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Erica Enders adds U.S. Nationals title to growing résumé

Erica Enders wins 2015 U.S. Nationals at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders can now add U.S. Nationals champion to her growling list of accomplishments in what is becoming a legendary career.

Enders won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway with a brilliant driving display, beating her final three opponents on holeshots, including Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final round.

The victory cemented her No. 1 spot in the Pro Stock points standings for the Countdown to the Championship, which begins at zMax Dragway in Charlotte in two weeks, and it was her 18th career win, tying her for second all-time with the legendary Shirley Muldowney.

Enders may not be a legend yet, but she has accomplished a lot. She won the 2014 Pro Stock World Championship, becoming the first female to win the class title, and now she has won the biggest race of all, three years after a crushing defeat in the final round to a teammate.

“I’m struggling putting it into words because we’ve worked so hard for so long to get here,” Enders said. “There have been times in my career, particularly the final at Indy in 2012, where I really didn’t understand why things went down the way they did. It’s worth the wait. It’s worth the wait to do it with the right people and I couldn’t be more proud of my team.”

Her team is proud of her, too, especially after her driving Monday. After dispatching Vieri Gaines in the first round, Enders was actually outrun by Larry Morgan in the second round (6.613 seconds at 209.52 mph for Morgan to 6.617 at 209.01 mph for Enders), but her .036-second reaction time and .007-second head start was the difference.

Then came a big matchup in the semifinals against Greg Anderson, who was second in the points standings and the No. 1 qualifier here. But Enders drilled the Tree (.013 to .054) and overcame Anderson’s 6.591-second pass at 210.41 mph with her 6.618 at 209.39 mph.

“It was a challenge all day long, and our big round was against Greg Anderson,” Enders said. “Beating him allows us to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 seed. Those 30 points are going to be really, really crucial to us considering last year. Had we lost to Jason Line in the final (in Pomona, Calif., last year), we would have lost by a single point, so it’s huge. It’s huge for me, it’s huge for my team, and huge for any kid that ever had a dream. I came here as a little kid and I wanted to be here. Twenty-three years later we finally made it.”

In the final against Skillman, Enders had another .013 light to Skillman’s .025, and her run of 6.611 seconds at 209.75 mph was enough to hold off his 6.606-second run at 209.98 mph. The victory was her sixth of 2015, and her career total now matches Muldowney.

“Six wins in a single season is huge because I tied Shirley Muldowney,” Enders said. “I talk about Shirley an awful lot because she’s been a lifelong hero of mine because of what she had to endure driving back then. She still managed to do it with grace and class and come out on top. Over the years she became my mentor and my friend. I’m really lucky to have her in my corner. To put my name next to hers for a tie for all-time wins is incredible.

“I remember it like it was yesterday, wanting to get on the list, period, with just one win, and to say we have 18 is nuts.”

And it came at the race where she was named grand marshal. Enders got the call from Chevrolet before the race in Seattle, but she thought it was a joke.

“I kinda was like, ‘Are you joking?’ ” Enders said. “It’s a huge honor. I’m a Chevy girl through and through, and I’m very proud to drive a Camaro. It’s very neat, and it was a big honor to be up there today before the race. Jim Campbell has done a lot for our sport, as has everybody at Chevrolet. It’s just an honor. It feels surreal because I have to pinch myself to believe that we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Erica Enders vaults back to Pro Stock points lead with fifth victory of 2015

Erica Enders wins 2015 Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd

BRAINERD, MN — Erica Enders’ winning ways continued Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.

By beating Jason Line in the final round of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the 2014 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock champion:

  • Won for a class-leading fifth time this season
  • Won for the 17th time in her career, moving within one of the legendary Shirley Muldowney for second among female drivers
  • Took over the Pro Stock points lead
  • Won for the second time at Brainerd

“I had a really good feeling coming in this week, even before the weekend started,” Enders said. “I felt like it was our turn and the tables were about to turn.”

Enders had struggled somewhat in the last five races, winning six rounds since her victory in Bristol.

But Enders and her Elite Motorsports team turned it on during eliminations in Brainerd. She left first on all four opponents Sunday, including Line in the final round, and she made the quickest pass of the weekend in the semifinals against Chris McGaha.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Enders said. “We didn’t light it on fire in qualifying, but they certainly gave me the best hot rod in the world today. Throwing that 6.541 on the board in the semi’s was pretty stout.

“I think we’re working our way back to having our awesome race car, and this is definitely a great step in the right direction, at the right point of the season.”

After dispatching Mark Hogan in the first round with a .002-second reaction time, Enders dumped Bo Butner in Round 2. Then in the semifinals, after a .023 light gave her an immediate advantage, Enders made a pass of 6.541 seconds at 210.67 mph that ended McGaha’s two-race winning streak.

Enders had a .014 light against Line in the final and made her pass of 6.552 seconds at 210.34 mph hold up against Line’s quicker 6.541 at 211.06 mph.

Enders moved back into the points lead for the fourth time this season, and she heads to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis — the final race before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs — with momentum.

“We’re going to do our best to continue this momentum in Indy,” Enders said. “It’s definitely going to be a dogfight in Indy. Track conditions will be different, weather conditions will be way different, and there will be more competitors who are coming to the U.S. Nationals.

“Chevrolet has asked me to be the grand marshal for the U.S. Nationals, which is going to be a huge honor for me. We’ll do our best as a team to have an awesome weekend there. It’s the first time it’s going to be worth a point and a half, so every round is going to be crucial.”

Erica Enders determined to bounce back after second-round exit in Sonoma

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SONOMA, CA — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports team are more determined than ever after a second-round exit in the NHRA Sonoma Nationals on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

Her Elite team was making its first appearance at Sonoma Raceway, and Enders was racing here for the first time since 2012. Still, she qualified No. 9 and advanced to the second round before bowing out to No. 1 qualifier and eventual race winner Chris McGaha.

“We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Enders said. “We’re going to load up and go to the next race. My guys are the most determined bunch I’ve ever met. Right now our day is over, but where are all three of my crew chiefs (Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll) and my team owner (Richard Freeman)? They’re in the lounge, going over notes and trying to figure out how to get better.

“You can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be back, and we’re just going to use this to fuel our fire.”

Enders and her team have handled adversity well in the past. Earlier this year, after losing in the first round in Gainesville, Fla., and in the second in Charlotte, Enders won the K&N Horsepower Challenge and the national event in Las Vegas and then won in Houston.

And after losing in the first round in Englishtown, N.J., she raced to the semifinals in Epping, N.H., before winning in Bristol, Tenn. Enders also lost in the first round in Norwalk, Ohio, before going to two consecutive semifinals in Chicago and Denver.

In Sonoma, her 100th consecutive race, Enders faced No. 8 qualifier Shane Gray in the first round, and she left first with a .017-second reaction time and held off Gray with a pass of 6.531 seconds at 211.93 mph. Gray’s run was slightly better, 6.530 at 212.39 mph, but Enders won on a holeshot.

“There have been plenty of days when my team has carried me,” Enders said. “I wish I could’ve carried them further this weekend. My crew chief always tells me, ‘If you can be .020 all day on Sunday, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to go to the winner’s circle with the people that we have and the equipment that we have.’ Today just wasn’t our day.”

Enders also left first on McGaha, .020 to .029, but McGaha made a pass of 6.514 seconds at 212.13 mph to run down Enders’ 6.529 at 211.93 mph.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders kicks off Western Swing with semifinal finish in Denver

Erica Enders posts semifinal finish in Denver 2015

DENVER, CO — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders came within an eyelash of reaching the final round of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Bandimere Speedway, but she dropped a close race to eventual event winner Larry Morgan in the semifinals, her 10th semi in 14 races during the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

“We definitely had the car to do it,” Enders said. “We were running really fast and I have been driving really well. I believed that today was our day, and you have to believe that as a driver. If you don’t think and believe that you’re the best and that you’re going to win you might as well leave your car on the jacks at your pit.”

After losing to Morgan on a holeshot in Chicago, Enders ripped off a .015-second reaction time this time, getting a quick jump on Morgan, but Morgan ran her down with a pass of 6.914 seconds at 199.32 mph to Enders’ 6.920 at 199.26 mph.

“I was surprised to lose,” Enders said. “I knew Larry Morgan was going to be tough because he has a consistent race car and he always seems to get up on the wheel against me, which is a compliment. This time I left on him and paid him back a little for Chicago when my win light didn’t come on.”

Enders has four victories in five final-round appearances in 2015 as she tries to defend her Pro Stock world championship. Denver’s semifinal was the fourth time in the last five races she has raced to at least the semi’s.

And she got to the semifinals with an impressive win over current Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson. Enders got the best of Anderson on the Christmas Tree (.018 to .051) and on the racetrack (6.900 at 199.91 mph to 6.904 at 199.73 mph).

“It was definitely cool to turn the win light on today against Greg,” Enders said. “We knew coming in that it was going to be a tough road to hoe because we had Greg second round, Larry third round, and most likely A.J. in the finals.

“To be able to knock Greg off was awesome. We have just been making better runs here than they have. I feel like it’s going to be a battle between he and I the rest of the year. Not counting any other drivers out but Greg’s going to be tough, and we are going to make it just as tough for him.”

Enders inched to within two rounds — 37 points — of the Pro Stock points lead by kicking off the three-race Western Swing with a semifinal finish.

“I feel good about the rest of the Swing,” Enders said. “I’m thankful that we get to run Sonoma and Seattle this year. We will take a fast, consistent hotrod to California.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders stumbles in Norwalk first round

Erica Enders stumbles at Norwalk 2015

NORWALK, OH — For the first time this season, Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders couldn’t repeat a 2014 race victory, unexpectedly losing in the first round of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Summit Motorsports Park.

Enders had repeated wins from Las Vegas, Houston, and Bristol, Tenn., from 2014, and she won this race a year ago en route to the Pro Stock world championship.

But her Chevrolet Camaro encountered problems at the hit in her first-round match with No. 16 qualifier Alan Prusiensky, and she lifted early as Prusiensky took the win light.

“It wasn’t good from the initial hit,” Enders said. “It hooked right on me right away and kinda smoked the tires. We shake but we don’t smoke like a fuel car. The track was tricky: The right lane was bald and the left lane was not in fabulous condition either, but my guys did the best they could with the information they had.”

Enders’ official numbers were 9.776 seconds at 94.97 mph while Prusiensky advanced with the slowest winning pass of the first round, 6.704 at 206.67 mph.

“I did my best to hang on as long as I could,” Enders said. “I pedaled the car, but it got way out of control. It got very crossed up — that’s the most crossed up I’ve ever been without crashing. To be honest, at the end of the day, I’m just thankful to take a shiny race car home.”

Enders is second in the Pro Stock points standings, as she has won four times this season. Her Elite Motorsports team returns next weekend for the Lucas Oil Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago.

“We learned from today,” Enders said. “It sucks because we were on the pole and we lost to a guy who was a tenth slower than us. It’s not the best situation, but there’s a plan that’s bigger than mine, and that’s OK with me.”

Cool under pressure: Erica Enders, Elite Motorsports go back to back in Bristol

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BRISTOL, TN — No one has been hotter at Bristol Dragway than Erica Enders, and no one was hotter than Enders on Sunday at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Enders won her second race in a row in Bristol and reached her fourth final round in the last five races. Yes, the 2014 Pro Stock champion likes Bristol Dragway.

“It’s always been good to me,” Enders said. “I guess every driver has tracks where they go that no matter what you do wrong, it ends up right. But today we earned it. We made really good runs for the heat; it was really hot and tricky out there.

“My crew chiefs were stressing, but they have this cool, calm, collected attitude, and their confidence comes over the radio in my ears. That in turn gives me the confidence I need to go out there and drive to the best of my ability.”

With temperatures in the low 90s on Sunday, conditions weren’t the best for the recalcitrant Pro Stock cars, but crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll guided Enders to four quick passes, and she was sharp behind the wheel.

“My guys are absolutely incredible,” Enders said. “They never cease to amaze me. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. This is the first team I’ve ever worked for where we’ve had a unified front and they have my back. I’m blessed to have an incredible group of men, and the chemistry is there. It’s always a positive environment.”

Enders scored her 16th career victory and her fourth this season, taking over the Pro Stock points lead in the process. She had reaction times of .027, .017, .007, and .025 in another brilliant driving display under pressure.

Her .027 light was second off the line in the opening round against John Gaydosh, but her pass of 6.695 at 206.51 mph was more than enough to overcome Gaydosh’s 6.787-second pass at 196.27 mph.

She then had a .017 light against Jason Line, whose red-light handed her the victory. She still made a solid pass of 6.698 seconds at 206.64 mph to put her in the semifinals against Shane Gray.

Gray had a .020-second reaction time but left behind Enders, who was .007 on the Tree and got the win with a 6.703-second pass at 206.45 mph. Gray’s run was 6.724 seconds at 206.20 mph.

Enders had a close race with Chris McGaha in the final, but after a .025 light and a 6.685-second pass at 206.95 mph, she got the win over his .055 reaction time and 6.689-second run at 207.46 mph.

“You have to learn to win, and that’s something I never understood until we did it,” Enders said. “Greg Anderson and Jason (Line) had mentioned that to me when I was first starting, and I didn’t get it until we finally did it. You just learn how to handle yourself in those high-pressure situations. It’s a challenge, for sure, and you’ve got to remain positive in your thoughts, and that’s been a huge part of our success.”

‘Deadhead’ sinks Erica Enders’ chances at New England Nationals

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EPPING, NH — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders is no fan of the Grateful Dead, and after the NHRA New England Nationals on Sunday at New England Dragway, she’s even less so.

Followers of the legendary psychedelic rock band are called “Deadheads,” but that’s a term she’d rather not hear.

That’s because in drag racing, the term “deadhead” refers to an incorrect smashing of gears in the transmission, and it results in a slower than usual pass down the racetrack.

And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday in the semifinals after Enders had the quickest car on the property in the previous two rounds.

Good buddy Allen Johnson made a pass of 6.537 second at 213.33 mph, a run that Enders could have easily covered if she had matched her first- and second-round runs, but during her normal shifting procedure, Enders’ transmission deadheaded and her pass was 6.540 seconds at 214.21 mph. That gave Johnson a narrow victory to the final round.

“It’s disappointing, for sure,” Enders said. “Instead of the gears lining up and going into the right gear, it just misses when it’s supposed to align and it doesn’t shift. It’s no one’s fault and it happens every now and then in Pro Stock, but that doesn’t take the sting out of it.”

The 2014 Pro Stock champion, Enders had the dominant car on Sunday in Epping. She qualified No. 4, but crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll tuned the red Chevrolet Camaro to a pass of 6.513 at 214.69 mph in the first round against V. Gaines. That was the quickest and fastest pass of the round, and the speed broke Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s year-old track record.

She went even quicker in the next round against Vincent Nobile. While Nobile made a pass of 6.546 seconds at 213.47 mph, Enders blistered the track with a 6.506-second run at 214.66 mph to advance to the semifinals.

“It just wasn’t our day, but we had the quickest car on the property today thanks to my guys,” Enders said. “They’re the best guys out here, and I have complete faith in them all. We’ll be back in Bristol next week, and we’re the defending champions there, so our heads are held high.”

Next on the NHRA schedule is the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals next weekend at Bristol Dragway.

Rare first-round exit for world champion Erica Enders in E-town

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ENGLISHTOWN, NJ — For just the third time in the last two years, reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders suffered a first-round departure Sunday at the 46th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals.

Enders rolled up to the starting line for what should have been a routine race against Round 1 opponent Alan Prusiensky, who qualified more than a tenth of a second behind Enders, but as she executed her prerace burnout, Enders knew that something was wrong with her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.

“I could hear something was off in the motor on the burnout,” she said. “I radioed the guys and they said to go ahead and stage to see if the other guy would red-light (foul out) and give us a gift. I had a pretty good feeling we couldn’t make any sort of run, so that was the best hope we had.”

Following team owner Richard Freeman’s instructions, Enders staged her car and even peeled off a fantastic .016-second reaction time, well ahead of part-timer Prusiensky’s .042-second launch, but as she progressed down Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Enders could sense that her motor was laboring, so rather than risk further damage she pushed in the clutch and aborted the run.

“Fortunately we came into this race with a cushion at the top of the points, so if we have to give away a race, this is as good a time as any,” said Enders, who is married to fellow Pro Stock racer Richie Stevens. “Our lead will be gone by the end of the day, but we’ll regroup and be back to full strength by next weekend’s race.”

The Oklahoma-based Elite Motorsports team will repair the motor on the road as the NHRA tour heads straight to Epping, N.H., for the NHRA New England Nationals, which runs Friday through Sunday at New England Dragway.

“We have several motors on the truck, so we’ll fix this one and see how it runs and either use it in Epping or swap it out with another one,” Enders said. “All of the powerplants we have are about the same, so it won’t be an issue.

“I’m sure when they take the motor apart it will be something little. It happens in this sport. We’re running these motors at such a high rpm that stuff like this happens from time to time. I have the best team and the best engine guys in the world, so we’ll get her fixed up and ready for Epping.”

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