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Pro Stock champ Erica Enders confident Elite team can perform under pressure

Erica Enders | NHRA Seattle 2016

SEATTLE, WA — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders learned a lot about her Elite Motorsports team after winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015. When under pressure, Enders and her team didn’t flinch; instead, they performed at their best.

This year, Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team are facing a different kind of pressure as they prepare to race in the 29th annual Protect The Harvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil this weekend at Pacific Raceways.

Enders is 11th in the Pro Stock points standings, battling to get into the top 10 so she can defend her title in the Countdown to the Championship. The Countdown starts in three races, and only the top 10 qualify for the Countdown. But Enders is confident her team can succeed again.

“I don’t have any doubt we’ll rise to the occasion again,” Enders said. “Certainly, it’s not been like the last couple of years with the struggles we’ve had switching to EFI and switching manufacturers. It’s certainly been a learning year for us.

“Having said that, we’re going to do the best we can. In my opinion, nobody performs as well under pressure as we do collectively.”

NHRA mandated fuel-injected engines for 2016, and that change alone has been challenging for all Pro Stock teams, but Enders’ team also switched manufacturers and built a new race car. One good race, however, could propel her into the Countdown and into championship contention.

“We’ve been fortunate in years past,” Enders said. “This year, things haven’t necessarily been falling our way. We’ve had struggles with parts failures and stuff that wasn’t typical in the past. Those are all huge obstacles we have to overcome. I feel like we’re certainly right on track to making better runs and getting more horsepower. We just need a little bit of a break.”

Elite team owner Richard Freeman built a championship team, led by crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, and Enders remains confident in her group.

“The guys who Richard has assembled are the best of the best, a top-notch group of guys,” Enders said. “No matter what stands in front of us, we’re always able to get through it. We always seem to rise to the occasion, rise to the call.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 1 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 5 to 6 p.m., Friday, and 11 to 12 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in PT).

Reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders catches wrong kind of break in Sonoma

Erica Enders | NHRA Sonoma 2016 Pro Stock

SONOMA, CA — Two-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has been hoping the breaks start turning her way in this transitional drag racing season, but when her engine broke in the water box just seconds before her opening-round pass, even she couldn’t believe her misfortune.

“It’s almost like ‘what else could go wrong,’ ” said Enders, the most prolific female Pro Stock racer of all time. “It’s just a tough, tough way to end the day … before it even started.

“I fired up and rolled through the water box, and as I went to get the rpm up for the burnout, I heard a weird noise in the engine. I radioed the guys and they had me hold there for a minute at idle to see if it would clear itself up, but it was pretty obvious we had a problem. I had no choice; I had to shut it off.”

As disappointing as the moment was for Enders, the 21-time national event winner didn’t lose any ground in her quest to make the Countdown to the Championship field as her nearest rival in the points, good friend Alex Laughlin, also lost in the first round.

“We have three more races to catch Alex and get past him to make the playoff field,” Enders said. “It’s really the biggest goal we have right now, for our fans and sponsors to see us make it in.

“The guys are already tearing the Elite/Mopar Dodge Dart apart to see exactly what happened, and I know they’ll have us ready to go next weekend in Seattle.”

Enders trails Laughlin by nine points, or less than half a round of elimination action.

The 29th annual ProtectTheHarvest.com NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Lucas Oil begins Friday, Aug. 5, at Pacific Raceways near Seattle.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders ready to keep Denver momentum rolling

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock | Sonoma 2016

SONOMA, CA — With four race days left before the Countdown to the Championship begins, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders knows time is short to be able to defend her 2015 title.

But Enders also knows she and the Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team are more than capable of making a late-season surge, perhaps beginning with the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

“Tomorrow is a very important race day for us as we only have four Sundays left to get this car in the Countdown,” Enders said. “We know that it’s kinda hovering over our head, but at the same time we have made up ground for sure and we will continue to work on this thing.”

Enders is 11th in the Pro Stock points standings, one spot out of the top 10 who are locked in for the Countdown, the championship-determining segment of the season. She’s also less than a round out of 10th place, meaning one or two rounds of racing could determine who races for the championship and who doesn’t.

Enders qualified No. 10 here with a top pass of 6.612 seconds at 209.26 mph. She’ll start Sunday’s eliminations against Elite teammate Vincent Nobile, who qualified No. 7 with a run of 6.592 seconds at 210.64 mph. Nobile has beaten Enders in the first round twice in the last four races, a trend she hopes to end Sunday.

“I think he’s loaded me up plenty of times this year, so I’m hoping it’s our turn tomorrow,” Enders said. “Either way, we have an Elite Motorsports, Elite Performance car heading to the second round. We will just put our heads down and go to work and see what the outcome is tomorrow.”

Enders qualified No. 2 in Denver last weekend, an example of how her Elite team has made progress. She started quickly here, though that momentum has been difficult to maintain.

“After we made the first run here on Friday, we still felt we were significantly headed in the right direction,” Enders said. “We posted a 6.62 on the scoreboard, but we could have very well run a .59 for sure. So that tells us that what we had found for Denver certainly translates here.

“Since that first run, it’s gone downhill, but you know that’s where my awesome guys come into play, and we dig deep and we keep working on it. At this point it would be so easy to throw in the towel, but that’s not what we’re made of. We’ve got a bunch of people over here helping us get this Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart headed in the right direction.”

Pro Stock eliminations start around noon, Sunday. FOX will carry the action live from 1 to 4 p.m. PT, Sunday.

Reigning champ Erica Enders on a season-long high as Sonoma race approaches

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SONOMA, CA — Fresh off her most encouraging outing of the year, back-to-back and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders is anxious to get to Northern California for this weekend’s Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.

Enders qualified a season-best second on the Denver elimination ladder and logged an elimination round-win before parts failure cost her just enough time to lose her second-round race against Allen Johnson. Nevertheless, the huge uptick in performance has the entire Elite/Mopar Dodge Dart race team feeling better about themselves.

“I think with the gains we made in Denver we can definitely carry those to Sonoma and continue to work on making the car better, making better runs, and me driving awesome,” Enders said. “That definitely is the goal in Sonoma: To pick up where we left off in Denver and go in an even more upward direction.”

It has been a catch-up year for Enders and company as the team switched manufacturers just as NHRA implemented the biggest rules-package changes in class history. Enders went from two years of dominating Pro Stock to fighting just to stay in the field for this year’s Countdown to the Championship. She currently sits nine points outside the top 10.

“We definitely need to make up some ground in the points,” Enders said. “With four races left before the countdown starts, we’re the one car sitting on the outside looking in, but only by a few points. I’m looking forward to heading to Sonoma, the second stop on the Western Swing, and making up some ground. If we have truly turned the corner, it’s coming at a perfect time.

“I’ve never won at Sonoma before, but it’s one of my favorite tracks on the tour. Where it’s located, being in wine country, sure doesn’t hurt! I’m definitely excited to race there. It’s been a goal of mine to win at Sonoma for some time because of it being one of my favorite stops. We’re looking forward to going back there.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m., Friday, and 1:10 and 4:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 7 to 8 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in PT).

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders holds head high after performance gains in Denver

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DENVER, CO — No one in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series hates losing more than two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, but she can smile after the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Bandimere Speedway knowing her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team made strides toward the top of the Pro Stock charts.

Enders lost in the second round after an unfortunate parts failure slowed her pass, but she knows her Dodge Dart is now a contender.

“We’re certainly pleased with our performance gains this weekend,” Enders said. “It shows that our hard work is paying off. Having said that, we still have a long way to go.”

Enders qualified No. 2 in Denver, the best qualifying effort of the year for her and her team, which switched to Mopar for the 2016 season.

She beat Alan Prusiensky with one of the best passes in the first round, 6.970 seconds at 197.42 mph. That gave her lane choice against Allen Johnson for the second round, but Johnson’s good fortune in Denver continued.

The two friends and rivals got off the line almost identically, but Johnson sped to the win with a pass of 7.000 seconds at 196.53 mph while Enders lost elapsed time from her first pass and ended up with a run of 7.026 seconds at 195.62 mph.

“We had a parts failure that round,” Enders said. “We should have been able to go out there and run a .98 absolutely no problem because we took where the failure in the run happened and did a run completer from there. We were actually on a better run than Greg (Anderson) in that round and he went a .99.

“I think we would have been a solid to low .98. Should have, would have, could have, but it would definitely have been enough to beat AJ. This is just his lucky track.”

Johnson ended up racing to his 10th consecutive final round here, beating Vincent Nobile in the final.

Enders, meanwhile, looks forward to continuing the Western Swing next weekend in Sonoma, Calif.

“We’ll load up and go to Sonoma definitely with our heads held high because of the gains made here,” Enders said. “I’m looking forward to racing at sea level again, or closer to sea level, and kicking ass in Sonoma.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders reaches new heights with No. 2 spot in Denver

Erica Enders NHRA Mile High Nationals 2016

DENVER, CO — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders would have loved to have held on to the No. 1 spot for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals on Saturday at Bandimere Speedway, but though she fell .007-second short of that lofty perch, Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team can hold their heads up high after qualifying No. 2.

“It would have been cool to get a green hat,” Enders said, referring to the special hats given to No. 1 qualifiers. “And tomorrow would have been a little cooler than normal because we would have a bye in the first round (because there are only 15 cars in the field).

“But I was talking to my guys about it on the radio before we even made the run — the benefit of running last is that you get to see what everybody does — after we knew that a handful of people had run 6.93s. I told my guys, ‘Either way, stay on the pole or not, get it back or not, what an awesome turnaround we have had this weekend, and we will out-tune and outdrive them tomorrow.’ And we will.”

Enders held the No. 1 spot through three qualifying sessions, but after a rain delay helped cool conditions in the Denver altitude, five cars went quicker in Q4 before Enders and Alex Laughlin made their runs.

Enders made a terrific pass of 6.933 seconds at 198.03 mph, though Laughlin was a tick quicker. However, her run wasn’t the best by her Dodge.

“Considering what happened in that run, to be able to throw up an e.t. like that is pretty cool,” Enders said. “I mean, I was way over by the wall and it was loose, so there was definitely some e.t. there, but either way it’s such an awesome step in the right direction, and it goes to show that hard work really pays off.

“This is where we get to really, really dig deep and see if we can battle back into the Countdown.”

Enders sits 11th in the Pro Stock points standings, with only the top 10 advancing to the Countdown to the Championship. Five races remain before the Countdown starts, and Enders is only nine points out of 10th.

She’ll battle Alan Prusiensky in the first round Sunday after he qualified No. 15 with a pass of 7.477 seconds at 159.91 mph.

“I’m super proud of our showing thus far, and we’ve got our day cut out for us tomorrow, but I wouldn’t want to go to battle with anyone else,” Enders said. “I’m proud to have performed so well in our Mopar Dodge Dart at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals, and we will see if can bring home a Wally to Detroit.”

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

Erica Enders returns to the top, snaring provisional No. 1 in Denver

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Denver 2016

DENVER, CO — She’s back!

Two-time champion Erica Enders returned to the top of the Pro Stock charts, grabbing the provisional No. 1 spot for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals on Friday at Bandimere Speedway.

Enders dominated the class the past two seasons, winning 15 races and the championship in 2014 and 2015, but a change in rules and a switch to Mopar precipitated a small step back this season as her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team worked to develop a new Dodge Dart and new fuel-injected engines.

“What better race to have a turnaround weekend than at our sponsor’s event, the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals,” Enders said. “It might come as a shock to a lot of people because we’ve been running toward the back of the pack all year, but it just goes to show that hard work and determination pay off.

“Week in and week, we’ve come out here and qualified in the bottom half of the field, but my guys never got discouraged. They went home and went to work. That’s what I attribute that to.”

Enders’ best qualifying spot this season has been fifth, in Las Vegas. After winning nine races and 58 rounds in 2015, she has only five round-wins this year and sits outside the top 10 in the Pro Stock points standings, but her Elite Performance team continues to work on its engines, making big gains recently.

“We came here knowing what we found on the dyno this week was pretty significant,” Enders said. “We wanted the scoreboards to dictate what we found.”

They did in the second qualifying session. After she was No. 10 in Q1, Enders saw Elite/Mopar teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. make a terrific pass in Q2. She then went to the top with a run of 6.963 seconds at 197.71 mph.

“First run, we had to do some fine-tuning with the fuel,” Enders said. “We were able to make a really great run in the second session, and there’s definitely room for improvement on the graphs. That’s also encouraging. I’m just so proud of the hard work they’ve put in.”

Should it hold up, Enders would have the 19th No. 1 qualifier of her career.

“I’m not one to really get excited until the fat lady sings,” Enders said. “It was really nice to hear us stay on top after the really quick guys finished running. Tomorrow, you never know. Tonight was a really late run, and if the weather looks good tomorrow, hopefully we run on schedule and won’t have such great conditions tomorrow evening and we’ll be able stay on top.

“But our goal tomorrow is to get our race-day setup ready to go, stay consistent, and keep repeating.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 9 to 10 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in MDT).

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders ready to show what her Mopar can do in Denver

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DENVER, CO — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has come to Bandimere Speedway for the Mopar Mile-High Nationals for many years, always knowing how difficult it is racing in the thinner Colorado air, but this year Enders is driving a Hemi-powered Dart, and she relishes the chance to race on even terms with her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge.

“I’m pretty excited about the opportunity,” Enders said. “The Hemis have run well on the mountain for years and years and years. Hopefully, this can be a turnaround weekend for us.”

Plus, this Denver race marks a special occasion. Ten years ago, she raced as a teammate to Richie Stevens, Shaun Carlson, and Gene Wilson.

“This race also marks the 10-year anniversary of my first race with Mopar back in 2006,” Enders said. “Pretty cool deal.”

This Denver race is pretty cool for another reason, too: It will be the first race in NHRA history to be televised live on a national broadcast channel (FOX).

“That will definitely be awesome,” Enders said. “It’s my sponsor’s race, and hopefully we’ll get some additional coverage. It’ll be great for our class and our sport.”

The FOX broadcast team will show an event unlike any other in the sport. Since Denver has a mile-high altitude, engines in Pro Stock are robbed of air and horsepower. That completely changes the dynamic of Pro Stock drivers from the moment they drop the clutch to when they cross the finish line.

“It’s very different as a driver,” Enders said. “Pro Stock being a naturally aspirated class, we’re the ones who are most affected by the thin air. We’re the ones who probably run the slowest, according to class. From a driver’s standpoint, the clutch feels completely different, your shift points come at a completely different time, and the way the motor accelerates is very different. Driving with your ear is completely out of the question.

“I’ve raced up on the mountain for the last 12, 13 years, so hopefully my experience comes into play. It will certainly take us a couple of qualifying passes to be able to get a handle on things as far as car setup and driving, but I’m optimistic and looking forward to the challenge.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m., Friday, and 4 and 6:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 6 to 7 p.m., Friday, and 9 to 10 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in MDT).

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