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Two-time Pro Stock champ looking for Denver victory from No. 2 qualifying position

DENVER, CO — Erica Enders’ Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro has been the second-quickest racecar after all three Pro Stock qualifying sessions contested this weekend at Bandimere Speedway as the world’s best quarter-mile drag racers line themselves up for the elimination rounds of the 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.

Now she just needs to figure out how to end race day one spot better.

“We have a really fast hot rod here and we are going into race day No. 2 on the ladder so I’m super pleased with our performance so far,” Enders said. “We have certainly worked really hard at getting this car ready, especially with some extra testing last week in Tulsa before heading out on this three-race Western Swing, so I think we’ll be a tough out tomorrow.

“All credit to my guys, starting at the top with our team owner Richard Freeman, our quartet of crew chiefs — Rick and Rickie Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Brian Self, Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston on the engines, and the best crew in the sport, I’m really a lucky girl and I know it.”

Enders best pass was a 6.930-second blast at 198.85 mph, which she recorded in the event’s second qualifying session Saturday afternoon. She had run a 6.944 at 198.17 mph in Friday’s lone time trial, and she finished with a 6.979 at 198.82 mph Saturday evening. Friday’s qualifying was shortened to one round due to on-and-off rain showers.

“We would have loved to get all four rounds, especially here in Denver where it’s so hard to tune these things,” Enders said, referencing the altitude of the track. “Still, I’m definitely happy with what we’ve done here.

“That last qualifying session is totally on me as a driver. It’s so different up here on the mountain as far as everything is concerned, how the car feels, how it drives and when your shift points come, and I just made a rookie mistake that run and messed up in low gear. No biggie, we’ll put it behind us and get ready for eliminations.”

With 14 cars making qualifying passes, the usual 16-car ladder will be replaced by a modified 14-car grid, which awards a second-round bye to the winner of the No. 1 versus No. 14 pairing. That head-to-head battle features Enders’ husband Richie Stevens against top qualifier Drew Skillman.

“The 14-car ladder is definitely interesting,” Enders said. “Richie only races a few times a year so I’ll be pulling for him. We have (No. 13 qualifier) Alan Prusiensky (7.024 at 196.53 mph) in the first round so we’ll need to be ready. We’re hoping for a really long day tomorrow for this Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. The FOX Network will carry eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Erica Enders misses out on third final round of season by .006 seconds in Tennessee

Erica Enders | 2017 NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

BRISTOL, TN — Two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders came up two feet short of what would have been her third final-round appearance of the 2017 season after a close semifinal contest with class points leader Bo Butner Sunday afternoon at Bristol Dragway.

After beating Alan Prusiensky and one of her Elite Motorsports’ teammates, Vincent Nobile, earlier in the day, Enders got a .007-second jump on Butner in their race and held the lead until somewhere around halftrack when the winner of the Houston and Atlanta races passed her and inched away to take the finish line stripe by .006 seconds.

“I definitely had a car that could win today and I feel like I let my guys down a little bit, unfortunately,” said Enders, who won Epping and was runner-up in Atlanta. “All we needed was for me to be six-thou (.006 seconds) better on the tree to beat Bo but I was only .026. I still left first but I didn’t do my job behind the wheel good enough to get us the win.

“This one’s on me because I didn’t kill it on the starting line and I can tell you it stings pretty good but now I’m gonna brew on it and get pissed off enough that I’ll drive my butt off next weekend in Norwalk. We want another win as soon as possible and Norwalk is next on the schedule.”

The official numbers had Butner winning with a 6.732 at 205.44 mph to Enders’ 6.745 at 205.01 mph in her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.

“Bo’s been great all year that’s why he’s No. 1 in the points,” Enders said. “To be the best we need to beat the best and we had a good chance right there. Congrats to him and his team. We’ll be looking for them next time.”

Enders day started with a fairly pedestrian victory over Alan Prusiensky. She earned a .060-second head-start with a superior reaction time and never looked back, driving away for the win with a 6.742 at 205.38 mph to Prusiensky’s 6.807 at 203.61 mph.

After losing to good friend Nobile the last time they raced in the opening round at Topeka, Enders managed to improve this year’s head-to-head record against the New Yorker to 3-1 with a come-from-behind win of 6.761 seconds at 204.88 mph to Nobile’s tire-shaking 16.442 at 49.55 mph.

“All of these Elite Motorsports cars are running well,” Enders said. “Alex Laughlin is the last one standing and he’s got Bo in the final so we’ll be pulling for him. Jeg (Coughlin Jr.) was No. 1 qualifier here and I had to race Vincent in the quarterfinals but it was cool to see four Elite cars as part of the final eight today. We’ll be seeing a lot more of that every race.”

The final race of four-in-a-row is up next with next weekend’s 11th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio. FOX Sports 1 will air the Bristol race beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET, Sunday.

Overwhelming crowd-favorite Erica Enders ready to defend hometown NHRA title

HOUSTON — Houston native Erica Enders realized a lifelong dream a year ago when she scored her first pro-level victory at her home track of Royal Purple Raceway. She used the victory to springboard a career year that ended in an historic Pro Stock championship, the first ever for a female racer.

Now the little girl that cut her drag racing teeth at the famous dragstrip in the Houston suburb of Baytown is back, ready to do it all over again, this time with longtime supporter Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants as her title sponsor.

“It wasn’t my first win as a pro, but it was my first one here, the place where I used to dream about winning when I was a little girl in a Jr. Dragster, and that made it one of the best moments of my life,” Enders said. “If we could win again for Stan and Sheila Holt (owners of Lupe Tortilla), the Holt boys, and everyone else at all 16 of their restaurants who have been so supportive of me over the years, that just might top it all.

“We’re in good shape. The Pro Stock class is ridiculously good now, and having the No. 1 on the door puts a big target on us. Everyone is taking their best shots against us and we have to be ready to fight every pass. This team knows how to win and we’ll get after it tomorrow, just like we have every weekend.”

Enders, who was victorious at the last NHRA race in Las Vegas two weekends ago, will start eliminations as the No. 4 qualifier. Her best pass in qualifying was a 6.540 at 211.99 mph. As such, she’ll open race day action against good friend Allen Johnson, who qualified 13th with a best of 6.574 at 211.46 mph.

“Home races are such a blast,” Enders said. “The support of the crowd has been crazy, and having everyone stop by and congratulate us on all the success we’ve had is very humbling. I’m blown away by my fans and I love them all.

“It’s going to be a fun race. My team owner, Richard Freeman, is breaking in our new Rick Jones race car and he’s in the field. My teammate (Drew Skillman) is running great, and our engine customer, Rodger Brogdon, who also is from Houston, is looking strong, too. It could be a big day for Elite Motorsports!

“We also started a Kickstarter campaign this weekend for an online TV show we’ve been working on, so I encourage everyone to visit RacingInRed.com and check it out.”

Sunday’s eliminations will be aired live from 1 to 4 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

 

Enders-Stevens Captures Elusive Bristol Pro Stock Victory

Erica Enders-Stevens wins in Bristol

BRISTOL, TN — After leaving the final round of eliminations at Bristol Dragway three of the last four years winless, Elite Motorsports Pro Stock driver Erica Enders-Stevens sealed the deal Sunday by scoring her third win of the season at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Capturing the ninth win of her career wasn’t an easy feat, going up against two Pro Stock champions in final eliminations. With a round-one victory over Larry Morgan, followed by red-lights from both Greg Anderson and Jeg Coughlin Jr., Enders-Stevens found herself paired up against Jonathan Gray in the final, but when Gray got a bad start off the line, Enders-Stevens motored her Chevy Camaro to the win with a 6.698-second pass at 207.15 mph.

“Bristol has always been really good to me,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve been to three finals in the last four years here and hadn’t been able to get it done until today. As a driver, sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good, and today was one of those days for us. Jeg should have beat us on paper. Fortunately for us, he went red and we were able to move on to the final.

“I’m really excited about the win but it’s definitely my team’s trophy. They’re the ones that gave me the race car that went A to B when it mattered. We were consistent and performed like a team and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I’ve struggled the last month, but it means a lot to me that they’re so encouraging and never waiver.”

Through it all, Enders-Stevens knew she had continual support this weekend, especially from a special passenger riding alongside her Sunday. An unexpected loss this week of Nicole Stevens, a close relative of Enders-Stevens’ husband, may have put a toll on emotions but Enders-Stevens was able to bring home the win in her honor.

“It’s a very sad situation that shouldn’t have happened the way it did,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’m just going to continue to have faith because God has a bigger plan and he needed her in heaven for some reason. I know she was probably riding along with me today. I’m just glad we were able to get it done this weekend after the week that we have had. Winning on Father’s Day is just an added bonus.”

To top it all off, with her win in Bristol Enders-Stevens has extended her championship points lead once again, but this time over Coughlin, who assumed the second spot from his teammate Allen Johnson.

“It’s pretty cool even though it’s unchartered territory for me,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve never been in this position, so it’s going to be something that I’m going to have to learn how to handle, but with a team like I’ve got I know we’re going to be just fine.”

Enders-Stevens will look to make it two wins in a row when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series makes its next stop for the Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals, June 19-22, at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H.