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Shimmy, shimmy (tire) shake has Erica Enders dancing to an early exit from Topeka

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Topeka 2017

TOPEKA, KS — Two-time world champion Erica Enders was hoping for more from the 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, but her usually reliable Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro encountered some severe tire shake just off the launch pad in her opening-round race against teammate Vincent Nobile, resulting in a loss.

After qualifying 7-8 on the elimination ladder, Enders and Nobile knew they would likely have a very close race. As expected, the two experts reacted to the starting lights within one-thousandth of a second of one another. But soon after that, Enders car began to shake its giant rear slicks, reducing the 2014 and 2015 Pro Stock champion to a spectator as Nobile danced away for an easy win.

The final numbers had Nobile cruising to a 6.583 at 210.44 mph to Enders’ forfeiting 9.145 at 109.08 mph.

“We weren’t expecting it to do that,” Enders said. “The guys spent a lot of time overnight and this morning to get us ready to race. It’s disappointing when things don’t go the way you plan. At least Vincent was able to advance so we keep another Elite car in the mix along with Jeg (Coughlin Jr., teammate) on the other side of the ladder.

“This class goes in cycles. The tide is bound to turn in our favor very soon. We have great horsepower, the best people in the sport, lots of drive and determination, and excellent work ethic. We are so eager to get this car back to winning rounds and visiting the winner’s circle with regularity.”

Enders’ next chance at victory comes June 2-4 with the fifth annual NHRA New England Nationals in Epping. N.H.

“It’ll be nice to get back to the shop in Oklahoma and continue working on things to make us better,” Enders said. “We brought out a new motor this weekend and we need to spend a little more time with it to make it work properly with this Rick Jones chassis. The power it showed on the dyno got everyone excited and hopefully we’ll be able to show that off in Epping.”

Elite Motorsports champion Erica Enders to start mid-pack in quest for Topeka crown

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Topeka 2017

TOPEKA, KS — Missing one of four scheduled rounds of qualifying may not seem like a big deal, but for two-time world champion and past Topeka titlist Erica Enders, a lost round can be the difference between qualifying mid-pack or at the top of the elimination field of the 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties.

“We came here with a renewed feeling of confidence after running so well in Atlanta and getting to our first final of the year,” Enders said. “And we were super happy to be bringing a brand-new motor that showed to be our best ever on the dyno back at the shop. We just wanted as many hits as possible to get it dialed in for race day so losing one to rain feels like a bigger deal than normal.

“Either way, we’re ready to race and we are confident in our abilities. It just would have been nice to get another chance.”

In typical Topeka fashion, wild weather has ruled the race so far. Friday it was on-and-off rainstorms that eventually caused the cancelation of one of the two scheduled rounds.

“We went out there in the one session basically just making a test run,” Enders said. “When you see there are only 14 cars so you’re virtually assured that you’ll qualify, you have the luxury of making test passes during qualifying and we pretty much had to that first run to match the new motor to the basic tune-up we use.”

Fast forward to Saturday when cooler temperatures produced mineshaft conditions.

“Everyone was flying today and we stepped up quite a bit from the 6.668 we ran Friday with a 6.573 at 209.69 mph right out of the box,” Enders said. “That showed us we were much closer to what we wanted to do. We came back in the final session and basically repeated the earlier run with a 6.574 at 210.08 mph.

“Rick (Jones, crew chief) jumped on the radio and said he thought we should have been quicker but I said, ‘Hey, we have a consistent car,’ which is always good, so I’m really liking our chances for what we can do tomorrow.”

Unfortunately for Enders, she has to race teammate Vincent Nobile in the opening round, Enders’ 6.573 giving her lane choice over Nobile and his 6.581.

“No one is happy we have to race each other in the first round but that’s the way the ladder came out,” Enders said. “I guess the good news is someone from Elite will be going to the next round no matter what so that’s a positive. We all use every run to learn something so we win as a team and share the wealth. It should be a good day.”

Pro Stock eliminations start at noon, Sunday. Television coverage on FOX Sports 1 will begin with a live show starting at 1 p.m. (All times are local and subject to change).

Atlanta runner-up Erica Enders looking to go ‘One Step Beyond’ in Topeka

Erica Enders | 2017 NHRA Southern Nationals

TOPEKA, KS — Fresh off a season-best runner-up finish at the last NHRA tour stop in Atlanta, two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders is looking to go “One Step Beyond” at this weekend’s 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Park Topeka.

“We are going to do our best to carry the momentum we picked up in Atlanta and take it to Topeka,” Enders said. “We had a great day there in our Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. All we need to do is get one step beyond that in Topeka and we’ll be back in the winner’s circle. We’d love for that to happen at Heartland Park.”

One of Enders’ 21 national event victories came at Heartland Park in 2015, a recent enough memory to further boost the confidence of the popular driver, who had a Disney Channel movie — Right on Track — made about her and sister Courtney’s early days in drag racing.

“Since the beginning of my driving career, I’ve always taken pride in what I do behind the wheel,” Enders said. “Back in 2014 and 2015, when we won our two titles, we have tried to do everything we can to win every round we race. That includes what I do behind the wheel.

“In Houston and Charlotte, two weekends in a row, I gave away two races because of what I did, nothing else. It was very hard to go back to the pits and look at the guys who had worked so hard to give me a car that would have easily won those races. In reality, they were nothing but supportive. That’s one of the many reasons this team is so awesome.”

The strong showing in Atlanta lifted Enders to seventh in the Mello Yello points and also restored her confidence. Newly rejuvenated, she hopes to further close the gap on the top runners in Topeka, so she’s placing a premium on going rounds.

“Atlanta made me feel like I turned the page on what had happened the previous two races,” Enders said. “I felt like I put it behind me and taking two of those three round wins on holeshots gave me some measure of redemption.

“The next test comes this weekend. We are all excited to get there, and that includes my teammates Jeg Coughlin and Vincent Nobile. They’re running strong also and our goal of being 1-2-3 at every race is getting closer.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4:30 p.m., Saturday, with eliminations starting at 12 p.m., Sunday. Television coverage on FOX Sports 1 begins at 10 p.m., Friday, followed by a live qualifying show at 2 p.m., Saturday. Elimination action also will be shown live starting at 1 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change).

Elite Motorsports pro Erica Enders has first chance at NHRA trophy in 32 races

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Atlanta 2017

COMMERCE, GA — It may be too early to say Erica Enders is completely back to the championship form that carried her to back-to-back world titles in 2014 and 2015, but she certainly seems to be trending in the right direction. That seems to be the general sentiment after her impressive runner-up finish Sunday at the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, which was highlighted by a pair of Enders’ trademark holeshot wins.

“It should have been three holeshot wins today but yes, this race was definitely a confidence booster,” Enders said. “I wish we were holding the Wally right now but there are a lot races left this year and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg for us. The coolest part is everyone knows we’re back and we’re back to being a force to be reckoned with again.”

Enders scored her first big holeshot victory in the quarterfinals when she dusted three-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Jason Line at the starting line with a humongous .048 seconds headstart. That early advantage translated to an easy 6.578-second, 210.77-mph win in front of Line’s quicker-but-losing 6.563 at 210.93 mph.

It was more of the same in the semifinals against rookie Tanner Gray with Enders leaving the line with a near-perfect .002-second light to Gray’s decent .020-second reaction time. Just as it was against Line, Enders slower lap of 6.611 at 210.77 mph was enough to earn a holeshot win over Gray and his 6.600 at 210.83 mph.

The second most prolific female winner in NHRA history tried to pull off the trifecta in the finale, leaving .010 seconds ahead of Bo Butner, but on this day he simply had too much muscle under the hood, driving by Enders and taking the win by. 014 seconds, his 6.569 at 211.26 mph in front of her 6.593 at 210.97 mph.

“I’m proud of my team and the performance we’ve found lately,” Enders said. “Jake Harrison and Nick Ferri, who build our motors, along with all of the guys back at Elite Performance, have been working around the clock and the scoreboards are finally indicating the hard work that goes on to make us look good. I’m proud of them.

“I’m really glad I did my job, especially after red-lighting in Houston and getting timed out in Charlotte — two moments I would like to forget. I’m a better driver than what I’ve shown the last two weeks. Getting a little bit of redemption here, even if it was just for myself, is what I needed.”

Enders racked up 15 of her 21 career victories during her championship run but remarkably this was her first chance at a “Wally” trophy since the fall race in Las Vegas at the end of 2015, a span of 32 national events.

“We nearly didn’t get a chance at the trophy,” Enders said. “I went to fire up this morning and just hitting the starter button I could tell something was wrong. We ended up having to pull that engine out and replace it and we hurried up for first round. Thankfully Alan Prusiensky went red against me because we hurt that motor as well and I barely limped it to the finish line.

“We had to make another engine swap for Round 2, which was a huge round against Jason Line, and we were able to get the win there. And then go on to beat one of our rivals Tanner Gray in the semifinals, that was definitely an exciting couple of rounds for everyone here at Elite Motorsports and Transportation Impact. I’m proud, I’m excited and I cannot wait for Topeka.

“Lastly, happy birthday to Sheila Holt from my oldest sponsor, Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants back in Texas. Also, get better soon!”

Enders and her Elite Motorsports crew will enjoy a week off for Mother’s Day before resuming action May 19-21 with the 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Park Topeka.

Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders wants Atlanta trophy for her collection

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017 Atlanta

COMMERCE, GA — Two-time world champion Erica Enders’ 21 national event trophies places her second on the all-time list of female professional drag racers, but the Houston, Texas, native has yet to score one at Atlanta Dragway, something she’d love to change Sunday at the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals.

“Atlanta is one on the to-do list for sure,” Enders said. “We’ll get there. Our performances across the board have been trending up all year and if we’d been able to make four runs here instead of two we’d have shown a little better. No matter what, we’re in the top half of the field and we’re ready to battle.

“We’ve had a lot of different winners in the class this year and that shows the parity we deal with every week. Anyone that qualifies is capable of winning and if you’re not 100-percent on your game, you can get beat in a hurry. After getting timed out last week in Charlotte, I will definitely plan to get some redemption tomorrow.”

Qualifying for the Pro Stock class was shortened to Saturday’s two runs, with Friday’s rainstorms wiping out the first two sessions on the schedule. Even so, Enders was a picture of consistency, opening with a 6.614 at 209.10 mph before dipping to a 6.603 at 210.21 mph in her powerful Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.

The run was good enough for sixth place on the race day grid and sets up a first-round race with Alan Prusiensky, who topped out at 6.647 at 207.98 mph in qualifying 11th overall.

“We have a good car, although one that we changed quite a lot on between last weekend and now,” Enders said. “Like I said, we really wanted all four qualifying runs to make sure the changes we made are showing up in the data. So far so good with the two runs we did get to make, but having two more runs would have given us a chance to move even higher on the qualifying ladder.

“Last week me and Jeg (Coughlin Jr., teammate) qualified 1-2 on the ladder, which really got everyone’s attention. When we lost Friday, we played it a little safer today to make absolutely sure we got down the track both runs. I think everyone was cautious. Throw that out the window for tomorrow, though, we want to win.”

Pro Stock with eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. Television coverage on FOX Sports airs at 6 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in EDT).

Victory in Atlanta would be special for two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders

Erica Enders - NHRA Pro Stock 2017

COMMERCE, GA — Erica Enders has two NHRA titles, 21 individual race victories, 14 runner-ups and 18 top qualifying efforts to her credit. One of the big things missing is a win at Atlanta Dragway, the home track for longtime series sponsor Coca-Cola. It’s something Enders hopes to remedy at this weekend’s 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals.

“The Coca-Cola Company has been a huge part of drag racing for 16 years now,” Enders said. “They’ve been around as long as I’ve been racing as a professional. To me they are professional drag racing. I’ve been so lucky to have had the success I’ve had so far during the Coca-Cola era, but I still haven’t won Atlanta and I really want to get that done.

“Coca-Cola has a big party for past champions before the race, which is so cool. Then a lot of the top-level executives we meet that night come to the track over the weekend with their families. I really want to win one so they can all come down to the winner’s circle and celebrate with us.”

The “big party” Enders is referencing is the annual Night of Champions at Coca-Cola World Headquarters in Atlanta. Every champion from the four professional classes — Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle — that earned their world titles in the last 16 years are invited to the exclusive affair.

“This particular race weekend definitely starts out special,” Enders said. “That night is a really big treat for all of us and I’ll get to go with my team owner, Richard Freeman, and my teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. so I’ll be feeling special. It’s a night to celebrate with so many past champions. It’s a huge honor to be a part of that. There’s a lot of racers and teams that have done this for 30, 40, 50 years that don’t have this opportunity so I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Enders will have more than good vibes from a special night to rely on when racing starts Friday. She qualified No. 2 last weekend in Charlotte, just a fraction behind Coughlin. It’s the first time the two have qualified 1-2 since Coughlin joined Elite Motorsports a year and a half ago.

“I think there will be no lack of motivation for either of us, especially after the weekend we had in Charlotte,” Enders said. “We had the two best cars on the property but neither one of us put together a race day performance like we were expecting so we’re focused on looking onward and upward. We’ll get our act together a little better this weekend and try to win Atlanta.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:15 p.m. and 7:10 p.m., Friday, and 1:15 and 3:45 p.m., Saturday, with eliminations starting at 12 p.m., Sunday. Television coverage on FOX Sports 1 begins with qualifying show at 8 p.m., Friday, followed by elimination action at 6 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in EDT).

Erica Enders gets timed out in first round of NHRA Four-Wide Nationals

Erica Enders | 2017 NHRA 4 Wide | Pro Stock

CONCORD, N.C. — Erica Enders never got a chance to flex the horsepower of her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Sunday at zMax Dragway because she was timed-out at the starting line after taking too long to stage. It’s one of the hazards of the annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals and every year someone seems to get bit.

“For Jeg and I to qualify 1-2 on the ladder, run the kind of numbers we have run here, I would have bet the house that we’d be fighting for the trophy at the end of the day. At the very least we should have won our opening-round races.

“It just goes to show that even the best in the world have off days and today, Jeg and I did not rise to the occasion. He’s a six-time world champ and I’ve won two championships. Both of us are known for being sharp at the Tree. We just didn’t show it today.”

Coughlin also lost in the opening round due to some further confusion at the starting line caused by the driver in the adjacent lane rolling all the way through both staging beams.

“I just want to focus on the performance gains we had this week,” Enders said. “Unfortunately for Elite Motorsports, Transportation Impact, Mark Stockseth and JEGS.com, we didn’t get to impress them today.

“It’s one of those deals, you know, we win as a team and we lose as a team and days like today are ones that hurt. What was cool was when we got back to the pits our guys never question us. We all know there’s nothing we can do about it now, other than move on to Atlanta.”

Up next, Enders and team head to Atlanta Dragway for next weekend’s 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.

Qualifying a season-best second on the grid excites Pro Stock champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017 | Charlotte 4-Wide

CONCORD, N.C. — After qualifying her Lupe Tortilla-backed Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro a season-best No. 2 on the elimination ladder of the eighth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, two-time world champ Erica Enders admitted it’s going to be hard to wipe the smile off her face.

“We definitely took another big step in the right direction this weekend,” Enders said. “I know this entire Elite Motorsports team is very excited to be back on top of the sheets. Granted, it’s just qualifying, but to be 1-2 with my teammate Jeg Coughlin for the first time since we’ve been racing together again is very cool.”

Enders used Friday night’s 6.583-second pass at 210.08 mph to secure the second slot on the grid, just behind Coughlin’s 6.578 at 210.24 mph. Like most in the class, Enders and Coughlin made their best runs during that lone evening session when the track temperatures were more agreeable for maximum traction.

Even so, running well in Saturday’s heat was important because Enders knows track conditions will be pretty similar when sudden-death eliminations start around 12:40 p.m. EDT, Sunday, at zMax Dragway.

“Today was hot and sticky so we worked on a race day set up,” Enders said. “We are just looking for a consistence race car for Sunday and hopefully we can drive our way to the winner’s circle.

“It’s nice to see the scoreboards show the hard work going on behind the scenes. My guys spend a lot of time away from their families for this team and it’s finally coming around. I’m excited for all of us. Vincent Nobile and Alex Laughlin, our other two teammates, are running better also and we are continue to work towards getting a better handle on their cars as well.”

Under the four-wide format, No. 2 qualifier Enders will race in a foursome of drivers that includes teammate and No. 10 qualifier Laughlin (6.617 at 208.68 mph), No. 15 qualifier Shane Tucker (6.758 at 204.14 mph) and No. 7 qualifier Tanner Gray (6.595 at 209.49 mph).

In each quad of drivers, the top two cars advance to the next round. In the final quad of the day, the first one to the finish line wins the race.

Television coverage of the eighth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals begin at 5:30 p.m. EDT, Sunday, on FOX Sports 1.

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