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Erica Enders storms to Las Vegas semifinal with Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge

Erica Enders | Las Vegas 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV — That’s more like it.

After three untimely first-round exits in the first three races of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders stormed to the semifinals of the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals on Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“You find out what real champions are made of when you have to go through a little bit of adversity,” Enders said. “It makes you dig deeper and want it more. I don’t know we could possibly want it more than we already do, but my guys are amazing.

“It was really nice to go rounds. It felt like it was back to normal. We’re used to going deep into the race on Sunday, and we’re going to get back there. We just need a little bit more time. We certainly made strides in the right direction with our engine-development program. We have work to do, but a semifinal appearance here in Las Vegas was definitely awesome.”

Enders’ brilliant driving helped lead her to world championships in 2014 and 2015, and it was on display again in Las Vegas, where she ripped off a .009-second reaction time in the first round, then won on a holeshot in the second round with a .006 light before a .021 light in the semi’s
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“I knew today was going to be a left-foot day,” Enders said, referring to her clutch foot. “That was the only way we were going to go some rounds. Unfortunately, I missed it a little bit against Jason (Line in the semifinals); I knew that when I un-clutched it.”

Enders, winner of four consecutive races in Las Vegas, clearly had her best weekend since her Elite Motorsports team switched to Dodge in the off-season. She qualified a season-high fifth, and when she turned on the win light in the first round against Aaron Strong, it ended a tough start to the season.

Strong red-lit, but Enders would have been tough to beat with a .009 light and a pass of 6.767 seconds at 204.42 mph.

The second round didn’t go off without a hitch, as the engine cut off before Enders staged. Still, Enders restarted it and then had a .006-second reaction time that helped her beat Elite teammate Drew Skillman. He had the quicker elapsed time, 6.807 seconds at 204.01 mph, but Enders’ lead on the starting line was enough for her 6.845-second pass at 204.70 mph to get the win.

“The car shut off,” Enders said. “That’s the same thing that happened a couple of weeks ago. This time, thankfully, we were able to remain a little bit calm because we knew exactly what was going on. The car re-fired right away.”

Enders and her team were able to laugh it off later in the day.

“We had a little bit of a fireball come out of the right header and burn all the leg hair off one of my guys,” Enders said. “We replayed it in slo-mo about 37 times for all our team, and we got a good laugh out of it.”

Race winner Line was nearly untouchable Sunday, as his run of 6.737 seconds at 205.22 mph took out Enders’ 6.801-second pass at 204.82 mph. Still, Enders was encouraged by the performance of her team.

“We did a lot better than we expected to today,” said Enders, who owns an 18-1 round-win record in national events in Las Vegas with Elite. “It was a good day, a good points day. We’ve got to get back to the shop, fix these awesome Hemis, and go to Charlotte renewed, refreshed, and ready to win a race.”

Impressive Las Vegas winning streak comes to an end for Pro Stock champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | Las Vegas 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV — The streak is over. Long live the streak?

Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders extended her consecutive round-win streak at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to 23 on Saturday before falling to Jason Line in the second round of the K&N Horsepower Challenge, snapping a winning spree that lasted more than two years.

Enders looks to start a new streak on Sunday when she races in the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, the regular national event here at The Strip.

“I didn’t want it to end but there was a plan that was different than mine,” Enders said. “You know it’s disappointing on one hand, but, wow, what an accomplishment on the other. We’ve got to keep positive and focus on tomorrow.”

Enders did make her best qualifying effort of the season in her new Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge, as she’ll start eliminations from the No. 5 spot. Enders ‘ best pass was 6.711 seconds at 204.63 mph as she starts from the top half of the field for the first time in 2016.

“We definitely made some strides in the right direction,” Enders said. “It’s definitely nice to be a little more solid in the top half. We obviously still have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be, but fifth isn’t a bad position to start, especially considering the people who are ahead of me: The three KB (Racing) cars that have just lit the world on fire this year and then my Elite Motorsports teammate, Drew Skillman. It’s cool that it’s three KB cars and then three Elite Motorsports cars.”

Enders has won the last four national events in Las Vegas and the last two K&N Horsepower Challenge races here. She ran her streak to 23 round-wins in a row by beating Allen Johnson in the first round of the K&N Challenge with a pass of 6.755 seconds at 204.60. She got off the line first with a .016-second reaction time and outran Johnson, whose pass was 6.789 seconds at 204.73 mph.

She then faced KB Racing’s Line in the second round, and though she left first with a .021 light, Line’s pass of 6.720 seconds at 205.94 mph beat her run of 6.810 seconds at 204.39 mph.

“Being first out without lane choice is pretty hard,” Enders said. “Having said that, I think that we can go back to our setup where we made our good run and have a consistent race car that’s within striking distance.”

Enders will look to start a new winning streak in the first round Sunday when she faces No. 12 qualifier Aaron Strong (6.750 at 204.6 mph).

“We’re not at the top of the pack, but we’ll keep making strides in the right direction and we’ll get better,” Enders said. “It’s just a matter of time until we’re back to our winning ways.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders’ Las Vegas hot streak is unlike any other

Erica Enders | Gainesville 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV — The winning streak Pro Stock champion Erica Enders is on at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is likely some sort of Las Vegas record.

Heading into the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals this weekend, Enders has won four national events, two K&N Horsepower Challenge races, and 22 rounds — all consecutively — in Las Vegas. The last time she didn’t win there was in October 2013.

Only Greg Anderson has won as many national events in a row in Las Vegas, but the K&N Challenge wasn’t contested in Vegas at the time.

“It’s awesome to have that kind of run, and it’s pretty unheard of,” Enders said. “We’ve had an incredible two years there, and we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us to do well this weekend. Twenty-two consecutive round-wins in a row is huge, so Vegas has obviously been good to me. I’m hoping Lady Luck will get on our side this weekend. We certainly haven’t had the best start to the year.”

As her Elite Motorsports team has dealt with rules changes that mandate a switch to fuel-injected engines as well as a move to a new manufacturer in Dodge, the 2016 season hasn’t started as well as she would have liked, so Enders and her team would love nothing more than to continue their Vegas hot streak.

“It’s definitely on our mind,” Enders said. “We’re going to continue to do our best. It’s a tall order, but we’ve accomplished things with way more working against us than we have now. Anything is possible, and we’ll go in there with the right mindset and hope for the best.

“It would be really awesome to win this weekend for Mark (Lyle). He’s a huge asset to our sport, and we’re deeply saddened by his loss.”

Lyle, the NHRA chief starter, died earlier this week. He was the starter for all of Enders’ Vegas wins, including the two special K&N Horsepower Challenge races.

The K&N Challenge is a special race for Pro Stock racers based on qualifying points since the 2015 event. Enders is the No. 2 seed and will race Allen Johnson in the first round Saturday, which coincides with the weekend’s third qualifying session.

The winner of the Challenge will earn $50,000 and a custom K&N Horsepower trophy. The runner-up will earn $10,000, the two semifinalists $3,000 each, and the four first-round finishers $2,500 apiece.

“Everything has to go right for you to have a great day,” Enders said. “To be able to have two great race days in the spring for the K&N Challenge and then the national event and then one in the fall is pretty amazing. You think of all the hard work and preparation that goes into getting the car to perform the way it does, and having everything go right that many times in a row is just insane.”

No driver has won three K&N Horsepower Challenge races in a row since the event started in 1985.

Reigning champ Erica Enders nipped by .01-second in Gainesville

Erica Enders Gainseville 2016 Sunday

GAINESVILLE, FL — Back-to-back and reigning world Pro Stock champion Erica Enders went door-handle-to-door-handle with Allen Johnson in the opening round of eliminations at the 47th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, ultimately losing by a hundredth of a second, her third straight first-round loss.

“We’re getting so close to where we want to be, and we knew making the switch to Mopar would take some adjustments, but it’s still frustrating when you lose a drag race,” Enders said, “especially when you consider all of the success we’ve had the last two seasons.

“I know we’ll be alright and the guys are upbeat and telling me not to get down, but I suppose I’ve gotten a little spoiled. At the same time, I know we have the best team, the best crew guys, the best tuners, the best engine builders in the world under this awning, so there’s no doubt we’ll be back to our winning ways very soon. We just have to be patient.”

Johnson left with a miniscule .006-second head start but was able to hold off Enders’ Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart as the two streaked down Gainesville Raceway. The margin of victory at top speed was estimated to be about four feet.

“I could see ‘Brutus’ (Johnson) out of the corner of my eye the whole way down,” Enders said. “That’s one big advantage we have without the hood scoop any more — you can see everything. I just did my thing and tried to be perfect going through the gears, but we came up a fender short.

“I keep saying it but we’ve only had these Hemi motors for a month, so it’s new to all of us, but when Jake Hairston and Nick Ferri tell me there are big things to come, I believe them. The more and more runs we make and the more dyno time those two have, the better it will be. Like I said, we have to be patient.”

The next stop on the NHRA tour is the 17th annual Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, April 1-3, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, although Enders thinks she’ll be in the seat before that race begins.

“I’d imagine the guys will want to test some more,” Enders said. “It’s easy for us to go to Keith Haney’s track in Tulsa (Okla.) because it’s close to the race shop and that track is so good it’s just like anything we see on the national tour. We’ll probably hit it hard when the truck gets back to Oklahoma.

“Thanks to the fans here in Gainesville. They’ve been awesome. I wish we could have done more for them, but their support hasn’t wavered one bit. I’ll tell them all the same thing: Be patient with us.”

Today’s race will be televised from 1 to 4 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

Reigning world champion Erica Enders progressing nicely with her new Mopar hot rod

Erica Enders | Gainesville 2016 Qualifying

GAINESVILLE, FL — Two and a half races into her newest era of racing, back-to-back and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders is pleased with the progress of her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart. Through four rounds of qualifying at the 47th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Enders qualified 10th with a steady pass of 6.636 seconds at 208.33 mph.

“It’s no secret that we’ve struggled a bit the first two races with an extremely new program, but it’s just a matter of having more time to make more runs with this Dodge Dart and the Hemi powerplant,” Enders said. “We’re going to get better every race; I believe that wholeheartedly. My guys are so smart. They want it more than anything. We just have to be patient.

“Our test in Tulsa (Okla.) this week was certainly encouraging. We’ve improved so much since we got our first motor in February, for sure. Knowing what we found in Tulsa and applying it here to all four of the cars on this team was our first goal and we all came out okay. I think our four cars ended up fifth, sixth, ninth, and 10th, so that’s pretty good.”

Enders’ 6.636 pits her against good friend Allen Johnson when elimination action begins at noon ET on Sunday. Johnson’s best pass was a seventh-place 6.628 at 207.91 mph.

“I don’t think that where we qualified is indicative of what happened on the track because on our run of record I had something go wrong and it certainly cost us a few hundredths of a second,” Enders said. “We could have at least run a 6.62, so that’s extremely encouraging.

“We certainly weren’t looking for a bottom-half qualifying effort, but we will get our act together before tomorrow, and Jeg (Coughlin Jr., teammate) has proved over and over that you can win from any position on the qualifying sheet, so we’ll treat tomorrow like a brand-new day. I feel really confident.

“We’ve all got a little extra pep in our step after today. I know things are for sure headed in the right direction.”

Race day eliminations will air live from 1 to 4 p.m. ET Sunday on FOX Sports 1.

Pro Stock champion Erica Enders chases first Gatornationals victory

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GAINESVILLE, FL — Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders has already amassed an impressive résumé in her illustrious career, from winning back-to-back Pro Stock championships in 2014-15 to going to victory lane 21 times, including at the prestigious U.S. Nationals last season.

A win at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals has eluded her so far, but she gets another chance at victory this weekend at Gainesville Raceway.

“It would be really cool to get a Wally at the Gators,” Enders said. “I’ve been to the finals twice and haven’t won yet, but I really want to win there. It’s a tall order right now, but we’ll certainly go in with a positive attitude and a winning mentality. You never know what could happen.”

Enders raced to the final round in Gainesville early in her Pro Stock career, losing to Tom Martino in 2006. She also reached the Gatornationals final in 2014, her first season with Elite, before falling to Allen Johnson.

Her tenure at Elite has netted two championships and 15 victories, including nine last year (a single-season record for women).

A switch to Dodge, compounded by NHRA-mandated changes to fuel-injected engines, has put Enders and her Elite team in development mode early in 2016, but improvements are coming.

“All of the new changes are a huge challenge,” Enders said. “We haven’t quite gotten a handle on it yet, but our test session was very productive. We feel like we learned a bunch and we have it pointed in the right direction now. Time will tell, but it definitely was encouraging.”

Enders tested this week at Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park — not far from Elite’s headquarters in Wynnewood, Okla. — as crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones continue to fine-tune the new Dodge Dart.

“We’ll keep working on our race car, we’ll keep getting better,” Enders said. “It would be awesome to have a Gatornationals trophy. It’s one of the most prestigious races on the tour, and there’s a lot of history there. It’s one of my favorite races. We’ll go do our best and let God do the rest.”

Friday night qualifying will air from 9 to 10 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, with a second qualifying show from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Race day eliminations will air live from 1 to 4 p.m. ET Sunday, also on FOX Sports 1.

Pro Stock ace Erica Enders to double down at several races with ORTEQ Super Gas roadster

Erica Enders to race ORTEQ Super Gas roadster

WYNNEWOOD, OK — Two-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders will return to her Sportsman racing roots this season driving the ORTEQ Energy Technologies Super Gas car for Buddy Wood and Cody Ortowski at select races.

Enders earned her first NHRA national event victory in the Super Gas class in 2004 before moving into the professional ranks.

“ORTEQ has been a big part of our success with the Pro Stock car the last few years, and when Buddy and Cody asked if I wanted to drive their Super Gas car I jumped at the chance,” Enders said. “It’ll be great to get back to my Sportsman roots a little and to visit with and race all my friends that run Super Gas. I’m just going to have some fun with it. The car is good, it can win any race we enter, so I’ll do my best to put it in the winner’s circle.”

Wood is longtime friends with Elite Motorsports owner Richard Freeman, car owner of Enders’ Elite/Mopar Dodge Pro Stock Dart. The Wood Racing shop is 15 minutes from Elite’s headquarters in Wynnewood, Okla.

“It’s pretty awesome to have a driver of Erica’s caliber get behind the wheel of our car,” Wood said. “She’s a killer on the Christmas Tree, and we have no doubt she’ll be great in our car. It’ll be great to see what Erica can do.”

“We are ecstatic to have Erica drive our ORTEQ hot rod,” Ortowski said. “When I think about success, I think about character and execution. Erica displays both, week in and week out. We are proud to be aligned with the future of drag racing.”

Sportsman ace Tommy Phillips drove the same car to one national event and two divisional race victories in 2015.

“It won’t be easy; the Super Gas category is very tough and I’m sure my competition will be more than ready for me every race,” Enders said. “It’ll be no different than what we see every round in Pro Stock. You have to earn everything.”

Enders’ Super Gas schedule will be determined at a later date, though she’ll compete in eight to 10 national events in conjunction with her Pro Stock activities.

“My teammate, Jeg Coughlin Jr., has run two cars a number of times in the past, and he said it makes for a busier weekend for sure but that it also allows you a better chance to lock in on the Tree and make a bunch more passes, which keeps you in race mode,” Enders said. “By doubling up I’ll actually be cutting down on the distractions we all face at national events. I’ll be too busy.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders flashes driving brilliance in Phoenix loss

Erica Enders Phoenix 2016 Mopar

PHOENIX, AZ — Erica Enders’ 200th career Pro Stock race didn’t go as she wanted, but the two-time defending Pro Stock champion did show she hasn’t lost her touch.

Despite a first-round loss to Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Enders still managed to post the best reaction time of the day, .005-second.

That stellar light gave her an instant advantage over Skillman, but her pass of 6.705 seconds at 207.53 mph wasn’t enough to hold off Skillman’s 6.633 at 208.33 mph.

“Cutting a .005 light made me happy but it was short-lived,” Enders said. “I unclutched it and I thought, ‘Dang, Drew is probably in trouble because that felt pretty good.’ But our car has been extremely unhappy all weekend, and we’re trying to get her settled down and back to our real race car.”

Enders won the 2014 and 2015 Pro Stock championships with a combination of her terrific driving, solid horsepower from Elite Performance, and excellent tune-ups from crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, but much has changed for 2016. NHRA mandated fuel-injected engines limited to 10,500 rpm, and Elite also switched to Mopar, building a new car for Enders, and that car is still being developed.

“It stinks that we are out early in Phoenix, but that round was certainly a step in the right direction,” Enders said. “It gives us a little positive breath of air throughout all of this interesting learning curve. It’s easy to get frustrated, especially coming off two successful years like we have had, but my crew continues to dig deep and have positive attitudes, and that’s what I feel champions are made of.

“I’m so proud of them and proud to be their driver. I know that this early elimination trend is going to end pretty quickly and the rest of the field will be in trouble. Until then we’ll just continue to work on our race car. The Dodge Dart is a great car and we’re going to test before Gainesville, and that will help get us moving in the right direction.”

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