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Erica Enders completes 2017 season in quarterfinals of 53rd annual NHRA Finals

Erica Enders | NHRA Finals 2017

POMONA, CA — Two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders ended her one-win 2017 campaign with a quarterfinal run at the season-ending 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Showing off her trademark killer instincts in the seat of her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, Enders trailered her best friend in the sport, the retiring Allen Johnson, before bowing to outgoing champ Jason Line when her car got out of shape in the suspect right-hand lane.

“It’s disappointing because we had a racecar that could have won this race and I feel like we lost it because that lane was subpar,” Enders said. “I mean, we had three cars in the quarterfinals and all three got out of shape in that lane and ended up losing. Is that a coincidence?

“Either way, it’s been a decent year for us after a disastrous 2016. We did get a win up in New Hampshire, which felt wonderful, and we fought our way back to respectability, especially down the stretch after kind of losing our way in the middle of the season.”

Enders’ victory over Johnson was emotional for both racers, but they handled it like true pros. After a slight headstart, Enders was able to drive away for the win with a 6.554 at 209.82 mph, while Johnson’s car got a bit squirrely and he had to shut it down early, crossing in 6.979 at 153.25 mph.

“We were both crying down there,” Enders said. “I felt bad but at the same time it’s kind of cool that his last pass was against us. I love him and (wife Pam) so much. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met and we will certainly continue to vacation with the Johnsons like we have for years. I wish him nothing but complete happiness.”

Against Line, Enders recorded a near-perfect .003-second reaction time, putting her .035 seconds ahead of her rival, but her car made a big move towards the centerline and she had to push in the clutch to avoid hitting one of the timing cones. Enders coasted to an 8.367 at 116.80 mph while Line sped to a 6.561 at 210.44 mph.

“I’m not sure what happened to the track,” Enders said. “You never want conditions to determine who wins or loses but it happens from time to time.

“I’m excited to get a break but I’m more excited about getting everything in order for another championship run in 2018. We’ll be back stronger than ever and it won’t be long before I’m going to get that itch to jump back in the seat. We’ve won two championships but I know our best days are ahead of us.”

Erica Enders emotional as race against retiring pro Allen Johnson looms

Erica Enders | Pomona 2017 NHRA Finals

POMONA, CA — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders found herself getting emotional as the race day ladder for the 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals came together and she realized she’d be facing retiring pro and fellow champion Allen Johnson in the opening round of Sunday’s eliminations.

“Me and Allen, his wife Pam and (my husband) Richie took a photo right before that last qualifying session and it was definitely emotional,” Enders said. “He’s my best friend out here and after his final qualifying run I watched him do an interview at the top end and he was crying. It was very hard to watch because I love him and Pam so much.

“It will definitely be emotional to race him but, like we say every time we race each other, may the best man or woman win.

“We want to win this race, right here, right now, and we have got the car and the team to get it done. I’ll hate to load him first round but that’s just the way the ladder fell this week.”

Enders knows the way to Pomona’s promised land. She’s won 22 national events in her career, including the historic 2014 final right here at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Her tally also includes a victory earlier this season in New Hampshire to go with three runner-up results this year.

Now her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro seems to have regained its early-season form with decent qualifying efforts in all six Countdown to the Championship races.

“We definitely did a better job of qualifying down the stretch,” Enders said. “This weekend we ran 6.56 every single qualifying pass we’ve made down the track. We definitely have a race car. It’s going A to B, it’s consistent, it’s under control and I’m driving well. I have a lot of optimism going into tomorrow. It’s the final race day of the year and even though it’s not been the best year, I’d really like to go out with a bang.

“The fact we’re racing Allen, yeah, it definitely wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for but A.J.’s a competitor and every time we put our helmets on we try to rip each other’s throats out. It doesn’t matter who’s in the other lane. Tomorrow the goal will definitely remain the same. We want to win.”

FOX Sports 1 will air elimination action live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (Time is local and subject to change.)

Erica Enders concludes 2017 season with renewed optimism for bigger things ahead

Erica Enders | Pomona 2017 Preview

POMONA, CA — Returning to the site of her biggest single triumph — the 2014 title-clinching, final-round victory against Jason Line — Erica Enders is prepped to finish the year at this weekend’s 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals with firm designs on a brighter future.

“For the second year in a row we didn’t quite have the season we wanted or expected,” said Enders, driver of the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. “But this season we made so many strides in the right direction that we have huge expectations for our future.”

After winning back-to-back Pro Stock championships in 2014 and 2015, anything less than another brass ring was sure to be a bit of a letdown. Such is the welcomed curse of those who have reached the pinnacle of their sport.

However, unlike 2016 when her Elite Motorsports team didn’t reach a final round and finished ninth in the points, Enders and crew returned to the winner’s circle this year (in Epping, N.H.) and logged three runner-up results, proving they’ve gained a lot of ground during this year’s campaign. She’s likely to finish sixth overall.

“When you’ve been champions it’s definitely a bummer when you don’t do it again,” Enders said. “You get spoiled and addicted to the success. But the reality is it’s very hard to do what we do and to have great results year after year. There’s been a lot of changes since we won our second title.

“The key is having the right people around you to overcome and adapt. We’re on our way to another championship year, no doubt, and it very well could be next season. That’s the plan. I know I have the best team in the sport, from (owner) Richard Freeman, to our engine guys on to the crew chiefs and mechanics, we’re world class. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when’ for us.”

Aside from her 2014 win at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Enders has been top qualifier here twice, in 2011 and 2015.

“Pomona has been decent to us, especially when we won that winner-take-all race in 2014,” Enders said. “I mean, we had to win the race and beat our biggest rival that year, Jason Line, to earn the title and we did it. There’s a lot of history here and the races always symbolize either the start or the end of a season, so there is always a level of excitement. We’re ready to race and close out strong.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 12 and 2:45 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day qualifying action live from 3:30-4:30 p.m., Friday. The network also will air the second day of qualifying from 3-4 p.m., Saturday. Live eliminations will air from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Expired engine ends Erica Enders weekend in opening round of Toyota Nationals

Erica Enders | Las Vegas 2017 NHRA

LAS VEGAS, NV — It doesn’t happen often for Erica Enders and her Elite Performance race team but an expiring engine ended the six-time Vegas champion’s day in the opening round of competition.

“As hard as we push these motors it’s actually surprising it doesn’t happen more often but we got bit today and that ended our race,” Enders said. “We’ll be fine. It’s an easy fix and we have lots of spares so we’ll be prepared for Pomona, no problem.”

Had the motor survived through the finish line, the outcome could have been very different as opponent Allen Johnson was running close but was on the chase after Enders fashioned a .019-second starting line advantage after a great .010 reaction time.

“Allen’s my good friend and we love to race each other,” Enders said. “That sucker double-bulbed me but I stayed in my routine and cracked his ass with a great light. We were having a great race but when I got to fifth gear in our McLeod Chevy I heard the motor break. Our team owner, Richard Freeman, tells me to leg it out no matter what on race day but when I heard it break I looked over and Allen was right there.

“The smartest thing to do was push in the clutch and do everything I could to avoid further damage so knowing Allen was running strong enough to win I made an executive decision and gave it up. We’ll get him next time.”

The final numbers had Johnson crossing 6.716 seconds at 202.82 mph to Enders’ coasting 7.036 at 163.49 mph.

Enders has a busy week ahead with several appearances at the annual SEMA show here in Las Vegas. The team also plans to test their new Pro Mod car before the season finale, the 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 10-12, at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

Six-time Las Vegas winner Erica Enders looking for lucky no. 7 in Sin City

Erica Enders | Las Vegas 2017 NHRA

LAS VEGAS, NV — In a city that lives on numbers, Erica Enders is looking to roll “7” on Sunday when the 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals turn to elimination racing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Enders won six consecutive races here in her championship years of 2014 and 2015, including both the spring and fall national events and back-to-back K&N Horsepower Challenges.

“We know the way to the winner’s circle here, that’s for sure,” Enders said. “It’s pretty crazy because this car feels just about as strong as the ones I had those two years. We made some big changes to the car after St. Louis and it has been working way better since then, both in Dallas and here this weekend. We’re kind of getting excited.”

Enders’ McLeod Clutches Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro has looked sharp during qualifying with runs of 6.704 at 205.72 mph, 6.687 at 206.42 mph, 6.708 at 205.26 mph and 6.715 at 204.79 mph. Her best pass of 6.687 slotted her sixth in the elimination field, setting up a first-round battle with good friend Allen Johnson, who qualified 11th with a 6.717 at 203.25 mph.

“We’ve got race day in Vegas and race day in Pomona and that’s all we’ve got left for the year so we are going to do our best to finish strong,” Enders said. “The car is definitely running better. We’re not exactly where we want to be but it is directionally correct for the time being so we are definitely pleased.”

Currently sixth in the points, Enders is hoping another victory this year — she already won in Epping, N.H. — will help her climb higher in the final rankings.

“Tomorrow will be a tough day but Vegas is my track,” Enders said. “I’m definitely driving better. I’m going into tomorrow with a lot of optimism and positivity and high hopes.

“If I can beat Allen it will help my teammate Jeg Coughlin because he’s right behind Allen, plus it’ll keep us moving in the right direction. Anything less than the championship after you’ve won it in the past is a letdown but we want to win every race we enter so if we do that and we move up a few spots, that’ll work.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry live eliminations from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Nothing but positive Vegas memories for multi-time champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017 Reading

LAS VEGAS, NV — In her championship years of 2014 and 2015, Erica Enders was untouchable at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, winning six straight events, including both the spring and fall national events and consecutive K&N Filters Horsepower Challenges.

The spunky Texan is hoping to recapture some of that magic this weekend when she returns to her favorite racetrack for the 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the penultimate race of the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“It’s no secret I love the Vegas track,” Enders said. “Those two years were pretty darn special. It felt like we could do no wrong but believe me it took a lot of hard work from these guys at Elite Motorsports. We had it all figured out back then and we even clinched our second title at the fall race in 2015 so nothing but good feelings for this place.”

Although her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro is slightly off the blazing pace she set during those two glorious years, Enders is a winner this year and she’s desperate to grab another Wally trophy before the season ends.

“It might as well happen in Vegas,” Enders said. “We certainly had a better car at the last race in Dallas, both in qualifying and on race day. That progress should definitely translate to The Strip.

“We wanted more out of this year when we switched back to Chevy but a lot of little things have slowed us down a touch and we all know it doesn’t take much to get beat at this level. Those championship years we always seemed to be on the right side of every close race and we haven’t had that kind of luck this year.”

Nevertheless, Enders’ trust and confidence in her Elite race team hasn’t wavered.

“There’s no lack of love in our pit,” she said. “And there is no lack of hard work. You work extremely hard for world championships and you work just as hard during down years. It’s just the nature of the game.

“I say all the time I have the best team in the sport and that will never change. I’ve never felt so good or been more comfortable with a group of guys in my life. We do everything together. We’re truly a family. I want to win my family another Wally.”

Aside from her Pro Stock duties, Enders will be racing in Buddy Wood’s Super Comp dragster for Wood Racing this weekend.

“It’s something we’ve done throughout the year,” Enders said. “It’s been a lot of fun and it gives us another chance to win so I’m all for it. You kind of keep your mind in race mode when you have more hits at the tree so I welcome the opportunity. Big thanks to Buddy for trusting me with his racecar.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:45 and 4:15 p.m., Friday, and 1:15 and 3:45 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day qualifying action live from 3-4 p.m., Friday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Even in adversity Erica Enders finds encouragement after quarterfinal finish in Dallas

Erica Enders | Dallas NHRA 2017

DALLAS, TX – Two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion and proud native Texan Erica Enders, driver of the bright red Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, raced to a second-round finish today in eliminations of the AAA Texas NHRA Fallnationals at the Texas Motorplex.

With only two events remaining in the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif., Enders is optimistic she’ll visit the winner’s circle again this season, but she also laments on a very close loss to Greg Anderson Sunday.

“The car’s running better,” said Enders, who recently turned 34. “That was my round to win for sure. I gave it up on my end, both at the Christmas Tree and with my lapse in driving skills. It’s just one of those deals. Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug, and today I’m the bug. I’m disappointed in myself because my guys gave me a really great car that was capable of winning the round and capable of fighting for the event win.”

Along with getting the customary winner’s Wally trophy for winning the event, the folks at the Texas Motorplex offer up a couple of more reasons to race for a victory in the Lone Star State.

“I want to do well everywhere I go, but I really wanted to do well here in Texas,” Enders said. “The cowboy hat and belt buckle incentives for winning are very cool, but my head wasn’t completely in the game today. I’m disappointed for my team because they worked their butts off and I didn’t do my part behind the wheel.”

Despite her critical self-assessment, Enders is encouraged by the performance of her entire Richard Freeman-owned Elite Motorsports team, which includes Jeg Coughlin Jr., Brian Self and Alex Laughlin.

Enders defeated Kenny Delco in the opening round after Delco jumped the start with a red light.

“We got down the track all four qualifying sessions,” Enders said. “We were third after Friday. Today we had a slight mishap in the first round, it shook the tires and I had to pedal and get it down there but we got the round win. In the second round, we went out and threw up a pretty good number on the board, one that was good enough to win, so it’s disheartening.

“We are headed to my favorite track on the circuit, definitely my luckiest track, so we’ll see if we can turn it around in Vegas.”

Weeks of exhaustive testing finally paying dividends for Pro Stock champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | Dallas 2017 NHRA

DALLAS, TX — Ever since her Elite Motorsports race team began to experience a performance downturn a few months ago, two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has been testing the wheels off Richard Freeman’s Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.

It appears all of that extra work, along with some reconfigured parts dreamed up by car builder and crew chief Rick Jones, are paying off big for the 22-time national event winner.

Enders posted four very competitive runs during qualifying for this weekend’s 32nd annual AAA Texas NHRA Fallnationals — a 6.651, 6.634, 6.652 and finally a 6.629 at 207.72 mph — to qualify a lofty fifth on the elimination grid. It’s her best qualifying effort since the Seattle race, which was six national events ago.

“This weekend has definitely been a big step in the right direction,” Enders said. “No surprise but we tested again in Noble, Oklahoma, earlier this week, both my car and Jeg (Coughlin Jr., teammate’s) car, and we did really well which gave us a little extra confidence coming in here.

“Rick did some things to the cars after St. Louis and they’re working much better so we certainly have a lot of optimism. We definitely felt like we had a much better handle on these Rick Jones Chevy Camaros after the test but you never know until you come here and run them against a pro field. Now we have, and the results are very promising.”

Enders will open eliminations against part-timer Kenny Delco, who qualified 12th with a 6.659 208.07 mph. Enders and Delco have not raced one another this season.

“After Friday’s sessions we were third overall,” Enders said. “We didn’t make a great run this morning and got bumped back a couple of places to fifth but that run was still a lot better than we have been doing. The last qualifying session, which was the worst session of all four as far as conditions go, we made our best run.

“Running your best run in the worst session is not something that normally happens with the field but it’s something we’ve accomplished a lot in our careers, especially during our two championship runs. It’s nice to be back in that position where we have a race car for Sunday that can win rounds.”

Adding to Enders’ upbeat attitude is the weather forecast, which is calling for cooler, Pro-Stock-friendly temperatures.

“We’re looking forward to tomorrow,” Enders said. “It’s definitely going to be a big change of weather with the cold front coming in overnight. I’m pleased about that because I feel like we are better at big weather changes than most teams so I think tomorrow will be a good day for us. We’ll do our best all day long. It’ll be tough race day like it always is but the main goal tomorrow will be the cowboy hat they give the winner.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry live elimination action from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

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