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Erica Enders makes more history by winning in Charlotte for first time

Erica Enders wins Charlotte 2015

CHARLOTTE, NC — Erica Enders can scratch another one off the bucket list.

The defending Pro Stock champion won at zMax Dragway for the first time, taking down Vincent Nobile on a holeshot in the final round of the NHRA Carolina Nationals on Sunday, and in doing so, she continued to pile up impressive numbers for her career and for her outstanding 2015 season.

“That is pretty neat,” Enders said of winning in Charlotte. “Back when I drove for Cagnazzi (Racing), this was one of the facilities that they had never won at. It was obviously a goal of ours. Coming in this weekend, I had runner-upped three or four different times here, a couple at the Four-Wide Nationals and one at the regular race. This was actually the place where the win lights malfunctioned and we thought we got our first win against Greg Anderson, but then they were like, ‘Sike, you don’t get it,’ and took the trophy over to him.

“That was definitely an interesting roller-coaster ride of emotions, but to finally be able to win here in Charlotte is definitely awesome.”

The victory — Enders’ class-leading seventh of the season and 19th of her career — kicked off the Countdown to the Championship. She was already the No. 1 seed for the six-race Countdown, and she increased her points lead to 83.

And the numbers don’t stop there:

  • Her 19th career win passed Shirley Muldowney on the all-time win list for women and Enders now trails only Angelle Sampey (41)
  • The Charlotte win was her third consecutive victory, tying the mark set by Sampey in 2002 and Muldowney in 1977 for most wins in a row by a woman
  • Her seventh win of 2015 tied the mark set by Sampey in 2001 for most wins in a single season by a woman

“Yeah, it’s pretty incredible,” Enders said. “My PR guy was telling me some stats on the way down the hallway and that is pretty surreal. I feel like I’m in a dream. I just don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a great group of guys and to work for such an awesome team owner. We have fun together and that is what makes it so cool. We are able to be successful and have fun. Nobody said that you had to be miserable while you are doing it.

“It’s a true blessing, and to be able to pass Shirley — it was crazy in Indy to tie her. Angelle is a friend of mine, lives about 20 minutes from my house (in New Orleans). She is by far the winningest female in NHRA drag racing, so it’s definitely cool to put my name alongside of theirs, a true honor.”

Enders stamped her name in the record book with another final-round holeshot. She beat Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, and then did the same to Nobile here.

Nobile’s pass of 6.575 seconds at 211.13 mph was quicker than Enders’ 6.581-second run at 210.97 mph, but her reaction time of .012-second (compared to Nobile’s .022) made the difference.

“In the second round we had an issue with our clutch and were able to barely make it up for the semifinals against (Allen Johnson),” Enders said. “And we had another interesting thing happen before the final. It was like they were throwing all that they could at us to see us fail but we rose above. That was pretty cool.

“It’s just a confidence booster in getting in the race car up there when my crew chief (Rick Jones) said, ‘Hey, look up in the right corner of your windshield. What does that say? It says No. 1. There is a reason for that.’

“Just having them stand behind me even when I might not be there mentally that day it pumps me up. They are there for me. My guys are who make me a better driver.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders will begin title defense from No. 3 spot in Charlotte

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CHARLOTTE, NC — Pro Stock World Champion Erica Enders begins her title defense on Sunday from the No. 3 qualifying position at the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway.

Enders sits atop the Pro Stock points standings as the six-race Countdown to the Championship begins here this weekend, and she has shown plenty of speed and consistency during qualifying. Her best pass was 6.536 seconds at 211.83 mph, and she races Vieri Gaines in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Gaines qualified No. 14 with a top lap of 6.670 at 210.05 mph.

With the warmest temperatures of the weekend expected Sunday, Pro Stock drivers and teams will need to negotiate a difficult track, but Enders knows her Elite Motorsports team will be up to the challenge.

“We’re going to have a long day cut out for us tomorrow,” Enders said. “It’s going to be the hottest day of the weekend, and I think it’s going to be survival of the fittest.

“That makes me happy because I know what my guys are capable of. When the racetrack is in great condition and the weather’s just right, everybody can run well, but when things are not wonderful is when we really seem to excel. I’m speaking optimistically and am hopeful that tomorrow is a long day.”

Three of Enders’ four qualifying passes were within .015-second, showing the consistency needed to win on race day. In Q3, Enders’ Chevrolet Camaro suffered a damaged engine, but her team replaced it and made a solid pass in the heat of the day, 6.551 seconds at 211.53 mph.

“We started off on the right foot: We were low for the first session,” Enders said. “When we went up for Q2, we had some interesting things happen, and we hurt a motor today, so it’s definitely been an interesting weekend so far.

“We wrapped up qualifying with a decent, race-day prep run and ended up being third-quickest for the session, so that’s good.”

Enders is a six-time winner in 2015, including the last Pro Stock races on the schedule. The most recent was the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, where she beat Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final.

“Right now, my teammate and I are on opposite sides of the ladder,” Enders said, “so that’s fun if you want to look forward and see what could potentially happen.”

Pro Stock eliminations are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Erica Enders, Elite Motorsports ready to defend Pro Stock championship

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CHARLOTTE, NC — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders begins the Countdown to the Championship playoffs from the lofty No. 1 spot at this weekend’s NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway.

Victories in the last two races, including the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals two weeks ago, cemented her No. 1 spot — and a 30-point lead over the No. 2 driver — in the points standings.

“I’m really excited to be in the No. 1 position because that 30-point bonus would have significantly changed things in Pomona [Calif.] last year when it came down to the final round at the final race with Jason (Line) and I,” Enders said. “Had I lost that round, I would have lost the championship by one point.

“We still have a ton of work cut out for us going into the Countdown. We weren’t the fastest car at Indy, but you bet your butt our guys are back in the shop working on that to see if we can find some more horsepower and get our act together for the Countdown.”

Enders has six victories in seven final-round appearances in 2015, racing to the semifinals in five other races. She also has five No. 1 qualifiers and has amassed a 40-12 round-win record through 18 races.

“We came off the win in Brainerd [Minn.], went to Indy, and won at Indy,” Enders said. “We want to carry that momentum. You want to start off the Countdown on the right foot. These are the six most important races of the season. You have to have as little parts failure as you can. You have to change things out more frequently than you would have before just to stay ahead of the game.

“I’m really excited. I’m very optimistic about the final six races. I know that my guys are as well.”

Enders won the 2014 world championship by winning twice, racing to the semifinals twice, and reaching the second round twice in the six-race Countdown. That experience can only help as she guns for her second consecutive season title.

“I feel like we as a team learned a lot about ourselves last year, being able to perform well in those high-pressure situations,” Enders said. “Behind the scenes, of course, your stomach is in a knot. I joked last year going into the final round that I could have puked. I think my crew chiefs were the same way. So much is on the line for one round.

“We were pretty tough. That’s something that we learned, and I’ve become a much better driver with the guys that are surrounding me now. My Elite Motorsports team has helped me so much. I feel that even in crazy situations — when things break, go wrong, you’re rushed, or you’re not in sequence — I’ve learned how to overcome those feelings and just be able to block that out.

“I feel like I can have anything thrown at me and can have anything thrown at us and we can come out on top. That’s something that we had to learn and had to acquire over the years. Going into this Countdown, yes, I feel like we are the best that we have ever been, and I’m very, very excited about what’s to come.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:15 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday.

Erica Enders adds U.S. Nationals title to growing résumé

Erica Enders wins 2015 U.S. Nationals at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders can now add U.S. Nationals champion to her growling list of accomplishments in what is becoming a legendary career.

Enders won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway with a brilliant driving display, beating her final three opponents on holeshots, including Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final round.

The victory cemented her No. 1 spot in the Pro Stock points standings for the Countdown to the Championship, which begins at zMax Dragway in Charlotte in two weeks, and it was her 18th career win, tying her for second all-time with the legendary Shirley Muldowney.

Enders may not be a legend yet, but she has accomplished a lot. She won the 2014 Pro Stock World Championship, becoming the first female to win the class title, and now she has won the biggest race of all, three years after a crushing defeat in the final round to a teammate.

“I’m struggling putting it into words because we’ve worked so hard for so long to get here,” Enders said. “There have been times in my career, particularly the final at Indy in 2012, where I really didn’t understand why things went down the way they did. It’s worth the wait. It’s worth the wait to do it with the right people and I couldn’t be more proud of my team.”

Her team is proud of her, too, especially after her driving Monday. After dispatching Vieri Gaines in the first round, Enders was actually outrun by Larry Morgan in the second round (6.613 seconds at 209.52 mph for Morgan to 6.617 at 209.01 mph for Enders), but her .036-second reaction time and .007-second head start was the difference.

Then came a big matchup in the semifinals against Greg Anderson, who was second in the points standings and the No. 1 qualifier here. But Enders drilled the Tree (.013 to .054) and overcame Anderson’s 6.591-second pass at 210.41 mph with her 6.618 at 209.39 mph.

“It was a challenge all day long, and our big round was against Greg Anderson,” Enders said. “Beating him allows us to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 seed. Those 30 points are going to be really, really crucial to us considering last year. Had we lost to Jason Line in the final (in Pomona, Calif., last year), we would have lost by a single point, so it’s huge. It’s huge for me, it’s huge for my team, and huge for any kid that ever had a dream. I came here as a little kid and I wanted to be here. Twenty-three years later we finally made it.”

In the final against Skillman, Enders had another .013 light to Skillman’s .025, and her run of 6.611 seconds at 209.75 mph was enough to hold off his 6.606-second run at 209.98 mph. The victory was her sixth of 2015, and her career total now matches Muldowney.

“Six wins in a single season is huge because I tied Shirley Muldowney,” Enders said. “I talk about Shirley an awful lot because she’s been a lifelong hero of mine because of what she had to endure driving back then. She still managed to do it with grace and class and come out on top. Over the years she became my mentor and my friend. I’m really lucky to have her in my corner. To put my name next to hers for a tie for all-time wins is incredible.

“I remember it like it was yesterday, wanting to get on the list, period, with just one win, and to say we have 18 is nuts.”

And it came at the race where she was named grand marshal. Enders got the call from Chevrolet before the race in Seattle, but she thought it was a joke.

“I kinda was like, ‘Are you joking?’ ” Enders said. “It’s a huge honor. I’m a Chevy girl through and through, and I’m very proud to drive a Camaro. It’s very neat, and it was a big honor to be up there today before the race. Jim Campbell has done a lot for our sport, as has everybody at Chevrolet. It’s just an honor. It feels surreal because I have to pinch myself to believe that we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders gunning for first U.S. Nationals victory

Erica Enders - 2015 U.S. Nationals qualifying

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders has already accomplished a lot in her career, from winning the 2014 Pro Stock World Championship to piling up 17 professional victories — one short of matching Shirley Muldowney for second among winningest female drivers — but she still has one big thing remaining on her bucket list: win the U.S. Nationals.

Enders has a good shot at it in 2015, as she has qualified No. 4 for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“It’d be pretty awesome to win,” said Enders, a runner-up at Indy in 2012. “It would rank right up there with the championship and winning in your hometown. It’s the biggest race of the year, and I would be ecstatic if we won it.”

There is plenty more on the line for Enders and her team. She is first in the Pro Stock points standings with one race remaining before the Countdown to the Championship, and the U.S. Nationals pays 1.5 times the normal amount of points.

“It’s very crucial for us because it’s worth a point and a half,” Enders said. “I’d really like to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 position, so we’re going to fight tooth and nail for it Monday and see what happens.”

Enders’ best qualifying pass was 6.571 seconds at 210.54 mph, just .009-second off the No. 1 qualifier.

“The car is good,” Enders said. “We lost a session Friday because of the weather. Saturday morning, after 95 percent of my burnout, a coil wire came off, and we weren’t able to make that run, which put us first pair out for the third session.

“We had to be very conservative in Pro Stock, being first pair out on a racetrack like that,” Enders said. “We made a very good run and were No. 1 for a while before we ended up No. 4.”

Then on Sunday, Enders was third-quickest in each session. She’ll face No. 13 qualifier Vieri Gaines in the first round Monday after Gaines had a pass of 6.620 at 209.01 mph.

“Monday is definitely going to be tricky,” said Enders, the most recent winner on the Pro Stock tour in Brainerd, Minn. “It’s going to be hot, and that makes my crew chiefs’ jobs very interesting, but I’m fortunate to have three of the best the business has ever seen. I know they’ll give me a fast, consistent race car, and if I get up on the wheel, there’s no reason we can’t have a repeat of Brainerd.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders hopes to reap U.S. Nationals rewards

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN — The rewards are plentiful for Elite Motorsports Pro Stock driver Erica Enders during this weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

Enders, the 2014 Pro Stock World Champion, sits atop the points standings with one more race before the Countdown to the Championship begins, so a good showing at Indy could cement her status as the No. 1 seed.

She’s also coming off a victory at Brainerd International Raceway two weeks ago and is gunning for two wins in a row and her first U.S. Nationals title.

Enders has 17 Pro Stock victories in her brilliant career, and her next win would tie her with the legendary Shirley Muldowney, and she’d trail only Angelle Sampey on the all-time win list for women. Plus, Enders is the grand marshal for this weekend’s race.

“I’m real excited to head into Indy, our biggest race of the year,” Enders said. “Not only is it like our Super Bowl, but it’s double the jackpot and a point and a half this time. Being the last race before we head into the Countdown, it could solidify our No. 1 seed into the Countdown, providing we keep pace with the Summit cars.”

Enders leads Greg Anderson by 16 points after her Brainerd win, but NHRA is awarding 1.5 times the normal amount of points at Indianapolis.

“Going in as the No. 1 seed is definitely important,” Enders said. “That is one of our goals this weekend. We’re coming off a win in Brainerd, which certainly gives us a lot of confidence. Hopefully, we’ll keep the momentum on our side of things and continue the streak.”

Enders and her team tested at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis earlier this week, trying to improve their already stellar performance this season. Enders has won five times in six final-round appearances, racing to the semifinals 11 times in 17 races. Plus, she has five No. 1 qualifiers.

“We learned a lot and things went well,” Enders said. “For a team that doesn’t test a lot, it was really nice to get to try some things. That’s all good stuff heading into the biggest race of the year.”

Muldowney, one of drag racing’s pioneers, will be at the U.S. Nationals this weekend, and she certainly supports Enders.

“She’s a legend of our sport and a huge personal hero of mine,” Enders said. “To be within one pro win of Shirley is surreal, and if we win Indy, we’d be tied with her and then only trailing Angelle. I remember like it was yesterday working so hard to get our first Pro Stock win, and in three short years, we’ve not only been able to score our first win but we’ve been fortunate to win 17 of them — and the world championship. It’s pretty incredible to look at that, knowing how long it took to get the first one.

“I’m beyond excited to have my name on the list with two incredible women like Angelle and Shirley, and it’s obviously my personal goal to become the winningest female of all time. We’re working on it.”

Erica Enders vaults back to Pro Stock points lead with fifth victory of 2015

Erica Enders wins 2015 Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd

BRAINERD, MN — Erica Enders’ winning ways continued Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.

By beating Jason Line in the final round of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the 2014 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock champion:

  • Won for a class-leading fifth time this season
  • Won for the 17th time in her career, moving within one of the legendary Shirley Muldowney for second among female drivers
  • Took over the Pro Stock points lead
  • Won for the second time at Brainerd

“I had a really good feeling coming in this week, even before the weekend started,” Enders said. “I felt like it was our turn and the tables were about to turn.”

Enders had struggled somewhat in the last five races, winning six rounds since her victory in Bristol.

But Enders and her Elite Motorsports team turned it on during eliminations in Brainerd. She left first on all four opponents Sunday, including Line in the final round, and she made the quickest pass of the weekend in the semifinals against Chris McGaha.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Enders said. “We didn’t light it on fire in qualifying, but they certainly gave me the best hot rod in the world today. Throwing that 6.541 on the board in the semi’s was pretty stout.

“I think we’re working our way back to having our awesome race car, and this is definitely a great step in the right direction, at the right point of the season.”

After dispatching Mark Hogan in the first round with a .002-second reaction time, Enders dumped Bo Butner in Round 2. Then in the semifinals, after a .023 light gave her an immediate advantage, Enders made a pass of 6.541 seconds at 210.67 mph that ended McGaha’s two-race winning streak.

Enders had a .014 light against Line in the final and made her pass of 6.552 seconds at 210.34 mph hold up against Line’s quicker 6.541 at 211.06 mph.

Enders moved back into the points lead for the fourth time this season, and she heads to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis — the final race before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs — with momentum.

“We’re going to do our best to continue this momentum in Indy,” Enders said. “It’s definitely going to be a dogfight in Indy. Track conditions will be different, weather conditions will be way different, and there will be more competitors who are coming to the U.S. Nationals.

“Chevrolet has asked me to be the grand marshal for the U.S. Nationals, which is going to be a huge honor for me. We’ll do our best as a team to have an awesome weekend there. It’s the first time it’s going to be worth a point and a half, so every round is going to be crucial.”

Bizarre second round sends Erica Enders home early in Seattle

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SEATTLE, WA — A series of wacky circumstances helped end Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders’ day in the second round of the NHRA Northwest Nationals on Sunday at Pacific Raceways.

After beating Bob Butner in Round 1, Enders faced Elite teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the second, but from the start, almost nothing went right.

“I fired the car and had no oil pressure and no vacuum, so I radioed my guys and told them,” Enders said. “My crew chief just waved me in the water to start the burnout. I went to start my burnout, and then they were waving their arms to stop, so I aborted the burnout.

“They told me to shut it off, and they pulled my front-end clip off. Turns out the oil sump belt had come off, so there was no oil turning to the motor. They put that on, put the front end back on, and I fired it up. I had to reset all my switches, and the starter said I could do a short burnout. As I was pulling up, they were like, ‘No, back up.’ I backed up through the water and started my whole procedure over again. It was extremely rushed, and I was unable to do a burnout across the starting line, which means we couldn’t put any rubber down or burn through the resin.”

That’s detrimental to a recalcitrant Pro Stock car, though Enders did make a decent pass of 6.530 seconds at 211.89 mph. Coughlin, who shut the engine off in his Camaro while he waited for his teammate, won with a run of 6.532 seconds at 211.96, earning the victory on a holeshot.

“We did what we could with what we had,” Enders said. “I pulled in and pre-staged, but to be quite honest, I didn’t rise to the occasion today. I’m pretty disappointed in myself as a driver. Regardless of the distractions up there, I’m a world champion for a reason, and I didn’t show it today. It makes me mad, but at the same time, there were eight things that were horribly wrong all at one time, and it was a distraction. This is a game that’s won and lost by thousandths of a second.

“There have been multiple times when I did rise to the occasion, but today just wasn’t one of them.”

Enders, the 2014 Pro Stock World Champion, was grateful to Coughlin for waiting.

“The fortunate thing is my teammate Jeg Coughlin waited for me,” Enders said. “He didn’t have to, but we’re a team back here, and we’re a team up there. He shut his car off, and he wasn’t going to pre-stage without me. That speaks a lot about his character and the class he brings to this operation.

“The good thing about that round was that I was racing a teammate. Nobody else would have waited, and one of the red cars was going to the semifinals.”

Enders, who qualified No. 7, took out Butner with a pass of 6.518 seconds at 212.13 mph, leaving first with a .034-second reaction time. Butner’s run was 6.524 seconds at 212.39 mph.

“We feel like we made a really good move in the right direction with our race car. We’d been struggling the last two weeks, and that was evident by the scoreboard. But we fixed it, so that’s something else to be proud of.”

Enders now looks forward to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in two weeks at Brainerd International Raceway.

“You can bet I’ll show up in Brainerd mad,” Enders said, “and wanting to win that race.”

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