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Pro Stock champ Erica Enders reaches new heights with No. 2 spot in Denver

Erica Enders NHRA Mile High Nationals 2016

DENVER, CO — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders would have loved to have held on to the No. 1 spot for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals on Saturday at Bandimere Speedway, but though she fell .007-second short of that lofty perch, Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team can hold their heads up high after qualifying No. 2.

“It would have been cool to get a green hat,” Enders said, referring to the special hats given to No. 1 qualifiers. “And tomorrow would have been a little cooler than normal because we would have a bye in the first round (because there are only 15 cars in the field).

“But I was talking to my guys about it on the radio before we even made the run — the benefit of running last is that you get to see what everybody does — after we knew that a handful of people had run 6.93s. I told my guys, ‘Either way, stay on the pole or not, get it back or not, what an awesome turnaround we have had this weekend, and we will out-tune and outdrive them tomorrow.’ And we will.”

Enders held the No. 1 spot through three qualifying sessions, but after a rain delay helped cool conditions in the Denver altitude, five cars went quicker in Q4 before Enders and Alex Laughlin made their runs.

Enders made a terrific pass of 6.933 seconds at 198.03 mph, though Laughlin was a tick quicker. However, her run wasn’t the best by her Dodge.

“Considering what happened in that run, to be able to throw up an e.t. like that is pretty cool,” Enders said. “I mean, I was way over by the wall and it was loose, so there was definitely some e.t. there, but either way it’s such an awesome step in the right direction, and it goes to show that hard work really pays off.

“This is where we get to really, really dig deep and see if we can battle back into the Countdown.”

Enders sits 11th in the Pro Stock points standings, with only the top 10 advancing to the Countdown to the Championship. Five races remain before the Countdown starts, and Enders is only nine points out of 10th.

She’ll battle Alan Prusiensky in the first round Sunday after he qualified No. 15 with a pass of 7.477 seconds at 159.91 mph.

“I’m super proud of our showing thus far, and we’ve got our day cut out for us tomorrow, but I wouldn’t want to go to battle with anyone else,” Enders said. “I’m proud to have performed so well in our Mopar Dodge Dart at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals, and we will see if can bring home a Wally to Detroit.”

Pro Stock eliminations start at noon, Sunday, and will be broadcast live on FOX from 1 to 4 p.m. (All times listed in MDT).

Erica Enders returns to the top, snaring provisional No. 1 in Denver

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Denver 2016

DENVER, CO — She’s back!

Two-time champion Erica Enders returned to the top of the Pro Stock charts, grabbing the provisional No. 1 spot for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals on Friday at Bandimere Speedway.

Enders dominated the class the past two seasons, winning 15 races and the championship in 2014 and 2015, but a change in rules and a switch to Mopar precipitated a small step back this season as her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team worked to develop a new Dodge Dart and new fuel-injected engines.

“What better race to have a turnaround weekend than at our sponsor’s event, the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals,” Enders said. “It might come as a shock to a lot of people because we’ve been running toward the back of the pack all year, but it just goes to show that hard work and determination pay off.

“Week in and week, we’ve come out here and qualified in the bottom half of the field, but my guys never got discouraged. They went home and went to work. That’s what I attribute that to.”

Enders’ best qualifying spot this season has been fifth, in Las Vegas. After winning nine races and 58 rounds in 2015, she has only five round-wins this year and sits outside the top 10 in the Pro Stock points standings, but her Elite Performance team continues to work on its engines, making big gains recently.

“We came here knowing what we found on the dyno this week was pretty significant,” Enders said. “We wanted the scoreboards to dictate what we found.”

They did in the second qualifying session. After she was No. 10 in Q1, Enders saw Elite/Mopar teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. make a terrific pass in Q2. She then went to the top with a run of 6.963 seconds at 197.71 mph.

“First run, we had to do some fine-tuning with the fuel,” Enders said. “We were able to make a really great run in the second session, and there’s definitely room for improvement on the graphs. That’s also encouraging. I’m just so proud of the hard work they’ve put in.”

Should it hold up, Enders would have the 19th No. 1 qualifier of her career.

“I’m not one to really get excited until the fat lady sings,” Enders said. “It was really nice to hear us stay on top after the really quick guys finished running. Tomorrow, you never know. Tonight was a really late run, and if the weather looks good tomorrow, hopefully we run on schedule and won’t have such great conditions tomorrow evening and we’ll be able stay on top.

“But our goal tomorrow is to get our race-day setup ready to go, stay consistent, and keep repeating.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 9 to 10 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in MDT).

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders ready to show what her Mopar can do in Denver

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DENVER, CO — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has come to Bandimere Speedway for the Mopar Mile-High Nationals for many years, always knowing how difficult it is racing in the thinner Colorado air, but this year Enders is driving a Hemi-powered Dart, and she relishes the chance to race on even terms with her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge.

“I’m pretty excited about the opportunity,” Enders said. “The Hemis have run well on the mountain for years and years and years. Hopefully, this can be a turnaround weekend for us.”

Plus, this Denver race marks a special occasion. Ten years ago, she raced as a teammate to Richie Stevens, Shaun Carlson, and Gene Wilson.

“This race also marks the 10-year anniversary of my first race with Mopar back in 2006,” Enders said. “Pretty cool deal.”

This Denver race is pretty cool for another reason, too: It will be the first race in NHRA history to be televised live on a national broadcast channel (FOX).

“That will definitely be awesome,” Enders said. “It’s my sponsor’s race, and hopefully we’ll get some additional coverage. It’ll be great for our class and our sport.”

The FOX broadcast team will show an event unlike any other in the sport. Since Denver has a mile-high altitude, engines in Pro Stock are robbed of air and horsepower. That completely changes the dynamic of Pro Stock drivers from the moment they drop the clutch to when they cross the finish line.

“It’s very different as a driver,” Enders said. “Pro Stock being a naturally aspirated class, we’re the ones who are most affected by the thin air. We’re the ones who probably run the slowest, according to class. From a driver’s standpoint, the clutch feels completely different, your shift points come at a completely different time, and the way the motor accelerates is very different. Driving with your ear is completely out of the question.

“I’ve raced up on the mountain for the last 12, 13 years, so hopefully my experience comes into play. It will certainly take us a couple of qualifying passes to be able to get a handle on things as far as car setup and driving, but I’m optimistic and looking forward to the challenge.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m., Friday, and 4 and 6:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 6 to 7 p.m., Friday, and 9 to 10 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in MDT).

Despite stellar driving effort, Erica Enders falls in Chicago first round

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CHICAGO, IL — Route 66 Raceway will always hold special memories for Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders.

The track is where Enders scored her first Pro Stock victory in 2012, helping elevate her to superstar status in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

The 2016 race, the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals on Sunday, won’t carry the same memories, but it could become a memorable event. Enders, the 2014-15 Pro Stock champion, has struggled this season as her team continues to develop their new Dodge Dart with fuel-injected engines.

Recent work, however, has helped Enders close the gap on the quickest teams.

“We definitely made some strides in the right direction this weekend,” Enders said after falling to Elite Chevy teammate Vincent Nobile. “It wasn’t evident today on the scoreboard because we were first out and we spun and the car went right and back left and just was not a happy race car. We did the best we could with what we had, and we will continue to work on it to get better.

“The better we get, the better we qualify, the farther back in the order we’ll get, and hopefully have a better outcome first round the further back we get.”

Higher-qualified racers get to choose when they’ll run in the first round, and they generally pick to be among the last to race. Enders qualified No. 9 and raced No. 8 Nobile, and they were the first pair down the track.

“The good news, just focusing on the positive, I had to race my teammate and at least Vincent went to the next round,” Enders said. “I sure would have liked to accumulate some points for this Mopar Dodge Dart to get back in the top 10. It wasn’t meant to be today.”

Enders flashed her driving prowess against Nobile, who had a .013-second reaction time but got off the starting line second because Enders was .005 on the Christmas Tree. Nobile, though, made a better pass, 6.643 seconds at 208.55 mph to 6.686 seconds at 208.36 mph, to get the win light.

“I set up to be .003 to .008 and I hit it right in the middle, so no regrets there,” Enders said. “I knew I had to be good on the Tree.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders: Progress ‘absolutely’ being made

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CHICAGO, IL — The smile is slowly creeping back onto the face of two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders.

Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Melling Performance Dodge team snared the No. 9 spot for the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals on Saturday at Route 66 Raceway, inching closer to the top cars in the Pro Stock class.

“I absolutely feel like we’ve made progress this weekend,” Enders said. “After Norwalk, the guys went back to the shop and made some pretty significant changes. The scoreboard has showed it a little bit this weekend, so that is something that has definitely been positive and has boosted morale.

“On top of that, we’ve also closed the gap on the faster guys. We’re within five (-hundredths) now instead of 10, so we absolutely have made strides in the right direction. Do we still have a lot of work to do? Absolutely. But at least now we’re within striking distance.”

Enders made a pass of 6.623 seconds at 208.46 mph, which was less than five-hundredths of a second off Shane Gray’s pole-winning lap.

“I’m very proud of my team for their hard work, their never-quit attitude,” Enders said. “It’s extremely frustrating, especially coming off the last couple of years. Friday, when we ran that .62, to hear my guys’ voices across the radio and for them to hear the excitement in my voice was great.

“We had a team dinner Friday night, and it was like the old days with the atmosphere here. It was very exciting.”

Enders had gotten used to winning the last two seasons when she went to the winner’s circle 15 times and won back-to-back championships. Her Elite team switched to Mopar fuel-injected engines for 2016, and development has taken longer than expected, but Chicago was a step up in performance.

Enders started the final qualifying session in the No. 7 spot, with a possible first-round match against Dodge teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. looming. She was bumped down to No. 9 and will instead race Elite Chevy teammate Vincent Nobile. His best pass was 6.621 seconds at 208.62 mph for the No. 8 qualifying spot.

“We dodged a bullet by not having to race my Mopar teammate tomorrow, but we ended up with my other teammate, Vincent,” Enders said. “At least we know one of our Elite Performance engines will be going to the second round.”

Enders did turn on three win lights in Super Gas this weekend, racing the ORTEQ Energy Technologies roadster for owners Cody Ortowski and Buddy Wood. She made it to the final nine cars in that cutthroat Sportsman class.

“It was really fun to go some rounds again,” Enders said. “I joked with the Sportsman team that when you’re in the fourth round in Pro Stock, you’re racing for the trophy, but you’re barely on the home stretch in Super Gas.

“I need more seat time in that car to be a better bracket racer. That’s something I’ll dedicate some time to, and I’ll get better with time. To go four rounds here in Chicago — a racetrack that holds a special place in my heart — was definitely fun.”

Pro Stock eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry qualifying action from 10 p.m. to midnight ET, Saturday, and eliminations live beginning at 2 p.m., Sunday.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders returns to site of first pro victory

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CHICAGO, IL — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders returns to where all of her professional success started, Route 66 Raceway, for the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals this weekend.

Four years ago, Enders was still fighting for her first victory, racing to six final rounds over her career but without sealing the deal. However, when Enders and her team got to Chicago, they felt really good about their chances.

“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Enders said. “When we got to the track on Thursday — I don’t know why but it happens at a handful of racetracks — we had a good feeling when we walked through he gate. I was always hopeful that whatever track we were at would be the track where I got my first win, but that was definitely an awesome weekend.

“I’m sure when I get back there it will all come flooding back. That was one of the better days, for sure.”

Enders qualified third that weekend, but rain delayed the start of eliminations. Finally, she dispatched Kurt Johnson, Vincent Nobile, V. Gaines, and Greg Anderson to secure her first career victory.

“I remember there was a long rain delay, and we didn’t start first round until almost 4 o’clock, so it was a long drawn-out day,” Enders said. “It was really cool to come out on top. There are pictures proudly hanging in my office of the winner’s circle when my guys doused me with beer. It was awesome.”

Enders became the first woman to win in the Pro Stock class, and that victory launched a spectacular career. She won three more races in 2012 and two in 2013 before moving to Elite Motorsports for the 2014 season. Enders then won six times and the 2014 Pro Stock championship and had an even better season last year. She won nine races and the Pro Stock title one more time, and Enders was recently awarded an ESPY nomination for Best Driver for that accomplishment.

“I love Chicago and I always have, even when I raced Sportsman there in the early years of the track,” Enders said. “It definitely holds a lot of really special memories for me. It’s where we finally won our first Pro Stock race, and that was a night to remember.”

Of course, Enders would love to repeat her 2012 performance this season, her first with the Elite/Mopar Dodge. The team continues to develop the new Dart and new fuel-injected engines, but progress is being made.

“We’ve had some down times since the East Coast swing, but my guys have been working really hard in the engine shop,” Enders said. “Hopefully, the scoreboards will show some of the progress that we’ve made.”

In addition to racing her Pro Stock Dodge, she’s entered in Super Gas with the ORTEQ Energy Technologies roadster for owners Cody Ortowski and Buddy Wood.

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5:15 and 7:45 p.m., Friday, and 3:15 and 6 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry qualifying action from 10 p.m. to midnight ET, Saturday and eliminations live beginning at 2 p.m., Sunday.

Reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders maintains focus through tough stretch

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Norwalk 2016

NORWALK, OH — Reigning back-to-back Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders completed the 2016 schedule’s only stretch of four consecutive races with a positive outing in her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart.

The stretch of races wasn’t kind to the most prolific female racer in class history as she bowed out in the opening round in the first three of the four events. But that turned a bit Sunday when she dismissed bitter rival Chris McGaha with an end-to-end job in Round 1 and gave current points leader Jason Line a huge scare in Round 2.

“Taking McGaha down was a nice bonus,” Enders said. “I was definitely up for it, cut a good light, and just outran him. That was a positive step for us for sure.”

Enders left the starting line with a stellar .013-second reaction time and never looked back, crossing the top-end timer with a 6.728 at 205.76 mph to McGaha’s 6.734 at 209.23 mph.

That advanced her to the quarterfinals, where she ran into Line, winner of six of the first 11 races this year. Once again, Enders earned a huge starting-line advantage, leaving a whopping .051-second ahead of Line. The chase was on from there with Line barely catching and passing her near the finish line, winning with a 6.662 at 209.09 mph to Enders’ 6.737 at 205.57 mph.

“Those two KB Racing cars have been on it this year, and I knew I needed a big start to give us any sort of chance,” she said. “I hit the Tree really well and didn’t see him for a while, but his hood started creeping into my peripheral vision. I was pushing the gas pedal through the floorboard but he got us at the other end.

“We’re just having a tough time figuring out the HEMIs. I’ll still take my guys over any other group in the world. We won a lot together the past two seasons, including back-to-back championships, and we all enjoyed that time as a team. Nothing is going to change that just because we’re down a bit. This is a strong group, and to be honest, we’re not letting anything get us down. No one is super happy, but we’ve moved past beating ourselves up over it.”

Engine builders Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston, along with crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, are happy to finally have a weekend between races to work on some things that they believe will help Enders and her teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. turn in better numbers.

“Four races in a row is tough on every one, every team, especially a team like ours that switched brands in the off-season and are still working on figuring things out,” Enders said. “Having a weekend off finally will give the guys a chance to get back home, maybe recover for a day or two, and then get back to work. I’m sure the dyno will get a severe workout between now and Chicago, and I would expect Rick and Rickie will want to test some more as well. We’ll be busy.

“These guys in this pit aren’t afraid of working hard and we will get this deal figured out. I feel like a breakthrough race is right around the corner. Maybe Chicago will be the place where the switch gets thrown and we start running for trophies again.”

The Route 66 NHRA Nationals take place July 8-10 at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders drives Menards, Dutch Boy Paints to No. 10 qualifying spot

Erica Enders | NHRA Norwalk 2016

NORWALK, OH — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders will carry two new marketing partners, Menards and Dutch Boy Paints, into final eliminations after qualifying No. 10 for the NHRA Drag Racing Series race in Norwalk.

Enders’ Menards/Dutch Boy Paints Dodge Dart posted a top qualifying pass of 6.656 seconds at 207.37 mph over four sessions this weekend.

“It’s definitely been a good time with Menards and Dutch Boy on our car this weekend,” Enders said. “We’ve had lots of guests out this weekend for their first drag race, so I’m excited to introduce a new audience to NHRA.”

Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team announced the new partnership earlier this week. She also found out she was nominated in the Best Driver category for the 2016 ESPYs for her spectacular 2015 NHRA season.

This season has been a struggle as her Elite team continues to develop the new Dart with new fuel-injected engines. Teammate Vincent Nobile, who drives a Chevrolet, qualified No. 6 here with some terrific passes in qualifying.

“I’m hopeful that we can run better,” Enders said. “We were consistent today, but we’re not crushing it yet. Vincent is running better, so we’re pleased with that. He’s within one- or two-hundredths of Greg (Anderson) and Jason (Line), which is a huge accomplishment right now.”

Enders and Dodge teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. did miss on racing each other in the first round (as the Nos. 8 and 9 qualifiers do), as Coughlin qualified No. 9.

Enders will face No. 7 qualifier Chris McGaha in the first round after he made a top pass of 6.624 seconds at 209.04 mph.

“We’re proud that one of our team cars is doing well,” Enders said. “We’ve got to go to work on mine and Jeg’s Dodge Darts. We’ll see if we can keep chipping away at it. It’s definitely been frustrating and an agonizing process, but we’ll keep working on it until it gets better.”

The first two rounds of eliminations will air live on FOX Sports 1 beginning at noon, Sunday, with a three-hour recap later in the evening, starting at midnight.

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