said. “We sweat it out in Houston last weekend and we’ll most likely be sweating it out there, but I’m used to it because I grew up in southeast Texas.

“More than anything, I want to reward the guys for all of their tireless work. They’ve been amazing this year and I love ’em for it.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air Friday qualifying from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturday qualifying from 10 to 11 p.m., and Sunday’s elimination action from 4:40 to 7:30 p.m.

Texas girl Erica Enders hopes for a three-peat in Houston

Erica Enders 2016 Mopar NHRA Pro Stock

HOUSTON, TX — Two-time Pro Stock World Champion Erica Enders is a tried-and-true Texas girl, so racing at her home track this weekend is a special treat.

Enders, who grew up in Houston, will return to Texas for the 29th annual NHRA SpringNationals, a race she has won the last two years.

“Houston was the place where I won my first national event in the Sportsman ranks,” Enders said. “And 10 years later, we were able to get it done in Pro Stock and then do it back to back.”

Enders started her career in the NHRA Jr. Dragster program, racing successfully with her younger sister Courtney. As Erica got older, she moved to the Sportsman classes, winning her first national event in 2004 in Houston in the Super Gas category.

Eventually, she landed in Pro Stock, winning her first race in 2012, but winning at home in Houston was always a priority, and she finally got it done in 2014 with Elite Motorsports. Enders’ success continued last season, when she repeated as the Houston winner.

“We faced a lot of adversity at those two events,” Enders said. “Things happened to our car; we hurt some engines and had to do an eleventh-hour engine change (in 2015). To be able to ignore all of the distractions that come with a hometown race and win is pretty cool.

“I know it can be done, and with the strides we’re making in the right direction, I’m hopeful we can have another good showing there.”

Enders has two chances to win this weekend, as she returns to the Super Gas ranks when she gets behind the wheel of the ORTEQ Energy Technologies car for owners Buddy Wood and Cody Ortowski. Plus, Enders will be rooting for Mike De Palma Jr. in the Comp class.

“I’m driving Super Gas and Pro Stock,” Enders said. “We’re going to have our C/Altered car in Comp Eliminator, which is my 2014 championship car with a new Elite Performance motor. That should be pretty exciting and should be a fun weekend.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. CT, Friday, and 1 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry qualifying action from 7 to 8 p.m., Friday, and 11 p.m. to midnight, Saturday. Eliminations will air from 4 to 7 p.m., Sunday.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders always a threat in Charlotte

Erica Enders 2016 burnout

CHARLOTTE, NC — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has an enviable record at zMax Dragway, site of this weekend’s seventh annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals presented by Lowes Foods. She won last October’s national event here, and she raced to the Four-Wide final in 2012, 2013, and 2014, so expect Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team to be contenders when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series races there this weekend.

“We’ve been to a handful of finals in Charlotte, and we were finally able to get it done last year,” Enders said. “It was a perfect time last year, being the first race of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. It was a super-exciting time for us.

“We’re going to Charlotte fresh off a test session, and we’re hopeful the things we found will point us in the right direction. It’s a challenge, but we’ll get there. We’ll be all right.”

Enders and her Elite team tested at Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park, fine-tuning their new Dodge Dart. She is coming off a semifinal finish in Las Vegas, which was her best race of the season, so Enders is looking to continue building momentum.

She’ll have to do that in the unique race that is the Four-Wide Nationals. Instead of the usual two-wide racing, four cars race at once at the event.

“It definitely presents some challenges, but I’ve raced at every Four-Wide event, and I feel comfortable with the process and the procedure,” Enders said. “It’s just the curveballs that are thrown at you by what the other three competitors are doing or not doing.

“For the most part, the class has gotten the hang of it. Having said that, this will be the first year with EFI. Some drivers’ staging procedures are different, and it will be very interesting to see how they handle it.”

Electronic fuel injection was mandated for 2016, changing things up in Pro Stock. Enders, though, continues to be at the top of her game, as witnessed by her three excellent reaction times in Las Vegas, including a holeshot victory in the second round.

In addition to racing this weekend, Enders is scheduled to visit Levine Children’s Hospital on behalf of Speedway Children’s Charities on Thursday, and she always looks forward to visiting friends Laura Cochran and Lacee Tuttle when she races in Charlotte.

“They’re two of my best friends,” Enders said. “They both live in the Charlotte area, so I’m excited to see them.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are schedule for 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., Friday, and 2 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 10 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, and elimination racing from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Sunday. All times are listed in Eastern Time zone.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders’ Las Vegas hot streak is unlike any other

Erica Enders | Gainesville 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV — The winning streak Pro Stock champion Erica Enders is on at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is likely some sort of Las Vegas record.

Heading into the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals this weekend, Enders has won four national events, two K&N Horsepower Challenge races, and 22 rounds — all consecutively — in Las Vegas. The last time she didn’t win there was in October 2013.

Only Greg Anderson has won as many national events in a row in Las Vegas, but the K&N Challenge wasn’t contested in Vegas at the time.

“It’s awesome to have that kind of run, and it’s pretty unheard of,” Enders said. “We’ve had an incredible two years there, and we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us to do well this weekend. Twenty-two consecutive round-wins in a row is huge, so Vegas has obviously been good to me. I’m hoping Lady Luck will get on our side this weekend. We certainly haven’t had the best start to the year.”

As her Elite Motorsports team has dealt with rules changes that mandate a switch to fuel-injected engines as well as a move to a new manufacturer in Dodge, the 2016 season hasn’t started as well as she would have liked, so Enders and her team would love nothing more than to continue their Vegas hot streak.

“It’s definitely on our mind,” Enders said. “We’re going to continue to do our best. It’s a tall order, but we’ve accomplished things with way more working against us than we have now. Anything is possible, and we’ll go in there with the right mindset and hope for the best.

“It would be really awesome to win this weekend for Mark (Lyle). He’s a huge asset to our sport, and we’re deeply saddened by his loss.”

Lyle, the NHRA chief starter, died earlier this week. He was the starter for all of Enders’ Vegas wins, including the two special K&N Horsepower Challenge races.

The K&N Challenge is a special race for Pro Stock racers based on qualifying points since the 2015 event. Enders is the No. 2 seed and will race Allen Johnson in the first round Saturday, which coincides with the weekend’s third qualifying session.

The winner of the Challenge will earn $50,000 and a custom K&N Horsepower trophy. The runner-up will earn $10,000, the two semifinalists $3,000 each, and the four first-round finishers $2,500 apiece.

“Everything has to go right for you to have a great day,” Enders said. “To be able to have two great race days in the spring for the K&N Challenge and then the national event and then one in the fall is pretty amazing. You think of all the hard work and preparation that goes into getting the car to perform the way it does, and having everything go right that many times in a row is just insane.”

No driver has won three K&N Horsepower Challenge races in a row since the event started in 1985.

Pro Stock champion Erica Enders chases first Gatornationals victory

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GAINESVILLE, FL — Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders has already amassed an impressive résumé in her illustrious career, from winning back-to-back Pro Stock championships in 2014-15 to going to victory lane 21 times, including at the prestigious U.S. Nationals last season.

A win at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals has eluded her so far, but she gets another chance at victory this weekend at Gainesville Raceway.

“It would be really cool to get a Wally at the Gators,” Enders said. “I’ve been to the finals twice and haven’t won yet, but I really want to win there. It’s a tall order right now, but we’ll certainly go in with a positive attitude and a winning mentality. You never know what could happen.”

Enders raced to the final round in Gainesville early in her Pro Stock career, losing to Tom Martino in 2006. She also reached the Gatornationals final in 2014, her first season with Elite, before falling to Allen Johnson.

Her tenure at Elite has netted two championships and 15 victories, including nine last year (a single-season record for women).

A switch to Dodge, compounded by NHRA-mandated changes to fuel-injected engines, has put Enders and her Elite team in development mode early in 2016, but improvements are coming.

“All of the new changes are a huge challenge,” Enders said. “We haven’t quite gotten a handle on it yet, but our test session was very productive. We feel like we learned a bunch and we have it pointed in the right direction now. Time will tell, but it definitely was encouraging.”

Enders tested this week at Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park — not far from Elite’s headquarters in Wynnewood, Okla. — as crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones continue to fine-tune the new Dodge Dart.

“We’ll keep working on our race car, we’ll keep getting better,” Enders said. “It would be awesome to have a Gatornationals trophy. It’s one of the most prestigious races on the tour, and there’s a lot of history there. It’s one of my favorite races. We’ll go do our best and let God do the rest.”

Friday night qualifying will air from 9 to 10 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, with a second qualifying show from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Race day eliminations will air live from 1 to 4 p.m. ET Sunday, also on FOX Sports 1.

Phoenix will be champion Erica Enders’ 200th Pro Stock race

2016 Phoenix NHRA marks Erica Enders' 200th race

PHOENIX, AZ — Erica Enders’ epic racing career will reach another milestone when she races at this weekend’s CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. The event will be her 200th career Pro Stock race, dating back to her debut in Pomona in February 2005.

Over that span, Enders has become an NHRA superstar, winning the 2014 and 2015 Pro Stock championships and 21 NHRA national events.

“It’s hard to believe in one sense,” Enders said. “In another sense, it’s like, ‘Are you sure it’s not 200,000 races?’ I feel like I’ve been out there forever.

“It’s definitely a cool milestone. I’m excited to have accomplished that. It means we’ve been out there for quite some time. With God’s grace, I’ll get 200 more races. We’ll see how it goes.”

In 199 career races in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class, Enders has 21 wins, 14 runner-up finishes, 58 semifinal appearances, 18 No. 1 qualifiers, and a 217-128 win-loss round record.

Enders has been outstanding the last two seasons, winning 15 races and both championships. She set an NHRA record in 2015 by winning three consecutive final rounds on holeshots (Brainerd, Minn.; Indianapolis; and Charlotte).

Her nine victories last year broke Angelle Sampey’s single-season mark of victories by a woman (seven) set in 2001, and Enders remains second to Sampey (41) in career wins by a woman.

Enders’ 2016 season didn’t get off to the start she wanted, losing in the first round in Pomona Calif., against Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. The Elite team switched to Dodge in the offseason, compounding the issues relating to NHRA-mandated changes for the entire Pro Stock class (fuel-injected engines limited to 10,500 rpm and shorter wheelie bars), but Enders believes in her team, just as they believe in her driving ability.

“I think there will be a lot of improvement made,” Enders said. “We won’t be running at the top of the pack, but we’ll slowly claw our way back up there. We’re hopeful to pick up a hundredth and a half to two-hundredths before Phoenix, but the scoreboard will have to tell us there. We’re certainly going to go home and work on our stuff. It’s a new program, and I know with this group of people, anything is possible.

“I’ve never met a more determined bunch, which fits my personality perfectly, so I know they’ll dig deep. They’re super passionate about it, and they hate losing as much as I do, so you bet your ass we’ll be back where we belong. It’s just going to take some time, and we’ve got to keep that in mind, and that’s OK. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Phoenix is one of Enders’ favorite tracks, mostly because her brother, Tom, lives in the area. He’ll be in attendance with his wife, Stacy, and two daughters, Addison and Alexis.

Plus, Enders raced to a victory there in 2013 and to the final last season.

“Phoenix is like a second home track for me,” Enders said. “I’ve done well there in the past and am hopeful of doing well there again.”

FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying from 7-9 p.m. PT, Saturday, with live coverage of eliminations from 2-5 p.m. PT, Sunday. More than 1.1 million viewers tuned in to the first broadcast of the season.

Two-time champ Erica Enders hopes good things come in threes

Erica Enders ready for Pomona 2016

POMONA, CA — The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least Erica Enders hopes so.

The Elite Motorsports driver has won the last two NHRA Pro Stock World Championships, with the 2015 title won in dominant fashion. She went to the winner’s circle nine times last year, clinching the title at the penultimate race of the season.

But big changes are on tap for 2016, starting with the Circle K NHRA Winternationals this weekend at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona: The class is switching to fuel-injected engines with a 10,500-rpm limit and wheelie bars are shorter. On top of that Enders and her team are switching to Mopar, and she’ll be driving a new Dodge Dart along with new teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr.

“I’m excited to get the season started, to get a feel for where everybody’s at,” Enders said. “We’ve beaten all the changes into the ground talking about them, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. It’s definitely going to be a tough year.

“I’m excited about going back to Pomona. We’ve had some success there in the past and our plan is to continue that. We’ll head west after we finish testing Wednesday and see how it goes.”

Enders won the season-finale in Pomona in 2014, winning the championship by beating Jason Line in the final round of the final race. She won six times that year, but 2015 was even better.

“You learn a lot when you experience things with the right people,” Enders said. “I’d always hoped for what I have here at Elite, and to have finally gotten a chance to work with such an elite group of people and to win the championship our first two years together says a lot.

“What impressed me last year is we were able to top what we accomplished in 2014, which was an absolute dream season. You wonder if that’s even possible, and then we went out there and did just that by winning nine races, the U.S. Nationals for the first time, and then to wrap it up a race early was just crazy.”

Enders and her Elite team have succeeded through a combination of talent, hard work, and perseverance. They believe in each other, and Enders is convinced the team’s chemistry will help them get through the big transition this season.

“I pick them over anybody else in the whole world,” Enders said. “I know that if anybody can, we can. It’s very challenging and there’s definitely going to be a learning curve involved. It’s going to take time to get better, but at the same time, you’ve got to be optimistic, and we are — we’ll be just fine.

“A lot of the teams over the offseason worked on the horsepower they had, but we built two new teams, two new race cars, and a whole new Mopar engine program. We’ve jammed as much as you could pack into an offseason. And with EFI added to the equation with a lower rev limiter and shorter wheelie bars, it’s crazy.”

Enders, though, is motivated to take a run at a third championship in a row.

“It’s been an incredible run, and I feel like we’re nowhere close to being done,” Enders said. “Having said that, it’s tough out there every year. It’s going to be a real tall order this year, for sure, with all the changes involved and the new program that we’re building, but we’ll get there. It’s going to take time, but we’re going to be fine. I always say it, but my money’s on us. We’ve got the best group, the best crew chiefs, the best team owner, the best chassis builder, the best drivers. Game on.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 12:30 and 3:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and eliminations will begin at noon, Sunday. Qualifying action will be broadcast at 10:30 p.m. ET, Friday, and 1 a.m., Sunday, on FOX Sports 1, with eliminations broadcast live at 5 p.m., Sunday.

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