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Pro Stock champ Erica Enders flashes driving skills in Brainerd semifinal finish

Erica Enders | Brainerd 2016 | NHRA Pro Stock

BRAINERD, MN — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders stared down the pressure and responded in championship fashion — again.

Enders won on a first-round holeshot for the second race in a row and advanced to the semifinals of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway before falling to points leader Jason Line. But she put up a fight in that race, too.

“We tried,” Enders said. “If you’d have asked me after Friday whether we’d go to the semifinals, I’d have never thought it was possible, but Saturday went a lot better, and we made strides in the right direction on Sunday.”

Drivability issues hampered Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team on Friday before she made two solid passes Saturday to claim the No. 11 qualifying spot. That put her up against Shane Gray in the first round, but Enders pulled off a 024-second reaction time and made her pass of 6.619 seconds at 207.94 mph hold up.

Gray, the No. 6 qualifier, had the third-quickest run of the round at 6.593 seconds at 209.36 mph, but it wasn’t enough.

Enders also won on a holeshot in the first round in Seattle, beating Alex Laughlin to take over the No. 10 spot in the Pro Stock points standings. After beating Allen Johnson in the second round, Enders climbed over teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. to ninth in the points.

“To have a turnaround weekend like we did, to make up the ground on Alex, to solidify our spot in the Countdown is extremely important to me,” Enders said. “It was an exciting day.”

Unofficially, Enders is 13 points ahead of Coughlin and 49 ahead of 11th-place Laughlin. The top 10 race in the Countdown to the Championship, which is locked in after the next race, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

“It was definitely a fun weekend,” Enders said. “Another positive note is our Hemi powerplant stayed together, and that’s going to be crucial going into these last seven races. We’ll try to continue to spread the gap, and game on come Charlotte.”

Enders left first on all three higher-qualified opponents she faced Sunday. She had a .013 light against Johnson and made her pass of 6.656 seconds at 207.40 mph hold up as No. 3 qualifier Johnson slowed to a 6.732-second pass at 189.34 mph.

Line, the No. 2 qualifier, was nearly five-hundredths behind on the starting line, as Enders had a .024 light to his .072 reaction time, but Enders fell just short after a pass of 6.644 seconds at 207.75 mph couldn’t hold off Line’s 6.595-second run at 209.79 mph.

“E2 and E3 didn’t go like we thought they would, as far as e.t. is concerned, and I did not do my job against Jason,” Enders said. “All it takes is .022 to win that round, and that makes me mad because I’m better than that 97 percent of the time I let the clutch out. Just one of them deals. It’s got to be your day.”

It felt like old times for most of the day, as Enders raced to her second semifinal of the season. Enders and her team reached the semi’s regularly in 2014-15, but 2016 has been a struggled with the switch to electronic fuel injection and Dodge.

“We were all a little bit out of shape, it seems like, for going rounds on Sundays,” Enders said. “Everybody was huffing and puffing, trying to get things done before we got called to the lanes the next time. Before we fired (before the semifinals), I told (crew chief) Rick (Jones), ‘It’s fun to go rounds on Sunday, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘Heck yeah! We barely made it.’ I told him, ‘Believe it or not, we used to do this every week.’ He’s like, ‘I know, but we’re out of shape.’ “

With determination and passion, Pro Stock champ Erica Enders is ready to battle

Erica Enders | Brainerd 2016 NHRA Pro Stock | Mopar

BRAINERD, MN — When the calendar turns to Sunday, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team know anything can happen.

So though Enders qualified No. 11 for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals on Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway, she is confident in her and her team’s ability to make things happen.

“Sunday is a whole different day,” Enders said. “You just look at what happened in Seattle. It’s anybody’s day on race day, and you go out there with the mentality that we always do: It’s crunch time right now. We’ve got two race days left before the Countdown, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ll see what happens.”

Enders jumped into the top 10 in the Pro Stock points standings in Seattle, and she leads Alex Laughlin by nine points heading into Brainerd. Two races remain before the Countdown to the Championship begins, and only the top 10 get a chance to race for the 2016 title.

Enders’ best qualifying time in Brainerd was 6.660 seconds at 207.08 mph, but that was an improvement over Friday’s performance.

“Friday was definitely one of the worst days, for sure,” Enders said. “The fact that we were able to go from A to B today is pretty significant. It’s humbling that we’re this deep into the season and still are struggling as much as we are.

“But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to be doing this with anybody else other than the group of people we have at Elite Motorsports.”

Drivability issues limited Enders on Friday, but her and her Elite team simply went to work.

“As frustrated as they are, they still are so determined and so passionate about what they do,” Enders said. “They put their heads down and get to work. It was a long night last night, especially for our EFI guys. They came back today with a whole new setup for these cars, and for (teammate) Jeg (Coughlin Jr.) and I to be able to have good drivability with these cars is pretty crucial. We haven’t been able to stage and do the best burnouts or backups smoothly.”

That did happen Saturday, when Enders made two somewhat conservative runs.

“Everything went as planned today, “Enders said. “That was a baseline run for us in Q2 because he and I had two bad runs yesterday. They were very conservative, get-down-the-racetrack runs. We have a lot of room to improve.”

Pro Stock eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m. CT, Sunday.

Erica Enders hoping for a surprise title defense this weekend in Brainerd

ee-mn16-prerace

BRAINERD, MN — Erica Enders was cruising to s second straight NHRA championship the last time she passed through Brainerd International Raceway, winning her fifth of nine races in her dominating 2015 campaign at the annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.

This weekend, as she returns to Central Minnesota, things have changed quite a bit. The most successful woman in class history, Enders finds herself winless in 2016 and clinging to the 10th and final playoff berth with two races left in the regular season.

“Last year we were fighting for the No. 1 spot in the playoffs; now, we’re just hoping to make the playoffs,” Enders said. “It’s a crazy, humbling sport, but that’s why we love it so much. Nothing out here comes easy. It wasn’t easy when we won and it’s not easy when you have stretches like this, but these downtimes make the good times that much better.

“We made a lot of changes to our program joining up with Mopar, and they’ve been wonderful to work with. The NHRA also made its biggest changes to the class they’ve ever made (switching from carburetors to electronic fuel injection), and obviously some teams have adapted quicker than we have, but we’re not giving up. You can’t beat a team that never gives up.”

Enders remains optimistic because she knows the Elite Motorsports team working on her Dodge Dart is the same group that helped her to back-to-back championships and 15 national event victories over the past two seasons.

“Rick and Rickie Jones are still tuning my car, Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston are still building our motors, all the crew guys are the same, Richard Freeman (team owner) is still giving us all the tools we need to win; it’s just a matter of time,” Enders said. “It’s not easy at times because we got used to winning, but the guys up at the top right now have been through downtimes as well. It’s the same in every pro class.

“There are just lots of peaks and valleys in this sport. The thing is, you really discover what you’re made of when things are tough, and all I see with this team is that they will never quit. They’re just as relentless now as they were last year. The other day they were doing burnouts in the parking lot of the race shop working on our launches. They never stop.

“We’ve won Brainerd twice (2015 and 2012), and it would be great to get a third one this time through. It would certainly shock the world, but we’re pretty good at that.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 1 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 9 to 11 p.m., Saturday, and eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in CT).

Clutch holeshot win puts Pro Stock champ Erica Enders in Countdown position

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Seattle 2016

SEATTLE, WA — When the pressure is on, champions rise to the occasion.

When Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team needed to have a good performance in the first round of the 29th annual Protect The Harvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil on Sunday at Pacific Raceways, they put one on.

Enders ripped off a .009-second reaction time against Alex Laughlin, winning a crucial round despite a slower elapsed time. And in beating Laughlin, who came into the race 10th in the points standings, Enders took over 10th, the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship.

“I said in my interview at the top end that it reminded me of the U.S. Nationals last year, racing Greg Anderson in the semifinals, where the winner of that round got to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 position,” Enders said. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Under pressure, we are awesome together.”

Enders’ pass was 6.581 seconds at 209.39 mph, but her .048-second advantage on the starting line was enough to hold off Laughlin’s 6.569 at 210.90 mph.

“My guys gave me a good race car,” Enders said. “It wasn’t a great run. We feel like we could have definitely gone a .56 out there first round, and it was important to put a little bit of a spread on Alex. It’s not a big spread, but we will take what we can get at this point.”

Enders now unofficially leads Laughlin by nine points with two races before the Countdown.

Enders had another excellent reaction time in the second round, .031, and was in front of No. 14 qualifier Aaron Strong before she had engine issues. Strong had beaten No. 3 qualifier Greg Anderson in the first round.

“We got a break with Greg going out first round,” Enders said. “Performance-wise, we had him covered a little bit and shoulda, coulda, woulda gone to the semifinals at least today. Jeggie (Coughlin Jr.) and I had a chance to meet up in the semifinals. He had Bo (Butner) covered three-hundredths on the Tree, I had Aaron covered five and a half and everything went away.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders faces another test in Seattle’s first round

Erica Enders | Pacific Raceways 2016 NHRA

SEATTLE, WA — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders faces a big test in the first round of the 29th annual Protect The Harvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil on Sunday at Pacific Raceways.

After qualifying No. 11, the Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver will race Alex Laughlin in the first round on Sunday. The battle could go a long way in deciding which driver reaches the Countdown to the Championship, as Laughlin is 10th and Enders 11th, just 11 points out of the top 10.

Should Enders win, she’ll move around Laughlin in the Pro Stock standings with two races left before the Countdown begins. That sounds like a lot of pressure, but Enders has been there before, performing well under pressure in winning the 2014 and 2015 championships.

“No, no pressure at all,” Enders said. “Tomorrow is just another race day and my guys will give the best car they know how to. I’m gonna have to get up on that wheel, that’s for sure. We’ll get it all sorted out tonight before we go to the hotel and come back tomorrow fresh and ready to roll.”

Enders rallied from a difficult Friday to post two good runs on Saturday, the best being a run of 6.572 seconds at 209.75 mph. Laughlin’s best pass was 6.552 seconds at 211.53 mph to snare the No. 6 qualifying spot.

“Yesterday, aside from crashing and blowing things up, was probably the worst day in drag racing I’ve had,” Enders said. “Today was a new day and my guys really rallied and worked hard on these Dodge Darts to get them to run right. Not just my car but our Mopar/Magneti Marelli team (of Jeg Coughlin Jr.), too. That was just one of those days you like to chalk up to a total loss, but today did go better.

“I get to control my own destiny tomorrow. I’ve got Alex Laughlin first round, who is the one standing in front of us to get into the Countdown. He’s probably one of the nicest kids out here, but it’s go time tomorrow.”

Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 5 to 6 p.m., Friday, and 11 to 12 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in PT).

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders confident Elite team can perform under pressure

Erica Enders | NHRA Seattle 2016

SEATTLE, WA — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders learned a lot about her Elite Motorsports team after winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015. When under pressure, Enders and her team didn’t flinch; instead, they performed at their best.

This year, Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team are facing a different kind of pressure as they prepare to race in the 29th annual Protect The Harvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil this weekend at Pacific Raceways.

Enders is 11th in the Pro Stock points standings, battling to get into the top 10 so she can defend her title in the Countdown to the Championship. The Countdown starts in three races, and only the top 10 qualify for the Countdown. But Enders is confident her team can succeed again.

“I don’t have any doubt we’ll rise to the occasion again,” Enders said. “Certainly, it’s not been like the last couple of years with the struggles we’ve had switching to EFI and switching manufacturers. It’s certainly been a learning year for us.

“Having said that, we’re going to do the best we can. In my opinion, nobody performs as well under pressure as we do collectively.”

NHRA mandated fuel-injected engines for 2016, and that change alone has been challenging for all Pro Stock teams, but Enders’ team also switched manufacturers and built a new race car. One good race, however, could propel her into the Countdown and into championship contention.

“We’ve been fortunate in years past,” Enders said. “This year, things haven’t necessarily been falling our way. We’ve had struggles with parts failures and stuff that wasn’t typical in the past. Those are all huge obstacles we have to overcome. I feel like we’re certainly right on track to making better runs and getting more horsepower. We just need a little bit of a break.”

Elite team owner Richard Freeman built a championship team, led by crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, and Enders remains confident in her group.

“The guys who Richard has assembled are the best of the best, a top-notch group of guys,” Enders said. “No matter what stands in front of us, we’re always able to get through it. We always seem to rise to the occasion, rise to the call.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 1 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 5 to 6 p.m., Friday, and 11 to 12 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in PT).

Reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders catches wrong kind of break in Sonoma

Erica Enders | NHRA Sonoma 2016 Pro Stock

SONOMA, CA — Two-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has been hoping the breaks start turning her way in this transitional drag racing season, but when her engine broke in the water box just seconds before her opening-round pass, even she couldn’t believe her misfortune.

“It’s almost like ‘what else could go wrong,’ ” said Enders, the most prolific female Pro Stock racer of all time. “It’s just a tough, tough way to end the day … before it even started.

“I fired up and rolled through the water box, and as I went to get the rpm up for the burnout, I heard a weird noise in the engine. I radioed the guys and they had me hold there for a minute at idle to see if it would clear itself up, but it was pretty obvious we had a problem. I had no choice; I had to shut it off.”

As disappointing as the moment was for Enders, the 21-time national event winner didn’t lose any ground in her quest to make the Countdown to the Championship field as her nearest rival in the points, good friend Alex Laughlin, also lost in the first round.

“We have three more races to catch Alex and get past him to make the playoff field,” Enders said. “It’s really the biggest goal we have right now, for our fans and sponsors to see us make it in.

“The guys are already tearing the Elite/Mopar Dodge Dart apart to see exactly what happened, and I know they’ll have us ready to go next weekend in Seattle.”

Enders trails Laughlin by nine points, or less than half a round of elimination action.

The 29th annual ProtectTheHarvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil begins Friday, Aug. 5, at Pacific Raceways near Seattle.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders ready to keep Denver momentum rolling

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock | Sonoma 2016

SONOMA, CA — With four race days left before the Countdown to the Championship begins, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders knows time is short to be able to defend her 2015 title.

But Enders also knows she and the Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team are more than capable of making a late-season surge, perhaps beginning with the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

“Tomorrow is a very important race day for us as we only have four Sundays left to get this car in the Countdown,” Enders said. “We know that it’s kinda hovering over our head, but at the same time we have made up ground for sure and we will continue to work on this thing.”

Enders is 11th in the Pro Stock points standings, one spot out of the top 10 who are locked in for the Countdown, the championship-determining segment of the season. She’s also less than a round out of 10th place, meaning one or two rounds of racing could determine who races for the championship and who doesn’t.

Enders qualified No. 10 here with a top pass of 6.612 seconds at 209.26 mph. She’ll start Sunday’s eliminations against Elite teammate Vincent Nobile, who qualified No. 7 with a run of 6.592 seconds at 210.64 mph. Nobile has beaten Enders in the first round twice in the last four races, a trend she hopes to end Sunday.

“I think he’s loaded me up plenty of times this year, so I’m hoping it’s our turn tomorrow,” Enders said. “Either way, we have an Elite Motorsports, Elite Performance car heading to the second round. We will just put our heads down and go to work and see what the outcome is tomorrow.”

Enders qualified No. 2 in Denver last weekend, an example of how her Elite team has made progress. She started quickly here, though that momentum has been difficult to maintain.

“After we made the first run here on Friday, we still felt we were significantly headed in the right direction,” Enders said. “We posted a 6.62 on the scoreboard, but we could have very well run a .59 for sure. So that tells us that what we had found for Denver certainly translates here.

“Since that first run, it’s gone downhill, but you know that’s where my awesome guys come into play, and we dig deep and we keep working on it. At this point it would be so easy to throw in the towel, but that’s not what we’re made of. We’ve got a bunch of people over here helping us get this Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart headed in the right direction.”

Pro Stock eliminations start around noon, Sunday. FOX will carry the action live from 1 to 4 p.m. PT, Sunday.

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