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Pro Stock champ Erica Enders encouraged by progress in Bristol

Erica Enders | NHRA Bristol 2016

BRISTOL, TN — The win light didn’t come on in the lane for Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders, but a smile soon came over her face.

As the two-time Pro Stock champion slowed her Dodge Dart in the first round of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals on Sunday at Bristol Dragway, crew chief Rick Jones relayed her the numbers: 6.716 seconds at 206.32 mph.

They weren’t record-setting, but they were encouraging.

“As I went through the lights and my crew chief called out the numbers over the radio, I radio’d back and said, ‘We went a .71?’ ” Enders said. “He was like, ‘Yeah!’

That was her best pass of the weekend as Jones and the team continue to tune on the new Dodge. It nearly pulled off an upset of Elite teammate Vincent Nobile, whose Chevrolet qualified No. 5. Enders was off first with a .027-second reaction time, but Nobile’s 6.688 at 207.75 mph ran her down.

Nobile’s improvement, as well as the steady progress of Dodge teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr., who raced to the semifinals in Bristol, has injected some much-needed confidence in Enders’ team.

“They’ve been working so incredibly hard trying to figure this Dodge out,” Enders said. “I’ve said before that we’re making strides in the right direction, but that run boosted the morale over there. Jeg being able to get to the semifinals is pretty exciting for us.

“We’ll pack up, go to Norwalk, and see if we can continue to run better and close the gap on those KB guys.”

Enders, who saw her two-race Bristol winning streak come to an end, races in Norwalk, Ohio, next weekend as her team continues to inch toward the front.

“I’m especially excited, even if it’s just seeing a trickle of light at the end of the tunnel,” Enders said. “We’ll continue to chip away at it. It only matters when we get to Indy.”

Rough launch negates Erica Enders’ chance at Englishtown glory

Erica Enders | Englishtown, NJ 2016 NHRA

ENGLISHTOWN, NJ — Two-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders did something very few drivers have managed to do over the years: leave the starting line ahead of five-time series champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. But despite her quick start — an .038 reaction time to Coughlin’s .046 start — her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart began to rattle its giant rear slicks right away, allowing teammate Coughlin to pass her in the first few feet of the race and streak away fro the victory.

Enders fought to get her car under control and did manage to finish her pass with an elapsed time of 6.812 at 206.70 mph, but Coughlin was too far ahead, crossing with a 6.708 at 207.56 mph.

“We’re analyzing the data right now,” Enders said. “We’re still a work in progress. It’s tough to take at times because we certainly got used to winning these last two years, but I know I’ve got the best team in the world and I’m completely positive we’ll get these cars figured out.

“Jeg is running better and Vincent (Nobile, teammate) is really doing well, so all the indicators are there that we’re gaining ground. It’s not happening fast enough for my liking but I’m working on my patience. The good Lord only gives us what we can handle, and we’ve been so blessed the last two years that we will not complain one bit.”

Up next for Enders and crew is the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, which start Friday at Bristol Dragway in Tennessee.

“I’m pumped for Bristol because we’ve won that race the last two years,” Enders said. “We’re going to get our stuff together one of these days and Bristol would be the perfect spot to do it. Having a trophy to give my dad (Gregg Enders) the last two years was really special and continuing the streak would be super rewarding.

“We will continue to try our best. There is no quit in this pit.”

Today’s eliminations will air from 4:30-7:30 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders, Elite team go down swinging in Epping

Erica Enders | New England Nationals Eliminations

EPPING, NH — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team went down swinging in the first round of the NHRA New England Nationals on Monday at New England Dragway.

Enders and crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones made some major changes to the setup of her Dodge Dart, but despite leaving first in her matchup with Alex Laughlin, she couldn’t turn on the win light.

“We made some pretty big swings on this car, trying to figure out what makes it happy,” Enders said. “The car was a lot happier that time, but it just didn’t run well. We had the wrong setup in it. It’s one of them deals. I missed the Tree, my guys missed the setup, and it stinks. The end result is the same: A first-round loss.

“I guess if there’s any positive to it, there’s not a nicer guy out here than Alex. He’s a really great kid. I still want to beat him, though.”

Enders’ reaction time was .044-second, compared to Laughlin’s .063, but her pass of 6.684 at 207.15 mph wasn’t enough to hold off his 6.622 209.14 mph.

Enders and her Elite team continue to develop her new Dodge Dart with new fuel-injected engines, and the 2016 season hasn’t gone as well as her championship years of 2014 and 2015, but Enders and her team won’t get discouraged.

“It’s tough when you work so incredibly hard, and it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about when you go to sleep,” Enders said. “To come out here and not be competitive is hard on all of us.

“I have zero doubt we’ll get there. I don’t know when, but all we can do is keep trying. That’s what we’ll do.”

The Epping race was originally slated for Sunday, but persistent rain delayed final eliminations one day. Monday brought sunshine and blue skies, though many fans could not return.

“It is weird when there is a rain delay,” Enders said. “In the past, I’ve had pretty decent luck with rain delays, like Bristol (Tenn.) last year and Chicago in 2012 — my first win — both of which were rain-delayed. They didn’t run on Monday, but we didn’t run first round in Chicago until 4 o’clock.

“The atmosphere is different. There are fewer fans here, and it kinda feels like a test in a way. But the weather’s nice — just wish it was yesterday.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders turns on Topeka win light

Erica Enders | Topeka NHRA 2016

TOPEKA, KS — A round-win — any round-win — in the Pro Stock class of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series can be hard to come by, even if it comes against your teammate, so two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders was definitely smiling after beating Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the first round of the NHRA Kansas Nationals on Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka.

She lost in the second round to No. 1 qualifier Jason Line after a terrific effort on the starting line, but getting a round-win was a positive for the 2015 Topeka winner.

“At this point, you take them as you can get them,” Enders said. “It stinks in the first place that my teammate and I had to race first round, but when it comes down to it, it’s a round-win for our Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart. Round-wins are hard to come by these days. We’ll just keep working at it.”

Enders and her Elite team switched to a new Dodge Dart for 2016, all the while dealing with new fuel-injected engines. Line’s KB Racing team has won all seven races to date as others have tried to catch up.

“People are slowly starting to pick away at it,” Enders said. “You see other cars running better, so it’s definitely out there for us. I know that when we come across it, it’s going to be great and they’re going to be in trouble again, but until that point, we’ve got to stay positive and keep working. That’s all we can do.”

Enders got the win light in the first round when Skillman left .002-second too soon, but her pass of 6.706 at 205.79 mph lost her lane choice in the second round to Line.

Enders was stellar on the Christmas Tree in round two with a .014 light to Line’s .041, but she couldn’t hold him off. Her pass of 6.725 at 204.98 mph wasn’t enough to defeat Line’s 6.661 at 207.85 mph.

“When I unclutched it, I knew I was good,” Enders said. “The first three gears I didn’t see him, so I thought maybe we had a chance, but I plugged it in high gear, and Jason came around me. I saw him come by me.”

Enders and her Richard Freeman-owned team continue to make strides with their program, inching toward the top of the Pro Stock charts.

“We have the right attitudes,” Enders said. “We have the right mindset, we have tremendous work ethic. The stars aren’t lining up for us at the moment, but they will, and when they do, it’s game on.”

Erica Enders’ best pass of the weekend negated by dodgy Atlanta track

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ATLANTA, GA — Reigning back-to-back Pro Stock champion Erica Enders knew she left on first-round opponent Chris McGaha, and as she went through the gears of her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart a big smile started to cross her face.

Then, in an instant, it was gone, as a big bump in her lane upset her race car enough that it shot towards the centerline. Although the 21-time national event winner didn’t give up on the run, the tire spin she encountered out of the racing groove allowed McGaha to slip past her and take the win by .008-second.

“That was the best run we made all weekend with this car,” Enders said. “My driving was on and the guys gave me a great tune-up. We should’ve won that race. It really upsets me we lost a race because of something out of our control. There’s a huge bump out there. Just look at how many cars have gotten out of shape. It is a huge safety issue for our class.”

Enders left the starting line with a tremendous .021-second reaction time, which when compared with McGaha’s .033 launch was more than enough to give her the victory, but she slowed to a 6.644 at 207.91 mph after hitting the bump, which allowed McGaha to squeak by with his 6.624 at 208.33 mph.

“We know we’re not where we want to be with our tune-up, and that’s why we’re testing every chance we get and running the engine dyno non-stop,” Enders said. “And we also know if we had qualified better we would’ve had lane choice in that round. It still doesn’t make up for losing a race we should’ve won.

“I know I have the best team out here — we’ve proven that the last two years — and no one is complaining. I just want to give my guys something to smile about and that was a golden opportunity right there.

“I guess the best news out of this weekend is we’ve made a bunch more progress and also we only have a few days to wait until we race again so we can get this bad taste out of our mouths.”

The 28th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals runs May 20-22 at Heartland Park Topeka.

Today’s race will air from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET. on FOX Sports 1.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders can’t bring home another Houston win

Erica Enders | NHRA Houston 2016

HOUSTON, TX — The 29th annual NHRA SpringNationals this weekend at Royal Purple Raceway didn’t go exactly as Erica Enders had hoped, and it certainly didn’t go as well as the 2014 and 2015 races for the two-time Pro Stock champion.

Enders, who won her home race here the last two years, fell in the first round in 2016 with her ShirleysKids.org/Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart.

“Winning only makes you want to win more, and when you don’t you’re clearly disappointed,” Enders said. “We’ve had a lot of fun here the last couple of years, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time around. That’s OK; it only makes all of us fight that much harder to get back to the winner’s circle.”

Enders was born and raised in Houston before moving to New Orleans several years ago to live with her husband, Richie Stevens. She remains a Texas girl at heart, and she still has family and friends in the Houston area.

Plus, Royal Purple Raceway is home to her first career race, in a Jr. Dragster at age 8, and to her first career national event victory, in Super Gas in 2004. Ten years later, she won here in Pro Stock and then repeated a season later.

“I’ve said it before, but I love coming to Texas,” Enders said. “I really loved it the last two years, and I still love it even though we lost today. We’ll be back.”

Enders’ pass of 6.659 seconds at 207.18 mph was quicker than Chris McGaha’s 6.668-second pass at 206.26 mph, but McGaha was a tick quicker with his reaction time, and he got to the finish first by about three feet.

“No excuses: I got beat on the Tree,” Enders said. “I pride myself on doing my job on the line and with my shifts, and I didn’t get it done today. I’ll be back.”

The NHRA Mello Yello tour takes a weekend off before returning to action May 13-15 with the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

Two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders reaches Four-Wide semi’s

Erica Enders | NHRA 4-Wide Sunday

CHARLOTTE, TX — The results may not be obvious, but Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team continue to make progress at the start of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Enders raced to the semifinals of the seventh annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals presented by Lowes Foods on Sunday at zMax Dragway, moving up to seventh in the Pro Stock points standings.

The two-time Pro Stock world champion switched manufacturers for 2016, and combined with some NHRA-mandated rules changes, Enders and her team have not been their elite-level selves through five races, but Enders keeps battling and her team keeps improving.

“We learned a lot this weekend,” Enders said. “We completely used this race as a test session for us. I’m glad we were able to learn some stuff, and we certainly made a move in the right direction. The things we figured out this week we’ll apply to Houston.

“Our rigs were supposed to go directly to Houston, but they’re going to go back to the shop and we’re going to work on our race cars and try to do our best to win in our hometown next week.”

Enders has won the last two races at Royal Purple Raceway, site of the Pro Stock race next weekend.

She heads there with some momentum. Enders finished second in her quad in the first round, making a pass of 6.630 seconds at 209.88 mph and trailing only teammate Drew Skillman.

“First round was a much better run for us,” Enders said. “But by no means was it a great run. That was encouraging.”

Enders then drilled her three competitors on the Christmas Tree in the semifinals with a .024-second reaction time. Had she matched her first-round elapsed time, Enders would have made it to the final, but the Dodge Dart shook the tires and she had to lift.

With her first-round light of .027, Enders remains one of the top drivers in the class.

“To me, that part’s easy,” Enders said. “That’s my job, to be focused. I really pride myself on my driving techniques. I try to perform as perfectly as possible every time. There are a lot of extra distractions here at this event, and I feel like we’re the best in the world. We proved it two years in a row, and we’re just going to keep getting better.”

Erica Enders storms to Las Vegas semifinal with Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge

Erica Enders | Las Vegas 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV — That’s more like it.

After three untimely first-round exits in the first three races of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders stormed to the semifinals of the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals on Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“You find out what real champions are made of when you have to go through a little bit of adversity,” Enders said. “It makes you dig deeper and want it more. I don’t know we could possibly want it more than we already do, but my guys are amazing.

“It was really nice to go rounds. It felt like it was back to normal. We’re used to going deep into the race on Sunday, and we’re going to get back there. We just need a little bit more time. We certainly made strides in the right direction with our engine-development program. We have work to do, but a semifinal appearance here in Las Vegas was definitely awesome.”

Enders’ brilliant driving helped lead her to world championships in 2014 and 2015, and it was on display again in Las Vegas, where she ripped off a .009-second reaction time in the first round, then won on a holeshot in the second round with a .006 light before a .021 light in the semi’s
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“I knew today was going to be a left-foot day,” Enders said, referring to her clutch foot. “That was the only way we were going to go some rounds. Unfortunately, I missed it a little bit against Jason (Line in the semifinals); I knew that when I un-clutched it.”

Enders, winner of four consecutive races in Las Vegas, clearly had her best weekend since her Elite Motorsports team switched to Dodge in the off-season. She qualified a season-high fifth, and when she turned on the win light in the first round against Aaron Strong, it ended a tough start to the season.

Strong red-lit, but Enders would have been tough to beat with a .009 light and a pass of 6.767 seconds at 204.42 mph.

The second round didn’t go off without a hitch, as the engine cut off before Enders staged. Still, Enders restarted it and then had a .006-second reaction time that helped her beat Elite teammate Drew Skillman. He had the quicker elapsed time, 6.807 seconds at 204.01 mph, but Enders’ lead on the starting line was enough for her 6.845-second pass at 204.70 mph to get the win.

“The car shut off,” Enders said. “That’s the same thing that happened a couple of weeks ago. This time, thankfully, we were able to remain a little bit calm because we knew exactly what was going on. The car re-fired right away.”

Enders and her team were able to laugh it off later in the day.

“We had a little bit of a fireball come out of the right header and burn all the leg hair off one of my guys,” Enders said. “We replayed it in slo-mo about 37 times for all our team, and we got a good laugh out of it.”

Race winner Line was nearly untouchable Sunday, as his run of 6.737 seconds at 205.22 mph took out Enders’ 6.801-second pass at 204.82 mph. Still, Enders was encouraged by the performance of her team.

“We did a lot better than we expected to today,” said Enders, who owns an 18-1 round-win record in national events in Las Vegas with Elite. “It was a good day, a good points day. We’ve got to get back to the shop, fix these awesome Hemis, and go to Charlotte renewed, refreshed, and ready to win a race.”

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