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Erica Enders fires plenty of warning shots during season-opening Winternationals

Erica Enders | NHRA Pomona 2017 | Elite Motorsports

POMONA, CA — Back in the comfy confines of her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, two-time world champion Erica Enders didn’t walk away with the trophy of this weekend’s 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals, but she certainly reminded everyone of why she dominated the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

A year with a different manufacturer made the category’s most prolific female racer an afterthought to many, but as soon as she got back in her Chevy, she quickly re-established herself as a top contender.

“Not a bad first Sunday, especially after the year we had last year,” Enders said. “I’m extremely proud of my guys this weekend, as I always am. We are still a little bit behind the top cars but they can bet their butts we’re going to catch up and if anything they definitely know we’re here again.

“I’m extremely pleased with our outing and Phoenix will be even better.”

With a stunning race-day average reaction time of .011 seconds, Enders powered past Matt Hartford and teammate Vincent Nobile before squaring off with four-time champ Greg Anderson in the semifinals. There, despite yet another stellar reaction time which gave her a .02-second headstart, she was beaten by Anderson by half a car length, 6.574 at 211.10 mpg to her 6.599 at 210.18 mph.

” It feels good that my left leg still works,” Enders said, referring to her clutch foot. “I should have been there a little better against Greg. I was actually set up to be a little bit better than a .020 but there are a lot of variables that go into a reaction time and things were just a little bit different up there.

“I’m pleased with the weekend. I’m pleased with my driving. I’m ready to keep knocking the rust off. It’s always hard when you’re out of the car for three months. If you’re a pro golfer, you don’t go three months without picking up a club, but that’s what we all deal with every year. We’ll get back in the groove. I’m just excited to be going rounds again on Sunday.”

The second stop of the year, the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, take place Feb. 24-26 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.

“All three of the Elite Motorsports Elite Performance powered cars are running really well and I think you can expect to see a lot out of all three of us,” Enders said. “It’s going to be a long year, it’s going to be a great year. I chose to believe that we’ll be on top at the end.”

History abounds, awaits world champion Erica Enders in Pomona

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Qualifying | Pomona 2017

POMONA, CA — The first Junior Dragster Erica Enders ever drove to the winner’s circle is housed just across the compound from Auto Club Raceway in Wally Parks’ Drag Racing Museum. She also started her Sportsman career here and collected one of her record 21 Pro Stock race trophies at Pomona. Additionally, she clinched the first of her two world titles at this track in 2014.

Now the spunky Texan is back, hoping to add a few more memories to her So-Cal resume when this weekend’s season-opening 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals turn to Sunday’s eliminations.

“This place means a lot to me,” Enders admitted. “It has a lot of history for our sport in general and for me personally, from racing Junior Dragsters here to getting my Super Comp license and starting my big car career in the Lucas Oil series. Plus, I was able to wrap up my first Pro Stock championship here.

“There’s just a lot of fun memories here already and then to have my first Junior Dragster over in the museum is just surreal because I still feel like I’m just a normal kid. It’s really through a lot of hard work and the support of my family that we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of cool stuff, including at this track. It’s one of the things that makes you want to pinch yourself.”

After racing to back-to-back titles and 15 race wins in 2014-2015, Enders came up empty last season racing for a different manufacturer. But her Elite Motorsports team has returned to its reliable Chevrolet Camaros and the results in testing, where she was quickest overall, and here in Pomona show they made the right decision.

“We are really proud of how we performed in testing and the first couple of days of qualifying,” she said. “Jeg (Coughlin, teammate) and I are both really proud to be back in Chevrolets, back in competitive race cars where we have a shot to win every Sunday.

“I’m proud of all of the hard work my team put into making all of this possible. It wasn’t easy to switch over everything, to build a new car for Jeg and get my 2014 car ready for me but they never quit, they never stopped trucking, so my hat’s off to them for how incredibly hard they worked to make this possible for both me and Jeg.”

Enders has qualified sixth with a best pass of 6.553 at 210.90 mph in her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. Up first in eliminations is a first-round showdown with Matt Hartford, who qualified 11th with a best of 6.596 at 210.44 mph.

“Jeg and I can’t meet until the semis if we both win early in the day so that’s the first goal,” Enders said. “We’ll wake up tomorrow fresh and ready to roll. I know exactly what this team is capable of and what we can accomplish under pressure. It reminds me of 2014 and 2015 when we had the capability to win anytime we stepped foot on the property.

“Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve been through in the past 12 months and how strong it’s made us.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at noon PT, Sunday, with three hours of live coverage running from 4-7 p.m. ET, on FOX.

Transportation Impact signs expanded sponsorship of Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr.

WYNNEWOOD, OK — Praising the successes of their first year together, Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman and Transportation Impact Co-Founder Keith Byrd made a bullish announcement of an expanded sponsorship package for multi-time champion drivers Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr.

“This may be the best sponsorship deal in motorsports,” Freeman said. “You always want the fans and your fellow racers to support the sponsors that fund our sport, and in the case of Transportation Impact, it literally doesn’t cost you a penny to do just that. In fact, I can flat-out guarantee you’ll save money by enlisting their services.”

The privately-held logistics company specializes in helping companies drastically reduce their shipping costs. Transportation Impact, an Inc. 5000 company based in North Carolina, has earned a reputation as one of the top small package and freight negotiation and auditing firms in the shipping industry. They also are a leading provider of real-time transportation management system solutions; one of the only companies to offer a TMS with API connectivity.

“Our partnership with Elite has been great for our organization,” Byrd said. “We have been welcomed by Richard, Erica, Jeg and team, and have also been embraced by the other sponsors in the sport. We’ve had a chance to get to know some really great people, which has spawned some great business deals, but more importantly great friendships.”

The partnership between the two organizations stretches beyond the track and into the boardroom. Elite is a TI client, making for a relationship that both sides agree is mutually beneficial.

“We ship quite a lot, both with my regular business and with the race team, and we just figured out Transportation Impact saved us 43 percent on shipping costs last year,” Freeman said. “That’s money in our pocket right there. Everyone at the track that asked for their help will tell you a similar story. It’s pretty incredible what they do.

“And like I said, we only have to pay them a portion of what we save in the deal, which means we aren’t paying anything out of pocket.”

Byrd echoed Freeman’s thoughts: “One of our primary goals with this partnership is to deliver significant savings to as many teams, sponsors and suppliers as possible,” he said. “We appreciate the fact Elite has not only trusted us as a sponsor, but also with their business. When a company does that, then aligns you with other companies that you can help, too, then it makes you want to get behind them and support their team even more, so that’s what we’re here to do.”

Two-time world champion Erica Enders readies for season of redemption

Erica Enders | 2017 NHRA Pro Stock Chevrolet

POMONA, CA — For two glorious seasons from 2014-2015, Erica Enders was on top of the drag racing world, winning back-to-back titles in arguably the toughest category in all motorsports, NHRA Pro Stock. An impressive 15 victories during the stretch was punctuated by her incredible driving prowess. She was, quite simply, peerless.

Last season the proud Texan returned to earth after a switch to another manufacturer, going winless en route to a sagging ninth-place finish overall.

Now, with a new season set to begin with this weekend’s 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Enders is back in the same Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro that carried her to glory in the past with firm designs on returning to her winning ways.

“We are so anxious to get back on track, to be at the races with a car and combination we know can put us in the winner’s circle,” Enders said. “It’s really all you ever want as a driver and as a race team; the chance to win. We have that again and we’re super excited to get started.”

To Enders, last season was a true blessing in disguise, as she found out the true mettle of her group, headed by team owner Richard Freeman.

“It was a challenging year but what we went through made us stronger,” Enders said. “What we went through would have torn a lot of teams apart but it didn’t hurt us at all. Yeah, we were upset we weren’t performing well but we still joked around, still had fun, and we smiled through it all.

“It was a character-building year, and it showed me there is zero ego on this team. It’s easy to be all happy when you’re winning but the true measure of people comes when times are tough. We’re tough.

“This year is gonna be great because I already know what we’re capable of and so does everyone else. At the same time, I learned we don’t need win lights and trophies to be fulfilled. Being a family, having each other’s backs no matter what, being together through it all, that’s what matters.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. PT, Friday and Saturday, with eliminations starting at noon PT, Sunday.

Live coverage of the 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals begins with a qualifying show from 1-2 p.m. ET, Saturday, on FOX Sports 1, followed by three hours of eliminations from 4-7 p.m. ET, Sunday, on FOX.

Drag racing champions Jeg Coughlin Jr., Erica Enders return to Chevrolet

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman announced Thursday at the PRI Show that multi-time world champion drag racers Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Erica Enders will fight for the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock crown in a pair of RJ Racecars-built Chevrolet Camaros.

The move back to Chevrolet was widely anticipated as Freeman and Enders used the bowtie brand to capture the 2014 and 2015 titles for Elite Motorsports. Coughlin drove a Chevrolet to four of his five Pro Stock championships and also piloted a Chevy when he won the 1992 Super Gas world title.

“It comes down to what works best for us,” Freeman said. “My brothers and I have just about always been GM guys. Our engines builders, Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston, have had their best success with GM motors. Our crew chiefs Rick Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Brian Self are very comfortable with Chevrolets. It’s a natural fit for us.

“We want to get back to winning races and contending for championships and we feel Chevrolet gives us the best chance to do that at this point in time. We all know Pro Stock races come down to thousandths of seconds and as tough as the competition is out there you can’t give an inch.”

Under Freeman’s guidance, Jones and his son Rickie Jones, who left the team this offseason to start a family, tuned Enders to six victories in 2014 and nine more in 2015, all with Chevy power propelling them down the track. Coughlin, a winner of a massive 76 national events, won 72 of his trophies with GM power.

“The Camaro is a great car and one I’m very comfortable with as a driver,” Coughlin said. “Rick and Rickie build awesome race cars and getting the latest and greatest one out of their shop makes me feel like a kid at Christmas. I can’t wait to see this yellow and black JEGS.com/Elite Camaro on the racetrack.

“I know we’re all anxious to get back out there and prove ourselves. Drag racers are most certainly graded by their last event and we want to get back to the top of the class once again where we feel
like we belong. There’s a mountain of experience at Elite Motorsports and I know we’re in for a big year ahead.”

It’s very possible Coughlin’s biggest rivals on the racetrack will be Elite Motorsports teammates Enders and Vincent Nobile, who returns to the team with his Mountain View Chevrolet.

“The dream scenario is one of us is in the winner’s circle at every race,” said Enders, the most prolific female in Pro Stock and one of only three women in the 65-year history of the NHRA to win a pro title. “The KB Racing team dominated the field with their three cars this last season and we did a pretty good job ourselves in ’14 and ’15 so we know it can be done.

“As Jeg said, our guys are really hungry to win again. I believe the move back to Chevrolet is by far the best one we could have made and we plan to show everyone that beginning in February in Pomona.”

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

ee-jones

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

elite-mopar

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.”

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