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Pro Stock champ Erica Enders turns on Topeka win light

Erica Enders | Topeka NHRA 2016

TOPEKA, KS — A round-win — any round-win — in the Pro Stock class of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series can be hard to come by, even if it comes against your teammate, so two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders was definitely smiling after beating Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the first round of the NHRA Kansas Nationals on Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka.

She lost in the second round to No. 1 qualifier Jason Line after a terrific effort on the starting line, but getting a round-win was a positive for the 2015 Topeka winner.

“At this point, you take them as you can get them,” Enders said. “It stinks in the first place that my teammate and I had to race first round, but when it comes down to it, it’s a round-win for our Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart. Round-wins are hard to come by these days. We’ll just keep working at it.”

Enders and her Elite team switched to a new Dodge Dart for 2016, all the while dealing with new fuel-injected engines. Line’s KB Racing team has won all seven races to date as others have tried to catch up.

“People are slowly starting to pick away at it,” Enders said. “You see other cars running better, so it’s definitely out there for us. I know that when we come across it, it’s going to be great and they’re going to be in trouble again, but until that point, we’ve got to stay positive and keep working. That’s all we can do.”

Enders got the win light in the first round when Skillman left .002-second too soon, but her pass of 6.706 at 205.79 mph lost her lane choice in the second round to Line.

Enders was stellar on the Christmas Tree in round two with a .014 light to Line’s .041, but she couldn’t hold him off. Her pass of 6.725 at 204.98 mph wasn’t enough to defeat Line’s 6.661 at 207.85 mph.

“When I unclutched it, I knew I was good,” Enders said. “The first three gears I didn’t see him, so I thought maybe we had a chance, but I plugged it in high gear, and Jason came around me. I saw him come by me.”

Enders and her Richard Freeman-owned team continue to make strides with their program, inching toward the top of the Pro Stock charts.

“We have the right attitudes,” Enders said. “We have the right mindset, we have tremendous work ethic. The stars aren’t lining up for us at the moment, but they will, and when they do, it’s game on.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders starts Topeka defense against Elite teammate

Erica Enders | Topeka NHRA 2016

TOPEKA, KS — Defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has already scored a round-win at this weekend’s NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka — and Pro Stock eliminations don’t start until Sunday.

Enders, who qualified the Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge in the No. 9 spot in Pro Stock, won a round in Super Gas earlier Saturday.

“That was fun to get a round-win in the Super Gas car,” Enders said. “It can take some time to get used to driving in Sportsman again, and even though I’ve driven that car this year, I’m still getting re-adjusted to it. But it was nice to win a round for Buddy and Cody.”

Enders drove the ORTEQ Energy Technologies roadster for owners Buddy Wood and Cody Ortowski this weekend. She had a second-round matchup with Bruce Johnson Saturday night, and the two-time Pro Stock champion went .019-second red and lost.

Enders’ best pass in her Pro Stock car was 6.643 seconds at 207.03 mph. The defending race champion squares off against Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the first round.

“Drew and I are friends everywhere but on the racetrack,” Enders said. “When I put on my helmet, he becomes just another driver. It was a lot of fun to work with him last year as he made the transition to Pro Stock, and I helped him as much as I could in 2015.

“But on race day, I’m going to try to beat him like I try to beat anyone else in this class. I hate that we have to race a teammate in the first round, but we all need to qualify better.”

Skillman’s best pass this weekend was 6.642 seconds at 208.07 mph, meaning their first-round matchup could come down to who gets off the starting line first.

“May the best woman win,” Enders said. “Drew’s a great driver, and he’ll be tough to beat, but our job is to do our best to send him home early.”

Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET, Saturday. Elimination action will be broadcast live from 2 to 5 p.m. ET, Sunday.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders holds special memories of Topeka

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TOPEKA, KS — Heartland Park Topeka has a special place in the heart of Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders, the two-time Pro Stock champion.

Heartland Park, site of this weekend’s NHRA Kansas Nationals, is where Enders became the first woman to earn a No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock, and it’s also the track where she scored a dominant victory in 2015, nine years after that first No. 1 qualifier.

Enders was in her second full year of Pro Stock in 2006, driving the Slammers car. In the second round of qualifying for the NHRA Summer Nationals, Enders made a pass of 6.785 at 203.06 mph to jump to No. 1. She held on to that spot to become the 52nd driver to earn a Pro Stock No. 1.

“It was a huge milestone for me and my young Pro Stock career,” said Enders, who was 22 at the time. “It was definitely exciting. The fans were crazy. I signed a lot of autographs that weekend and got a lot of congratulations from a lot of people: a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls. It’s definitely a neat memory.”

Enders got to share the memory with her father Gregg, who helped start Enders’ career as an 8-year-old driving a Jr. Dragster in her home state of Texas.

“It was cool to share that moment with my dad,” Enders said. “He’s the reason why I was in that position in the first place.”

Fast-forward to 2015, and Enders is now driving for Elite Motorsports. She had won in Las Vegas and Houston earlier in the year, repeating race victories from her 2014 championship, but her Topeka success had been limited to that No. 1 qualifier in 2006.

“At that point of the season, we had won the same races that we had won the year before,” Enders said. “Every race we went to where we hadn’t won, we were hoping to break that. Topeka was a track that we typically didn’t have much luck or success at, so to win in the fashion that we did was pretty cool.”

Enders was low for all three of the qualifying sessions (the fourth was rained out) and set the Pro Stock track record of 6.515 seconds at 211.43 mph to again win the No. 1 qualifying spot.

On race day, Enders was quickest in all four rounds, beating Greg Anderson in an early-evening final round to win the race.

“We were low for every session, No. 1 qualifier, and we beat Greg in the finals,” Enders said. “It was a rain delay on Sunday, and we finished under the lights. It was pretty cool.”

Rain had delayed the final, and the winner’s circle celebration had to be moved indoors — not that Enders or anyone on her Elite team minded.

“The winner’s circle was in the barn with the scales,” Enders said. “It was different, for sure, but still awesome.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET, Saturday. Elimination action will be broadcast live from 2 to 5 p.m. ET, Sunday.

Enders will also compete in Sportsman racing this weekend, as she returns to the Super Gas ranks behind the wheel of the ORTEQ Energy Technologies roadster for owners Buddy Wood and Cody Ortowski.

Erica Enders’ best pass of the weekend negated by dodgy Atlanta track

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ATLANTA, GA — Reigning back-to-back Pro Stock champion Erica Enders knew she left on first-round opponent Chris McGaha, and as she went through the gears of her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart a big smile started to cross her face.

Then, in an instant, it was gone, as a big bump in her lane upset her race car enough that it shot towards the centerline. Although the 21-time national event winner didn’t give up on the run, the tire spin she encountered out of the racing groove allowed McGaha to slip past her and take the win by .008-second.

“That was the best run we made all weekend with this car,” Enders said. “My driving was on and the guys gave me a great tune-up. We should’ve won that race. It really upsets me we lost a race because of something out of our control. There’s a huge bump out there. Just look at how many cars have gotten out of shape. It is a huge safety issue for our class.”

Enders left the starting line with a tremendous .021-second reaction time, which when compared with McGaha’s .033 launch was more than enough to give her the victory, but she slowed to a 6.644 at 207.91 mph after hitting the bump, which allowed McGaha to squeak by with his 6.624 at 208.33 mph.

“We know we’re not where we want to be with our tune-up, and that’s why we’re testing every chance we get and running the engine dyno non-stop,” Enders said. “And we also know if we had qualified better we would’ve had lane choice in that round. It still doesn’t make up for losing a race we should’ve won.

“I know I have the best team out here — we’ve proven that the last two years — and no one is complaining. I just want to give my guys something to smile about and that was a golden opportunity right there.

“I guess the best news out of this weekend is we’ve made a bunch more progress and also we only have a few days to wait until we race again so we can get this bad taste out of our mouths.”

The 28th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals runs May 20-22 at Heartland Park Topeka.

Today’s race will air from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET. on FOX Sports 1.

Two-time champ Erica Enders carries momentum into Atlanta race day

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ATLANTA, GA — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders heads into race day for the 36th annual NHRA Southern Nationals on Sunday at Atlanta Dragway fresh off her best run of the weekend.

Enders, the No. 10 qualifier, made a pass of 6.701 seconds at 206.16 mph in the final qualifying session, giving her and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team some momentum heading into final eliminations.

“It is nice that we made our best run in the last session of qualifying,” Enders said. “The conditions during that session are going to be very similar to what they are tomorrow.”

That Q4 pass was eighth-best for the session, and it was quicker than her E1 opponent, Chris McGaha. McGaha qualified No. 5 with a top pass of 6.648 seconds at 208.39 mph. Normally, the No. 10 qualifier races the No. 7 qualifier in the first, but only 14 cars were entered in Atlanta, so the eliminations ladder needed some alternations.

Still, Enders is fired up about racing Sunday, especially since it gives her a chance to avenge a first-round loss — on a holeshot — to McGaha at the previous NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in Houston.

“I’ll go into race day tomorrow with the mindset that I’ve always had in the past,” Enders said. “We’ll be confident in what we have. I have a first-round matchup that I’d really like to have go the opposite way than it went the last time. We’ll go up there, do our best, and see what happens.”

Enders, who won nine races in 2015, has struggled so far this season as her team continues to develop the new Dodge Dart with fuel-injected engines. No driver in NHRA had a better two-year run than Enders over the 2014-15 seasons, so she knows her Elite team will bounce back.

“We’re riding the struggle bus,” Enders said. “It’s challenging, it’s frustrating, and it’s disheartening because my guys work so incredibly hard. I know that we’re eventually going to be OK, and we’ve got to keep our eye on the prize and remember that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.”

FOX Sports 1 will air Saturday qualifying from 10 to 11 p.m. ET and Sunday’s elimination action from 4:40 to 7:30 p.m. ET.

Champ Erica Enders lauds Elite Motorsports Dodge crew as Atlanta race nears

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ATLANTA, GA — Reigning back-to-back world champion Erica Enders beams with pride whenever she talks about her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Pro Stock race team, and with the 36th annual NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway just days away, the 21-time national event winner says her next trophy celebration is coming soon.

“I am feeling really good about things,” Enders said. “We had some great days testing in Denton (Texas) and Tulsa (Okla.) and the cars are getting better and better. The engines look good on the dyno. All the things we want to see are happening and that has me very excited.

“We got used to winning a lot the last two years, and it’s easy to get frustrated when you go six races into a season without a win, but when I take a minute and think about this race team, I know I’m the luckiest girl on the planet. We didn’t win 15 races and two titles in the last two years by mistake.”

Enders’ best result to date was her semifinal finish in Las Vegas. She also reached the second round of the four-wide event in Charlotte. At the last race in Houston, she had her second-best qualifying result of the year.

“Rick and Rickie (Jones, co-crew chiefs), our team owner Richard Freeman, Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston (engine builders), Royce Lee (Freeman, crewman), and the rest of the guys — there’s no better group in the sport,” Enders said. “They always have my back and I have theirs, in good times and bad.

“Switching manufacturers is a huge deal and we didn’t get started until late in the off-season. We’re catching up fast and we’re going to be right back in the mix real soon. You can really look at it negatively or positively; I choose the positive route because I know first-hand what this group can do. I’ve lived it.”

While Enders hasn’t visited Atlanta Dragway’s Victory Lane, she has had her moments in the sun at the historic track. In 2014, en route to her first world title, she was the top qualifier at the event.

“Atlanta Dragway, although it looks very different than my home track in Houston, can be a lot like Houston this time of the year because of the heat and humidity of the early summer months,” Enders said. “We sweat it out in Houston last weekend and we’ll most likely be sweating it out there, but I’m used to it because I grew up in southeast Texas.

“More than anything, I want to reward the guys for all of their tireless work. They’ve been amazing this year and I love ’em for it.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air Friday qualifying from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturday qualifying from 10 to 11 p.m., and Sunday’s elimination action from 4:40 to 7:30 p.m.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders featured in Sports Illustrated Kids

Erica Enders - Sports Illustrated Kids

WYNNEWOOD, OK — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders is featured in the current issue of the national magazine Sports Illustrated Kids with a four-page spread as well as an online story and video feature on SIKids.com.

Writer Christina M. Tapper, photographer David E. Klutho, and videographer Jake Huber spent two days with Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team at the recent NHRA race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix.

“They did a really nice job of covering our sport and telling our story,” Enders said. “It’s always great to see our sport reach new fans and a new fan base, especially a younger fan base like Sports Illustrated Kids has. The entire package was well put together, and I enjoyed my time with them.”

The piece, titled “In the Fast Lane With Erica Enders,” features behind-the-scenes photographs of Enders and her interaction with her crewmembers and fans, as well as a story about Enders’ successful Pro Stock career.

The magazine, with a circulation of 950,000, is on newsstands now. An online version and video feature can be found at http://www.sikids.com/enders.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders can’t bring home another Houston win

Erica Enders | NHRA Houston 2016

HOUSTON, TX — The 29th annual NHRA SpringNationals this weekend at Royal Purple Raceway didn’t go exactly as Erica Enders had hoped, and it certainly didn’t go as well as the 2014 and 2015 races for the two-time Pro Stock champion.

Enders, who won her home race here the last two years, fell in the first round in 2016 with her ShirleysKids.org/Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart.

“Winning only makes you want to win more, and when you don’t you’re clearly disappointed,” Enders said. “We’ve had a lot of fun here the last couple of years, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time around. That’s OK; it only makes all of us fight that much harder to get back to the winner’s circle.”

Enders was born and raised in Houston before moving to New Orleans several years ago to live with her husband, Richie Stevens. She remains a Texas girl at heart, and she still has family and friends in the Houston area.

Plus, Royal Purple Raceway is home to her first career race, in a Jr. Dragster at age 8, and to her first career national event victory, in Super Gas in 2004. Ten years later, she won here in Pro Stock and then repeated a season later.

“I’ve said it before, but I love coming to Texas,” Enders said. “I really loved it the last two years, and I still love it even though we lost today. We’ll be back.”

Enders’ pass of 6.659 seconds at 207.18 mph was quicker than Chris McGaha’s 6.668-second pass at 206.26 mph, but McGaha was a tick quicker with his reaction time, and he got to the finish first by about three feet.

“No excuses: I got beat on the Tree,” Enders said. “I pride myself on doing my job on the line and with my shifts, and I didn’t get it done today. I’ll be back.”

The NHRA Mello Yello tour takes a weekend off before returning to action May 13-15 with the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

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