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Erica Enders exits in first round of St. Louis national event

Erica Enders | NHRA Midwest Nationals 2016

ST. LOUIS, MO — Erica Enders raced to the Pro Stock final at Gateway Motorsports Park as part of her run to the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship.

There likely will be no such similar run this season after Enders was knocked out in the first round of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. In her first season running the Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge, Enders has struggled to maintain her stellar performance from 2014-15, when she swept to back-to-back titles.

“We are absolutely doing the best that we can with what we have,” Enders said. “It’s unfortunate that we are this far behind, but it’s just part of it. Our goal at this point is to finish the season with class and put a game plan together moving forward. We will get all of our ducks in a row and continue to work hard and things will swing back our way.”

Enders ripped off a .011-second reaction time in her first-round match with Jason Line, but the Pro Stock points leader was good, too, with a .009 light. Line then powered to the win light with a pass of 6.609 seconds at 209.43 mph while Enders made a run of 6.699 seconds at 206.35 mph.

Enders is 10th in the Pro Stock points standings, two races into the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Enders did enjoy the support of her fans in St. Louis, where she won in 2012 and 2013. As her team broke down their pit area at Gateway, Enders signed numerous autographs and spent time with fans, including a young Jr. Dragster driver who gave Enders her hero card.

“The fans are always great,” Enders said. “They continue to stand behind us through the adversity that we are facing and offer up words of encouragement, which is definitely good to hear from time to time.

“We’ll get back to where we belong. It’s just not in the cards for this season.”

Pro Stock champion Erica Enders rebounds to qualify No. 11 in St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS, MO — There’s no quit in Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team.

Despite missing the race in Charlotte last week, the two-time Pro Stock champions battled back to qualify No. 11 for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals on Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“They are amazing,” Enders said. “They work really hard. It’s frustrating and disheartening to see how hard they work and not have it translate to the scoreboard. At this point, this year is a letdown and we will just focus on getting our ducks in a row for 2017.

“It’s unfortunate to follow up back-to-back championships with the performance we have had this year, but you know, it goes in cycles and that’s part of it. This sport will humble you in a heartbeat, and I’ve learned that the hard way many times, but having said all of that, I’ve been through a lot worse than this, so we’ll be fine.”

Enders’ best lap this weekend was 6.663 seconds at 207.08 mph, and she made four decent
passes in qualifying here after a myriad of issues forced a DNQ in Charlotte last weekend.

“The struggle continues with our Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart, but all we can do is continue to pick away at it and work on it,” Enders said. “Hopefully we’ll turn a corner at some point, but until that happens, the results are the results.”

Enders will face No. 6 qualifier Jason Line in the first round Sunday. Line’s best run of the weekend was 6.611 seconds at 209.43 mph.

Enders is a two-time St. Louis winner who enjoys spending time with the Gateway fans.

“I always enjoy racing in St. Louis,” Enders said. “I have a lot of great memories here from the time I was racing Super Comp and Super Gas, so it’s definitely fun to come back here.”

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

‘No quit in this pit’ is battle cry for defending two-time world champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock | Mopar

ST. LOUIS, MO — A season ago, Pro Stock superstar Erica Enders was putting a stranglehold on her second straight Mello Yello world championship with a runner-up finish at the annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, which takes place again this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park. It was her fourth consecutive final-round showing and ninth of 11 she would amass during the year.

This year it’s a different story. Enders once again is part of the Countdown to the Championship, but this time she’s 10th in the 10-car field and coming off her first DNQ in six years.

“Same engine builders, same crew, same owner, just different results,” Enders said. “It’s been frustrating but at the same time we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as a group. The last few years we always said, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work,’ and it was so appropriate for the way things were going at the time.

“This year, as it’s gone along and we haven’t found the success we were expecting, our little saying has turned into, ‘No quit in this pit,’ and once again it’s absolutely true. You find out what people are really made of when things aren’t perfect. When you’re winning, it’s easy to jump on board. This year, character has been revealed, and this team of guys has more than any group I’ve ever come across.”

A switch to a new manufacturer has hampered Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar race team to a certain extent, and when you add in the biggest rule changes since the class’ inception more than three decades ago — most notably switching to electronic fuel injection — the group has struggled to find a new groove.

“Just like there’s no quit in this pit, there are no excuses either,” Enders said. “Other teams have figured out the fuel injection better than we have, so it can be done. We’ll get there ourselves; it’s just taking longer than we thought.

“Most of the guys on the team, aside from really important family stuff, haven’t taken a day off this whole year. No one is happy with our performance but no one has complained or quit the team to go somewhere else. I think I’m more proud of these guys this year than I have been the two years we won the championships. That’s saying a lot.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:15 p.m., Friday, and 1:45 and 4:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast qualifying action from 6-7 p.m., Friday. Eliminations will air live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in CT).

Back-to-back world champ Erica Enders fails to qualify for first playoff race

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CHARLOTTE, NC — Reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders began her march to a second straight world title last year with a convincing victory at the NHRA Carolina Nationals. This year, she hit a season low, failing to qualify for the first time since the second Pomona (Calif.) race in 2010.

“That’s all the way back to when I drove for the late Jim Cunningham,” Enders said. “It’s no secret, this year has been a struggle for us. Someone just asked me how you bounce back from something like this and I said it’s with the best guys in the world, and that’s what I’ve got with (team owner) Richard Freeman and everyone at Elite Motorsports.

“You look at our crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, Mark Ingersoll, Brian Self, the engine guys Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston, and everyone else in this pit and you just see champions. You find out what you’re really made of during the tough times and we’ve had plenty this year, but there’s no quit in this pit and we’ll carry on from here.”

Enders and company swapped manufacturers this year in debuting her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart and have struggled with the newly mandated Pro Stock rules calling for electronic fuel injection, shorter wheelie bars, and rpm limitations.

“It’s just growing pains,” Enders said. “We’ll get this thing figured out and we’ll be back on top.

“I’m proud of the sponsors that have stuck with us. We’ve got Mopar, Melling, Mark Stockseth, United Mechanical, Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants, CFE, and everyone from Transportation Impact, many of which made the drive up from Emerald Island (N.C.) for this race. I feel bad for them because we didn’t do better, but now we’ll be able to spend more time with all the employees while we root for our teammates.

“Adversity only makes you stronger. We’ll be alright.”

Enders won’t have long to wait for redemption as the fourth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals takes place Sept. 23-25 at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis.

Defending event champion Erica Enders returns to Charlotte in a vastly different role

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CHARLOTTE, NC — One year ago, Pro Stock racer Erica Enders arrived at the first race of NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs as the No. 1 seed, having won six regular-season national events, including the previous two stops in Brainerd, Minn., and Indianapolis.

This year, as Enders brings her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart back to zMax Dragway for the ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, things are much different. Her dominating run to back-to-back championships hangs in the balance as she finds herself a distant ninth in the rankings with no victories on her 2016 scorecard.

“It’s been a challenging year, no doubt,” Enders said. “Very different from the last two years. Switching manufacturers and making this commitment with Mopar to put them on top, we kind of knew it would take a little time and it has. Then we had the biggest rule changes in class history. It all kind of added up.

“We started a little behind and it feels like we have been in catch-up mode all year. But we have made progress, and having another week at the shop to try more things should help us in Charlotte. There are reasons to be encouraged.”

Ever the optimist, Enders has found a way to put a positive spin on her lackluster regular season as her Elite Motorsports team has struggled to get the newly mandated fuel-injection systems to match their powerful Hemi motors.

“The word that keeps popping into my head is loyalty,” Enders said. “When we were crushing everyone, there was a line out the door of people wanting to talk to us. This year, we’ve found out who our real friends are, and it’s made me so grateful to the companies and individuals that are there for us through thick and thin.

“Mopar has been awesome. They want this as much as we do. Transportation Impact has been great, and they have more than 100 employees coming up from Emerald Island, N.C., this weekend to cheer us on. Mark Stockseth is a rock. Stan and Sheila Holt of Lupe Tortilla have been with me since I raced Jr. Dragsters; I love them. Kim and Steve Bruno with United Mechanical, everyone at Melling, Carl Foltz and his group at CFE, these are the people who are true supporters, and we love them all.

“Motivation for me is never a problem, but putting this select group back on top, that’s what drives us all. And like I say every weekend, I wouldn’t trade my guys for anyone. There’s no quit in this pit. I really am a lucky girl.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:15 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast qualifying action from 6 to 7 p.m., Friday, and 11 a.m. to noon, Sunday. Eliminations will air live from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in ET).

Erica Enders clinches playoffs spot, will battle for another Pro Stock championship

Erica Enders | Indy 2016 US Nationals

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team secured their chance to race for a third consecutive championship during the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Enders, who won the 2014 and 2015 NHRA Pro Stock titles, wrapped up a spot in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs when teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. lost in the first round. Coughlin got some good news in the second round when Alex Laughlin lost, landing Coughlin in the Countdown as well.

“This is pretty amazing,” said Enders. “We’ve had our fair share of challenges, but now to have both of our Elite Performance/Mopar Dodge Darts in the Countdown to the Championship is huge. I hate it for Alex because he’s one of the nicest guys out here, but I’m excited for Team Mopar. The championship is a tall order, but we’re prepared to dig deep.”

Enders, Coughlin, and Laughlin battled for the final two spots in the top 10 of the Pro Stock points standings, as only the top 10 are eligible for the championship when the Countdown begins in two weeks in Charlotte.

Enders had rallied from 11th in points after the race in Sonoma to ninth two races later. She won on holeshots in the first round in the last two races to help her cause, beating Laughlin in E1 in Seattle and Shane Gray in E1 in Brainerd, Minn.

Enders, the defending U.S. Nationals champion, displayed her driving skill again in the first round at Indy on Monday. Against the higher-qualified Gray, Enders left first with .014-second reaction time, but her pass of 6.680 seconds at 207.02 mph wasn’t enough to hold off Gray. He had a .029 light and then made a pass of 6.644 seconds at 208.14 mph to reach the second round.

“It’s no secret we’ve had some struggles this year, but I believe in my team,” Enders said. “They’ve proven time and again that when the pressure is on, they rise up and perform. I have no doubt that we’ll be able to do that again come Charlotte and beyond.”

The points will be reset heading into the Countdown, with Enders starting in ninth place, 100 points behind the leader.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders excited to defend her U.S. Nationals title

Erica Enders | Indy US Nationals 2016 | Pro Stock

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — A big part of two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders’ success is the ability to see the positive in everything and then make the most of that optimism.

Enders qualified her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge in the No. 14 qualifying spot for Monday eliminations at the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. That may be disheartening to some, but Enders is the defending U.S. Nationals champion and knows race day is a new day.

“This is our worst qualifying position in a long time but I’m OK with that,” Enders said. “I’m excited about tomorrow. I need to go to work because Shane (Gray’s) got a fast car, but I have the best guys in the whole world and I can drive. We’ll do our best.

“We’ve got to go to battle tomorrow, (teammate) Jeg (Coughlin Jr.) and I, to keep our positions. It’s definitely going to be interesting for sure because Alex (Laughlin) has the fastest race car he’s had all year.”

Enders, Coughlin, and Laughlin are battling for 10th place in the Pro Stock points standings. The top 10 will race in the Countdown to the Championship, which begins after the U.S. Nationals. Enders is in ninth, 13 points ahead of Coughlin and 45 ahead of Laughlin.

Elimination rounds are worth 30 points at the U.S. Nationals, instead of the usual 20, so a good day here will be crucial to making the points standings, but Enders has more than points on her mind.

“There are seven race days left, and it’s crazy to think that after the last two years, we’ve gone 17 events without a win,” Enders said. “But tomorrow’s a new day. It’s going to be hot with a tricky racetrack, and that’s where we have strived in the past.

“This year is completely different — different car, different motor, different everything — but one thing remains the same, and that’s my team and their determination and ability to perform under pressure.”

Enders raced two Dodge vehicles at the U.S. Nationals, taking a Challenger to the third round of Stock Eliminator.

“It was a fun opportunity to drive the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak in Stock Eliminator at the U.S. Nationals,” Enders said. “Every run it got progressively better. I’m excited about it. I think I found my comfort level in the car, and I was able to have some good reaction times in eliminations. That last run, a couple of my Pro Stock tuners came over and helped, and that really changed the attitude of the car. It left better and didn’t blow the tires off.

“It was definitely fun and a team effort. I’m proud to drive for (car owner) Joe Welch and have gotten to know him and his wife better. It’s been a fun weekend so far, and now I’m looking forward to getting in my Mopar Performance Dodge Dart and racing for the Pro Stock trophy tomorrow.”

Eliminations begin at noon, Monday. FOX Sports 1 will air the early part of Monday’s eliminations live from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Live TV coverage will then shift to the main FOX Network with action from 1 to 4 p.m. (All times listed in ET).

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders fulfilled lifelong dream with 2015 U.S. Nationals title

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders was drained after the U.S. Nationals in 2015, and understandably so, because she put everything she had into the race. Having won it, fulfilling a lifelong dream, Enders was physically and mentally exhausted.

Enders, driver of the Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge, returns as defending champion of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, held this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

“That was probably, aside from the championship, the coolest racing accomplishment that I’ve ever had,” Enders said. “To try to accomplish something for 25 years and to finally get it done was one of those culmination moments.

“I think my crew chief, Rick Jones, put it in perspective. We have to be tough out here, especially being a girl, and it’s very crucial to show no emotion, but it was hard to be emotionless after that win. Rick summed it up best. He said that he had been trying to win that race for 40 years, so my 25 years looked pretty measly compared to that.”

Enders’ victory was one of many highlights of her 2015 season, one where she won nine races and repeated as Pro Stock champion. She beat V. Gaines, Larry Morgan, Greg Anderson, and Drew Skillman to win the U.S. Nationals for the first time.

That win came two years after Enders was the fastest racer on the property at Indy, but she slowed down in the final and lost.

“In 2013, I literally had one stolen from me, and I didn’t understand why at the time, but to be able to accomplish it with such a tremendous group of men (at Elite Motorsports), people that I love more than anything, that’s why God made us wait,” Enders said. “It was a huge accomplishment, and we are going to the U.S. Nationals this year with our heads held high because we are the defending champions, but it is also a very crucial race because it’s the final race before the Countdown is set.”

The 10-driver field for the Countdown to the Championship, which determines the 2016 champion, is set after Indianapolis. Enders moved into ninth place in Brainerd, Minn., but she has yet to clinch a spot.

Last year, Enders led the points standings heading into Indy and wrapped up the No. 1 spot heading into the Countdown with her semifinal win over Anderson.

“Things are a little different than they were last year,” Enders said. “I had to win the semifinals over Greg Anderson last year at Indy to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 position, and now we’re fighting for a top-10 position, which is kind of ironic. We will do our best and see what happens.

“It’s a fun race, it’s a long race. It’s definitely a marathon race. We have five qualifying passes and race day on Monday, so I am looking forward to it. Indy is something that every racer wants to accomplish, so we will see if we can do it again.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 7:15 p.m., Friday; 2:45 and 6:45 p.m., Saturday; and 11:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Sunday. Eliminations start at noon, Monday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., Sunday. Eliminations will air live Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on FOX Sports 1 and from 1 to 4 p.m. on FOX. (All TV times listed in ET).

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