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Pro Stock ace Erica Enders focused on flying high in Pennsylvania

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock

READING, PA – As the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Countdown to the Championship playoffs continue with this weekend’s 33rd annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has her sights set on gaining traction in championship points by taking her bright red Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to another winner’s circle.

Enders, a feisty 33-year-old Houston native, goes into the second round of the Countdown to the Championship sixth in points. Even though she and her Richard Freeman-owned team have been challenged recently with a change in rear tire specs, Enders remains highly confident in her group’s ability to contend for a third title and add to her glowing legacy as the most-acclaimed female driver in the history of the factory hot rod class.

“I’ve done well at Maple Grove, but I’ve never won there so that’s something I would like to knock off of my to-do list,” Enders said. “I’m glad we’re heading back East because that’s big Pro Stock country. The fans absolutely love this class and that’s something that will be refreshing to see after the tumultuous year this class has had. I’m also looking forward to a little break in the weather. It’s been a little hot this summer.”

Although the forecast looks iffy, Reading usually gives racers a break from the heat of summer as fall begins in eastern Pennsylvania. Maple Grove Raceway takes advantage of its locale and cooler temps to give competitors and fans some of the quickest and fastest racing on the planet with record-setting performances the norm at the charming facility. For Enders, it also provides her an opportunity to relish in some family time.

“I’m looking forward to the weekend,” Enders said. “My sister and brother-in-law live 15 minutes from the racetrack and there’s a lot of family and friends up there so we will take all four of these team cars, along with Larry Morgan, our newest engine leasing customer, and see what we can do. We’ll have five of us up there battling it out. I’m very optimistic and looking forward to racing at Maple Grove.”

Enders and her Elite Motorsports teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr., Vincent Nobile, and Alex Laughlin as well as the rest of the Pro Stock class have dealt with many changes this year, including a switch to a new spec rear tire. Enders is hoping Reading will help her and her team get a better grip on the change.

“The new tire has been a challenge for us to get a hold of and we are just going to continue to fine tune on our 60-foot times,” Enders said. “That’s where we have struggled. If we can make up the .02 (seconds) and .03 we lack down low, it will translate to .04 or .05 at the top end.

“Horsepower is not a problem in our Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, it’s just managing the horsepower with the new tire. We will just keep chipping away at it.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:45 and 4:15 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day qualifying action live from 2:30-3:30 p.m., Friday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 2-5 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Erica Enders opens 2017 playoffs with quarterfinal showing at NHRA Carolina Nationals

Erica Enders 2017 NHRA Carolina Nationals

CONCORD, NC — Two-time world champion Erica Enders went one-up, one-down Sunday at the first of six races in the 2017 Countdown to the Championship, the 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway.

Enders scored a mild upset over Elite Motorsports teammate Alex Laughlin in Round 1 when the slightly higher-qualified Laughlin was forced to surrender his run. She then matched her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro up against local Tanner Gray with Gray evening their season record against one another at 3-3.

“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t make a race out of it but we broke a motor,” Enders said. “We definitely have a better race car (since prerace testing) but in Round 2 there, right after I did the burnout and backed up, I could hear the motor was broken. I radioed my guys and told them, then looked at my team owner, he doesn’t wear a radio but my engine guy does and he was right here to relay what happened. I looked at Richard (Freeman, team owner) and motioned, ‘Do you want me to go?’ and he pointed down the track to tell me to send it. We may kick the rods out but you’ve gotta try. It’s the playoffs.”

Geared up for the start of the Countdown to the Championship, Enders blistered good friend Laughlin at the starting line, leaving with a .016-second reaction time to Laughlin’s .042-second launch. She never looked back, as Laughlin began to get out of shape and pushed in the clutch of his hot rod, allowing Enders to win with a 6.653 at 208.36 mph to Laughlin’s 7.886 at 108.36 mph.

Against Gray, Enders once again left first but traveled less than a football field before her car’s powerplant expired. That allowed Gray to speed away for the win in 6.586 seconds at 210.47 mph.

Up next, Enders and crew move immediately to Maple Grove Raceway for next weekend’s 33rd annual Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa.

“We are testing tomorrow here at zMax Dragway,” Enders said. “There are still five races left and I enjoy having our backs against a wall. I feel like we have the best team period and we are always able to perform under pressure so I am ready for the Countdown to continue. We will test both of these cars tomorrow and make them better and go on to Reading with our chins held high. We are getting better with these Chevy Camaros but time will tell and I am up for the challenge.”

Melling Performance pro Erica Enders excited about eliminations in Charlotte

Erica Enders | Charlotte 2017 NHRA Pro Stock

CONCORD, N.C. — Throughout her record-setting career, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders always has done her best work in pressure-packed situations. When others wilt, she blossoms, which is one of the many reasons she’s excited about the first of six race days left in the 2017 season.

“The playoffs are definitely a different animal,” Enders said. “We’ve lived it, we’ve fought down to the last round of the season, we’ve felt the most pressure you can feel in this sport and we’ve come out on top. If that gives us an edge this year, we’ll take it.

“Of course, the guys that are going to make the biggest challenges are all veteran teams and most have them have won it all in the past. Either way, whoever wins this year’s championship will have earned it, no doubt.”

Enders’ first test will come Sunday at the 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway. Enders will start the day as the No. 9 qualifier after posting a best pass of 6.602 seconds at 209.75 mph in time trials.

“We’ve been testing the tires off these cars the last few months and we are really optimistic about our latest changes,” Enders said. “We can already see some big gains in Jeg (Coughlin’s) car and my guys are going over that data to make my car better. I know for sure I already feel a lot more confidence in our direction.

“The playoffs are a fight from start to finish. The pressure you feel is because every round feels like a final round with a million dollars on the line. You just know you’ve got to find a way to win every matchup. There’s no holding back.”

For her qualifying efforts, Enders will be matched up against part-time teammate and close friend Alex Laughlin in the first round of sudden-death eliminations. Laughlin qualified eighth with a 6.600 at 209.17 mph. The two racers have only squared off once this year and it was during the four-wide race in Charlotte last spring. On that day, Laughlin was one of the two racers to advance out of their quad of racers.

“This team has been in the championship wars and come out on top two different times so we know what it takes,” Enders said. “We’ll fight this fight until we have nothing left. No matter what, I love these guys and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

“We have a lot of support here this weekend also, which is always great. Our friends from Arthur J. Gallagher, Transportation Impact and Melling Performance are with us. We’re having a good time and everyone is excited about the possibilities.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. Live action will air on FOX Sports 1 from 2:30-5:30 p.m., Sunday. (Times are local and subject to change.)

Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders says ‘Don’t bet against us’

Erica Enders

CONCORD, NC — Erica Enders’ two Pro Stock championships both came in the 10-year-old playoff era so she has intimate knowledge of how the six-race Countdown to the Championship works. With the first playoff race taking place this weekend at zMax Dragway, Enders and her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports crew know it’s time to put up or shut up.

“The regular season is all about securing a spot in the top 10 so you’ve got a ticket to the playoffs,” Enders said. “We’ve done that part. Now it’s time to get to work and see what we can do about winning another championship. We’re only a year removed from our last title but it seems like forever and we’d love to get it back.

“I’ve said time and again, in the glory times and when we’ve been down, that Elite Motorsports is the best team in professional drag racing and I tell people, ‘Don’t bet against us,’ because I know what this group is capable of doing. We’ve won this year, we’ve had three runner-up finishes, we’ve had the quickest and fastest car in plenty of sessions, now we just need to put it all together and keep it moving through the Countdown.”

Enders enters this year’s playoffs in sixth place, placing her 60 points or three rounds of elimination racing behind leader Bo Butner. Her most recent final-round appearance came just three races ago in Seattle.

“We ran well in Seattle but we’ve done so much work since then the car is totally different,” Enders said. “I personally made 40 passes in my car and Jeg (Coughlin Jr., teammate’s) car before Indy and after Indy we went and tested for three more days. We invited some friends along on this most recent test to give us a fresh perspective on how the cars were set up and what we have been doing with the engines and the changes they suggested look really promising.

“This team doesn’t have ego issues. They are happy to bring in people to help us when we’re struggling with something. That’s why Richard Freeman (team owner) has been so successful; he knows winning championships takes extreme effort. He knows there is nothing simple or routine in this sport.”

Charlotte has been good to Enders in the past. She raced to runner-up results in 2012 and 2013 and was top qualifier at the facility in 2014.

“If you can put together a string first race in the Countdown it really makes a difference moving forward,” Enders said. “We’re going to give it all we have and see what happens. There will certainly be no lack of effort put in for the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:15 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first day of qualifying action live from 6-7 p.m., Friday. Live eliminations will air on FOX Sports 1 from 2:30-5:30 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Erica Enders starts chase for third championship after Indy

Erica Enders | NHRA Indy 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has been to the winner’s circle at the sport’s biggest race — the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals — in 2015, but she could not return to the hallowed ground at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis this year as the fan-favorite racer bowed out in the opening stanza of eliminations.

Enders, a Houston native and the most acclaimed female racer in the history of Pro Stock, qualified her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro in the No. 11 position (6.604 seconds, 209.10 mph). In round one, Enders’ bright red racer had an untimely performance lapse and she was defeated by Chris McGaha, 6.703, 206.99 to 6.660, 206.42.

“We slowed way up,” Enders said. “Until we sort out our issue, we are on a hope and a prayer every time. It’s really an unfortunate situation to be in, especially at Indy.”

Before the 63rd running of the U.S. Nationals, the NHRA mandated a new Goodyear rear tire for Pro Stock competition. The change in how the race car maintains its valuable traction affected some of the factory hot rod teams more than others.

“It’s just more changes and it’s throwing us for a loop, and we have to work on it,” Enders said. “Pro Stock has a had a lot of significant changes in the last three years, but we just have to keep working at it and do our best to just roll with the changes. Rick and Ricky (Jones, crew chiefs) will get it figured out – They always do.”

Despite a disappointing showing in Indy, Enders locked in the No. 6 position in the NHRA playoffs, the Countdown to the Championship, which begins at the next event in Charlotte and continues through five more events concluding in Pomona, Calif. in November.

“After we get back from Indy, we are going testing again,” Enders said. “You know, at some point after all of this hard work and money spent we are bound to figure something out. Our Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports team is resilient and certainly knows how to win championships. We’ll get things straightened out.”

Two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders remains bullish on her chances in Indy

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Indy 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders has been to the top of the drag racing world twice, finishing as Pro Stock world champion in 2014 and 2015. She’s the most decorated female racer in class history and she even has a victory at the sport’s biggest race — the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals — in 2015.

Maybe that’s why she sounds so bullish on her chances of winning drag racing’s crown jewel for a second time Monday when eliminations begin at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indy.

“I say it every time but my money’s always on my guys because they’re the best in the business and we’ve proven that time after time,” Enders said. “When they give me a car that goes A-to-B, nine times out of 10 we’ll turn the win light on. I’m optimistic about tomorrow. We’ll do our best and see what happens.”

Enders qualified her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro in the No. 11 position after posting a best pass of 6.604 seconds at 209.10 mph Friday night in the first of five time trials.

“I feel like we have definitely put in the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears to earn some round wins tomorrow,” Enders said. “We’ve collectively made 65 runs in the past five days between testing my car and Jeg’s (Coughlin Jr.) car plus all the runs the four Elite cars have made in qualifying.

“We still have some issues but we are chipping away at them. We feel like together we can accomplish anything. This is the good stuff about this team that keeps us always going in the right direction.”

It’s not just Enders who has a positive outlook about their chances against first-round opponent Chris McGaha, who qualified sixth with a 6.577 at 209.95 mph. Veteran crew chief Rick Jones, Enders’ tuner since she joined Elite Motorsports nearly four years ago, offered his opinion.

“We always have a chance with the way Erica drives,” Jones said. “We made two solid runs today, maybe a little conservative but we’ll get better tomorrow. Race day is always a different deal, especially at Indy. The track usually gets worse and we already know it’s going to be way hotter. The bottom line is Erica’s going to be leaving first and we’ll see if they can catch her.”

Pro Stock eliminations are slated to start at noon, Monday. FOX Sports 1 will air the first round of eliminations live from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Monday. The main FOX Network takes over from there, airing the remainder of eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Monday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

“Mark Melling and his son are here from Melling Performance and we are proud to have them on board with us for the rest of the year,” Enders said. “We also have Gallagher Insurance and a couple of their guys out here this weekend as well so we have a lot of exciting things working on the business side of this program. That’s the key to making it work on the race track.

“Everyone is working hard and nothing would be better for us than another U.S. Nationals win.”

Melling Performance extends successful partnership with Erica Enders and Elite Motorsports

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Following a very successful five-race stint as title sponsor of two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, Melling Performance announced a contract extension through the end of the 2017 season with the most acclaimed female driver in Pro Stock history.

Melling Performance initiated its involvement in the world’s quickest and fastest motorsport after CEO Mark Melling attended one of the Charlotte drag races in 2016.

“All I knew was NASCAR,” Melling said. “Coming to the drag races really opened my eyes to what a great sport the NHRA has going. If you can’t get excited about all the horsepower going on out there, you’re not a race fan whatsoever.”

The contract extension was announced to employees during a visit Enders and the Elite team made to the company’s headquarters Tuesday in Jackson, Mich.

“We’re extremely excited to keep Melling Performance on board with us for the rest of the season,” Enders said. “It’s a great partnership and we’re going to do our best to get Melling Performance back in the winner’s circle – NHRA style.

“Their facility was incredible and everyone there couldn’t have been nicer to us. They were all pretty stoked to see the actual racecar we run down the quarter-mile every weekend, especially with the Melling logo on the doors.”

The partnership between Enders, Elite and Melling Performance will now continue from this weekend’s 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals through the entire Countdown to the Championship playoffs, which conclude in in November in Pomona, Calif.

Enders and Richard Freeman’s Elite Motorsports team are currently in sixth place in Mello Yello points and have already locked a position in the Countdown to the Championship, which begins Sept. 15 in Charlotte.

Melling Performance’s brand became wildly popular in NASCAR during the 1980s and 90s when Mark Melling’s father, Harry Melling, supported a Cup Series team with Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliot. The team won 34 races and the 1988 NASCAR championship.

Native Houstonian Erica Enders heads to U.S. Nationals with her heart firmly in Texas

Erica Enders | 2017 NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — The annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is drag racing’s biggest event, but native Houstonian Erica Enders admits it will be hard to focus on the task at hand when the weekend arrives considering the epic devastation in her hometown.

“My heart is broken,” Enders said. “It’s impossible to get your mind around this catastrophe. I watch the news and see so many areas I know and they are under 10 feet of water. Most of the people I grew up with around the Cypress area have gotten some level of flooding. It’s going to take months to recover.

“It’s kind of spooky because 12 years ago this week Richie (Stevens, husband) escaped to Indy after Katrina wiped out his hometown (New Orleans). Now here we are heading back to Indy and my hometown is wiped out. I feel so helpless but we are definitely going to do all we can to raise awareness to help the people of Houston.”

To that end, Enders and her sister Courtney Enders-Lambert are arranging a grassroots campaign to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey. They hope to be collecting donations and dry goods at the U.S. Nationals.

Although under the circumstances, her racing endeavors seem secondary, Enders has a few reasons to be optimistic about her chances of success at this year’s “Big Go.” The Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports team has tested extensively since the last NHRA tour stop in Brainerd, Minn., and she has a long history of success at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.

“We went straight to Tulsa with my car and my teammate Jeg Coughlin’s car and tested for three straight days,” Enders said. “We made probably 40-50 passes, working 15-plus hours every day. Jeg is taking over now and the team will be in St. Louis testing some more with Vincent Nobile and Alex Laughlin. We will arrive at Indy with lots of new data for all four Elite cars.

“I remember going to Indy in 1994 when they had the inaugural Junior Dragster championships and we were runner-up. Then you take it all the way to 2015 when I won in Pro Stock. That catapulted us to three Countdown wins and we won our second championship going away. Indy’s an historic place and we love being a part of it all.”

Pro Stock drivers can make five qualifying runs, beginning at 7:15 p.m., Friday. There will be two more sessions at 2:30 and 6:15 p.m., Saturday, and another two at 11:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m., Sunday. Eliminations are slated to start at noon, Monday.

FOX Sports 1 will air live qualifying from 12-2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m., Sunday, and the first round of eliminations live from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Monday. The main FOX Network takes over from there, airing the remainder of eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Monday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

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