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Championship-winning crew chief Rickie Jones to leave NHRA circuit in 2017

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POMONA, CA – Elite Motorsports crew chief Rickie Jones will step back from his duties with the championship-winning NHRA Pro Stock team to focus on his family in 2017.

Jones, the son of veteran crew chief/chassis builder Rick Jones, was an integral part of Erica Enders’ 2014-15 Pro Stock world championships.

“My wife Sarah and I want to start a family and have children,” Rickie Jones said. “That’s harder to do when you’re gone as much as this series demands.

“I’ve been blessed way beyond my wildest dreams to work with Erica and Richard Freeman and the entire Elite team, and I’ll still do that to a degree. But family comes first, and I look forward to spending a lot more time with Sarah as we start this new chapter in our lives.”

Jones, 29, helped guide Enders to 15 race wins and the 2014-15 championships in her first two seasons with the team. Enders, in fact, replaced him as driver at Elite Motorsports – after Jones won the 2013 season-finale at Pomona, Calif. Rickie and Sarah Jones were married in October 2014.

The affable Jones will continue to work at RJ Race Cars and Quarter-Max Chassis and Racing Components in Galesburg, Ill., the companies he and his father own. RJ Race Cars builds the race cars Elite Motorsports uses in NHRA, as well as several other cars for a variety of customers. Jones also pointed to a recent surge in demand for Street Rods and other custom work.

“Rickie has been an invaluable member of Elite Motorsports for many years, and we fully support his decision,” Elite team owner Richard Freeman said. “Elite Motorsports isn’t just a race team, it’s a family, and Rickie and Sarah are a part of that family. We all wish him nothing but the best.

Freeman said the team has no need to hire a replacement for Jones, as existing crew chiefs Rick Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Brian “Lump” Self will lead the three-car team in 2017.

Driver Enders offered her thoughts on Jones’ departure. “Rickie means the world to me, and I’ll definitely miss him at the race track,” Enders said. “He’s a man with a deep faith in God, and he was always an inspiration to me. I wish him and Sarah the best. I know we’ll still see a lot of him.”

Jones’ father will have the biggest adjustment to make as he’s always raced with Rickie by his side.

“He and I have been real tight forever,” Rick Jones said. “He’s been coming to the racetrack since he was a baby so it’s all he knows. We raced together for many years and we’ve had a lot of really good times. It’s a little sad I won’t have him with me next year but I’m going to go on, at least for one more year and Rickie’s going to stay home, run the business and start a family.

Rickie and Sarah want to start a family and my wife Bonnie and I are really looking forward to that. We’ve always been so proud of him. There are really going to be a lot of good things ahead and we are very excited about the future.”

Elite Motorsports and Mopar to part ways in 2017

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WYNNEWOOD, OK – Elite Motorsports and Mopar have announced that they will end their partnership at the end of the 2016 racing season.

“I want to thank everyone at Mopar and Dodge, from the top executives to the engineers on to the people helping us at the races for their hard work and dedication,” said Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman. “My guys should be commended. They basically worked around the clock with pretty much zero days off for the entire season, busting their butts to try and give Erica and Jeggy competitive racecars. We look forward to a fresh start into 2017.”

“We thank the entire Elite Motorsports team, including owner Richard Freeman and drivers Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr. for serving as superb ambassadors of our brand,” said Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global. “The drivers and team handled themselves with professionalism and class, constantly working hard to break into the winner’s circle. We commend them for their dedication and never-quit attitude, and wish the team, Erica and Jeg nothing but success in their future endeavors.

“For 2017, we will continue our relationship with Don Schumacher Racing in both NHRA Funny Car, which has culminated in four championships in six years, and also in Top Fuel, and we will expand our presence in the NHRA Sportsman ranks.”

Elite Motorsports drivers and multi-time world champions Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Erica Enders both competed with Mopar-backed Dodge Darts in 2016.

“We really wanted to light up the scoreboards this year with our Magneti Marelli offered by Mopar/JEGS.com Dodge Dart but we couldn’t quite get it running where it needed to be,” Coughlin said. “Like Richard, I salute everyone at Mopar and thank them for the effort. We wish them well in 2017 and beyond.”

Enders shared her teammate’s sentiments. “Mopar has been wonderful to work with,” she said. “It seems we were chasing it all year and never really got the cars where we could challenge for wins. Hopefully, we can start writing a new chapter and everyone will move forward into a better situation, including Team Mopar. We wish them nothing but the best because they’ve been great partners.”

Enders won the 2014 and 2015 Pro Stock titles with Elite Motorsports, while Coughlin finished top of the class in 2000, 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2013, prior to his time with Elite Motorsports.

Erica Enders closes out her championship tenure with a broad smile on her face

POMONA, CA — After winning two championships in a row and pushing her career win total to 21 national events, Erica Enders came into 2016 hoping to add to her legacy in a brand-new Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart. But things don’t always go as planned, and Enders instead went an entire year without reaching the final round.

Now, after equaling the best outing of the year by racing to the semifinals of the season-ending 52nd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Enders can finally turn the page on a forgettable year and begin in earnest her comeback story.

“We always have high hopes every race and to get to the semifinals today is something we have only done twice previous to this race this year so it’s definitely a good weekend for us,” Enders said.

Flashing the driving prowess that made her a two-time champ, Enders fought hard Sunday, beating fellow Texan and good friend Alex Laughlin with a massive .049-second holeshot advantage, .023 to .072, which gave her a comfortable win at the other end, with a 6.623 at 209.33 mph beating his 6.596 at 209.82 mph.

In Round 2 it was teammate Vincent Nobile in the other lane and once again Enders had the better reaction time, .032 to .051, to get an early lead. That was really all it took because Nobile’s car got squirrely and he had to abort the run, giving Enders the win with a 6.649 at 208.91 mph to his coasting 15.635 at 47.85 mph.

With the championship on the line, Jason Line was Enders’ semifinal foe, and with memories of 2014 dancing through both driver’s heads, the race was on. This time, instead of Enders pulling off the victory, it was Line getting it done, sealing his third title.

“Of course, when you get that close you get that Wally in your sights and if we could have gotten the car to go from A to B I think we could have won that round,” Enders said. “Either way, I am really proud for Jason Line. He’s a tough competitor and an even better guy so I am super happy that if we weren’t able to win the championship or one of my teammates win the championship, that Jason was able to get it done.

“My guys did a great job this weekend. They gave me a good racecar and I used my left foot as best I could today. I definitely wanted to close out 2016 with a win. It will be the first year to not get a win in awhile but there are bigger and better things to come in 2017 and we are ending on a high note. Me and my guys went down fighting.”

Switching manufacturers and a slew of significant rule changes to the Pro Stock class combined to wreak havoc with the Elite team, but finding a silver lining in it all, Enders said she’s learned a lot about herself and her team along the way.

“The struggles were endured are a testament to what my team is made of. It’s not always about the trophies. Yeah, we want to win races, that’s what we get paid to do, but it’s more about the chemistry and the camaraderie we share. It’s something money can’t buy, that’s why it’s so coveted, and it’s a big reason why people are envious of us. I so proud to be this team’s driver. I am so blessed. Richard Freeman could have chosen anyone, and he chose me and our puzzle is complete.”

Erica Enders enjoying twilight hours of her back-to-back championship run

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POMONA, CA — Back-to-back and reigning world champion Erica Enders has one more day to race her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart with the No. 1 sticker on the door and she plans on making the most of the occasion as the 2016 season draws to a close.

“We’re having fun,” Enders said. “I think all of us are relieved to a large extent and I know the feeling in the pit is that it’s nice to wrap up the final qualifying session of what has been an extremely long and challenging year.

“I’d say we made a couple of okay runs in qualifying, and I think there are some things we can improve on for tomorrow. That’s a glimmer of hope I suppose. All we can do is try our best like we have all year.”

Enders is no stranger to the victory circle at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, having visited it as recently as 2014 after her dramatic final-round win over Jason Line that clinched her first championship. It was history in the making as she became the first female to win a Pro Stock title and just the third woman ever to win a championship in any major form of motorsports.

“This is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the tour,” Enders said. “It holds a lot of great memories and the fans have been wonderful in reminding me about 2014. They all remember every moment, just like I do. It’s great to relive those times.

“We’ll go into race day like we always go into race day, that’s with confidence and a consistent race car. I’ll do my best to drive through a couple of win lights tomorrow.”

This weekend, Enders is qualified 12th on the grid after running a best of 6.608 at 210.05 mph during qualifying. She’ll open sudden-death eliminations Sunday opposite fellow Texan Alex Laughlin, who topped out at 6.570 at 210.97 mph during time trials.

“Alex is a good friend and he’s really had a strong car, especially down the stretch this year,” Enders said. “I’ll get up on the wheel and try to steal one away and we’ll go from there.

“I’m excited for the off season and the things we have in store for 2017. We definitely want the No. 1 designation back and to start winning races again. We have a great plan in place and I’m already wishing it was time for the Winternationals. Well, it maybe nice to have a little break to catch up on sleep first.”

Outgoing champ Erica Enders relieved to close out 2016 drag racing season

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POMONA, CA — Two-time world champion drag racer Erica Enders has a long and storied connection with Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, the site of this weekend’s 52nd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals. It’s a bond that dates back two decades, and one that’s immortalized with her own display at the heralded Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum across the fairgrounds from fabled Pomona Dragway.

“Some of the biggest moments in my drag racing career have happened at Pomona, going all the way back to my Junior Dragster days when we hauled our little dragster all the way from Houston just to race here,” Enders said. “Now that dragster is on display at the Wally Parks Museum, and I always go and visit her when we’re in town. It’s a great chance to reflect for a minute on how far we’ve come.

“I remember as teenager coming here and enrolling in Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and earning my Super Comp license on this strip. That was a huge deal for me; kind of signaling my transition to ‘big’ cars.

“Of course, we came in here and won this race in 2014 with that crazy finish to the season. We needed every round, every point to get it done and we did it with so much pressure on us. That clinched our first championship and remains the biggest moment of my life. So yeah, this place is as special as it gets for me.”

Enders, 33, hopes to stir up a little more magic this time through as her 2016 season draws to a close with an unsightly zero in the ins column. After winning six races in 2014 and a whopping nine more in 2015, coming up empty was not what her Elite Motorsports team was expecting, even with big rule changes and a shift to Dodge Darts.

“It’s no secret we’ve had a tough year but in many ways it’s picked me up because I’ve seen a level of fight in this group of guys that is beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. I’ve always said this team is exceptional and through all the struggles we’ve endured this year that feeling has only grown.

“It would be very cool to have a big weekend for the guys, to give them some sort of reward for the effort they’ve all put in this year. I will darn sure try my best to make something happen and do the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Although the car hasn’t been up to snuff, Enders herself remains one of the top drivers in the class, routinely leaving first on her opponents, a trait that helped her tremendously during her two championship charges.

Her expert ability to drive a Pro Stock should work well next season when the team launches a new campaign to reestablish themselves as title contenders.

Pro Stock qualifying sessions will run at 12 and 3 p.m., on both Friday and Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast qualifying action from 8:30-9:30 p.m., Friday. Eliminations will air live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in PT).

Two-time world champion Erica Enders anxious to put 2016 in her rearview mirror

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Two-time and reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders lost a close race in the opening round of the 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals to put a quick end to her weekend in Las Vegas, a place where she’s won four national events and a pair of K&N Horsepower Challenge trophies.

“I had a better feeling than normal today but we missed it a little bit that round,” Enders said. “I got left on for the first time in a long time and we shook the tires a little bit after that. It’s just one of those deals. That’s how it goes sometimes.

“Nothing will change my feelings for this track. We’ve had so much success here the last few years and I love The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway more than any place we go. We’ll be back here in the spring and we’ll start another winning streak for sure.”

Enders had a great .020-second reaction time but her opponent Chris McGaha had left first with a .003-second launch. He never trailed in the race, winning with a 6.714 at 205.01 mph to Enders’ 6.737 at 204.54 mph.

“The cool thing about my group is, no matter what adversity we face, we still have a blast together and next year’s a whole new year for us so I’ll be excited to get back to being competitive and hopefully making lots of trips to the winner’s circle again,” Enders said.

The season-ending 52nd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, which run Nov. 11-13 in Pomona, Calif., is the next race for Enders, but she’ll be busy until then with multiple appearances at the SEMA show In Las Vegas.

“SEMA is an awesome trade show and I always enjoy getting the chance to spend some quality time hanging out with all the various companies that we work with or support us,” Enders said. “It’s a lot of work, but fun work, and it’s definitely nice to talk to people away from the racetrack.”

Erica Enders would love to win Vegas race for fifth time in her career

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Enjoying a relaxed weekend at the racetrack where she’s had the most success in her brilliant career, back-to-back and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports crew have put together one of their better qualifying efforts of the season.

The 21-time national event winner coaxed a steady 6.718 at 204.42 mph out of her Elite Performance/Mopar Dodge Dart, placing her ninth in the elimination field of the 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals. The team has qualified higher than ninth on just four occasions this season.

“We definitely made some decent runs for us this weekend,” Enders said. “It’s exciting to be back at one of my favorite race tracks on the tour. We’ve had a lot of past success here and I’m hopeful that this track produces that same success for us tomorrow.

“Everyone knows we’re at a performance disadvantage right now but it’s not so much that it can’t be made up with my left (clutch) foot so we are going to go to work tomorrow and see what happens. I’m definitely excited to race.”

Enders will race Chris McGaha in Round 1. He posted a last-gasp 6.712 at 204.82 mph in the final qualifying session to move into eighth place on the grid.

“We just have to go out there and have a consistent race car that goes A to B,” Enders said. “I’ve gotta let the clutch pedal out better than I’ve ever let it out before and see if we can send a couple of these guy packing.”

Getting into the spirit of Halloween weekend, the entire Elite Motorsports operation, along with many other teams, dressed in costumes for today’s sessions.

“We’ve had a really fun weekend with everyone that’s associated with Elite,” she said. “My guys, Jeg Coughlin’s guys, Vincent Nobile’s team, and Shane Tucker’s team, everybody under the Elite Performance banner, dressed up like weirdo bodybuilders. We’re just a bunch of goofballs having a good time this weekend.”

Pro Stock eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast the action live from 4-7 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in ET).

Reigning champ Erica Enders uses The Strip at LVMS as her personal ATM

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LAS VEGAS, NV — In winning back-to-back world championships, Pro Stock superstar Erica Enders has used The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as her personal ATM, winning more than $250,000 at Bruton Smith’s masterpiece just north of Las Vegas.

It’s a trend she’d love to continue this weekend at the NHRA season’s penultimate race, the 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals.

“Las Vegas has been an awesome place for us, no doubt,” Enders said. “Most people blow all their money whenever they go to Vegas but we’ve managed to walk away with some nice checks, and for that we’re really grateful.”

It all adds up. Enders won four consecutive NHRA national events at The Strip, taking both the spring and fall titles in each of the last two seasons. Each of those wins were worth $25,000. She also won back-to-back K&N Horsepower Challenge trophies in 2014 and ’15, worth $50,000 each. By “doubling up” and winning both the K&N race and the national event in the same weekend, Enders received another $25,000 bonus from NHRA. That totals $250,000, plus contingency payouts that pushed her payout even higher.

“Including reaching the semis this spring, we ended up winning 24 elimination rounds in a row, which is hard to comprehend but really cool to have accomplished,” Enders said. “I’d have to ask (NHRA statistician) Lewis Bloom how many times that’s happened in the history of the sport to see where that streak stands all-time, but I can tell you it was a fight every step of the way. I’m proud of my team for having pulled it off.

“It makes this the best track, for sure, and the last two fall race wins were super special because I took over the points lead in 2014 by winning there and then last year we clinched the title outright by winning so there’s nothing but great memories for this track.”

This time through, Enders is a distant 10th in the world rankings and still in search of her first victory of the season.

“Reaching the semifinals in the spring tied for my best outing of the year so even in a down season Vegas has still been good to me,” Enders said. “We’re already working on new stuff for next year and there are big plans for returning to the top. I can’t wait for 2017 to start, to be honest, but we still have a chance to help Vincent (Nobile, teammate) win this year’s title so we’ll do all we can for him.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions will run at 11:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., Friday, and 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast qualifying action live from 6-7 p.m., Friday. Eliminations will air live from 4-7 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in ET).

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