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Racing on Father’s Day holds special memories for Pro Stock champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders-Stevens in Bristol winner's circle

BRISTOL, TN — Father’s Day is a special time for dads and their kids, a time for children to honor their fathers for all the sacrifices made.

While racing at this weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders will certainly thank her dad, Gregg Enders, for everything he did to further her career in drag racing.

“My dad means the world to me,” Enders said. “He’s been a huge support in my racing career, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without him. We will do our best to bring him home another Wally this year on Father’s Day.”

Erica went to her dad, a racer himself, when she was 8 years old, asking to drive in the new Jr. Dragster class. Gregg agreed and began a long journey as mentor, crew chief, and supporter.

“He gave up a lot for (sister) Courtney and I to be able to race,” Enders said. “From the Jr. Dragster days to Super Comp and Super Gas to funding a Pro Stock team on his own, he provided all the stepping-stones to get me where I am today.

“Now, I’m with a team that takes great care of me and we have a blast together. Every challenging moment was worth it to get where I am now at Elite Motorsports.”

Enders won the 2014 Pro Stock world championship, with Gregg and Courtney arm in arm behind her at Auto Club Raceway last November.

Enders remains a leading contender to repeat as champion, as she’s second in the points standings with three wins in four final-round appearances and three No. 1 qualifiers in nine races to date. She heads to Bristol as the event’s defending champion.

“I’m excited to go back,” Enders said. “So far this year, we’ve won at the same tracks we won at last year, so hopefully that trend continues at Thunder Valley. I’ve never been shy to say that Bristol’s one of my favorite tracks on the tour, and the fact that it’s been good to us in the past makes it even more fun to go back.”

Enders has been to the Bristol final round in three of the last four races (2011, 2013, 2014), reaching the semifinals in 2012.

“It’s an awesome part of the country,” Enders said. “The fans are kind to us, and the facility is beautiful. Plus, Bruton Smith and his staff treat the competitors well.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions will be held at 5 and 7:30 p.m. ET, Friday, and 12:30 and 3 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. ESPN2 will broadcast all the qualifying action from 8 to 10 p.m., Saturday, and the elimination rounds from 3 to 6 p.m., Sunday.

‘Deadhead’ sinks Erica Enders’ chances at New England Nationals

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EPPING, NH — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders is no fan of the Grateful Dead, and after the NHRA New England Nationals on Sunday at New England Dragway, she’s even less so.

Followers of the legendary psychedelic rock band are called “Deadheads,” but that’s a term she’d rather not hear.

That’s because in drag racing, the term “deadhead” refers to an incorrect smashing of gears in the transmission, and it results in a slower than usual pass down the racetrack.

And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday in the semifinals after Enders had the quickest car on the property in the previous two rounds.

Good buddy Allen Johnson made a pass of 6.537 second at 213.33 mph, a run that Enders could have easily covered if she had matched her first- and second-round runs, but during her normal shifting procedure, Enders’ transmission deadheaded and her pass was 6.540 seconds at 214.21 mph. That gave Johnson a narrow victory to the final round.

“It’s disappointing, for sure,” Enders said. “Instead of the gears lining up and going into the right gear, it just misses when it’s supposed to align and it doesn’t shift. It’s no one’s fault and it happens every now and then in Pro Stock, but that doesn’t take the sting out of it.”

The 2014 Pro Stock champion, Enders had the dominant car on Sunday in Epping. She qualified No. 4, but crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll tuned the red Chevrolet Camaro to a pass of 6.513 at 214.69 mph in the first round against V. Gaines. That was the quickest and fastest pass of the round, and the speed broke Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s year-old track record.

She went even quicker in the next round against Vincent Nobile. While Nobile made a pass of 6.546 seconds at 213.47 mph, Enders blistered the track with a 6.506-second run at 214.66 mph to advance to the semifinals.

“It just wasn’t our day, but we had the quickest car on the property today thanks to my guys,” Enders said. “They’re the best guys out here, and I have complete faith in them all. We’ll be back in Bristol next week, and we’re the defending champions there, so our heads are held high.”

Next on the NHRA schedule is the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals next weekend at Bristol Dragway.

No. 4 qualifier Erica Enders looking for win No. 4 of the season

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EPPING, NH — Reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders will try to add to her class-leading three victories Sunday at New England Dragway from the No. 4 qualifying spot. The popular pro posted a best run of 6.543 at 211.99 mph in her Elite Motorsports Camaro to earn the slot, placing herself right in the middle of the top title contenders.

The No. 4 starting spot was lucky for Enders in her hometown of Houston, where she went on to win the event. She’s also won from the No. 1 spot (Topeka) and the No. 2 position (Las Vegas).

“The bottom line is you need to be prepared to beat everyone if you expect to win the race, regardless of where you qualify,” Enders said. “You come into a race with the initial goal of qualifying for eliminations. Then you aim for being in the top half of the field so you have lane choice in Round 1. Then you try to get as many bonus point as you can each qualifying session. Then if you’re lucky, you’re on the pole. We’ve clicked off all of those things but one so we’re very happy.

“Tomorrow’s a new day. We’ll have lane choice but we still need to race hard. Having that No. 1 on the door (denoting her champion status) brings out the best in everyone we race. People drag their best stuff up there when they know we’re in the other lane and everyone takes their best shot. It’s been an adjustment for us, but we’re used to now. We have a lot of confidence in our car, our horsepower and our abilities.”

The NHRA returned to New England Dragway just two years ago so the track is one of the places Enders has yet to score a victory, something she’d love to change Sunday.

“The fans up here are insane,” said Enders, who is married to fellow Pro Stock racer Richie Stevens. “They love sports, all kinds of sports, and they have absolutely packed this place the last two days. I think it’s really awesome that we’re back in this market. It’s important to bring the top level of drag racing to these fans.

“One of the things you always dream about is winning at every racetrack. It would just be such a cool thing to be able to say. I don’t think many drivers have won at every track and since we’ve only raced here twice, it’s one everyone wants to check off their list, including us.”

As the fourth-best qualifier, Enders will open eliminations against Vieri Gaines, who qualified 13th on the ladder with a 6.643 at 211.00 mph.

ESPN2 will broadcast all the qualifying action from 7:30-10 p.m., Saturday, and the elimination rounds from 5-8 p.m., Sunday.

Reigning world champion drag racer Erica Enders expects excellence in Epping

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EPPING, NH — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports Pro Stock race team are expecting a memorable outing at this weekend’s NHRA New England Nationals, and the world champions have plenty of reason to be optimistic, including three victories in the last five races, three top qualifying efforts, and an enviable 20-6 race day mark in the first nine races of the season.

“Everything’s been clicking for us,” said Enders, a Houston native who now lives in New Orleans with her husband, fellow racer Richie Stevens. “We even switched to a new car a few races back but really didn’t miss a beat. In fact, we got even better. It speaks to the quality of work these guys put in every day. We expect the best from each other and they deliver it time after time.

“Our team owner, Richard Freeman, is really good at getting the best out of people and that attitude spreads throughout the team. We’re not cocky; we just know what we’re capable of, and we feel a huge responsibility to prove ourselves every weekend.”

Enders has chalked up national event wins in Las Vegas, Houston, and Topeka, Kan., this year. She also won the K&N Horsepower Challenge in Las Vegas, a special non-points event for the category’s top-eight teams from the last 12 months. Her three national event wins are the most in the Pro Stock class and tied for most in the pro ranks with Top Fuel’s Antron Brown and Funny Car’s Matt Hagan.

“I’m sure if you asked Antron and Matt they’d tell you the same thing, that whenever you win a Wally all you really want to do is win another one,” she said. “It’s addictive. It’s the best reward for the crew and the engine builders for all the long hours they put in to make me look good. I get on TV, but they’re the real heroes of this operation, no doubt.”

With 15 national event wins in her career, Enders is just three behind legendary nitro pilot and trailblazer Shirley Muldowney, a longtime idol who has become a great friend and confidant to the 31-year-old Enders.

“I’ve been hearing about Shirley’s mark lately because the media picks up on the numbers, but there is no comparing me and her,” Enders said. “What she went through back when she raced was really tough. She opened the door for girls like me to even know we had a chance to race. Plus, they didn’t run near as many races every year back then, so to compare her numbers to mine is crazy.

“Bottom line, Shirley will always be the first lady of drag racing. She is a great friend and someone I know I can call at any time of the day or night to ask her advice. Her and Angelle (Sampey) were such a big help last year when the championship battle got intense. I’m honored just to be mentioned alongside of them.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions will be held at 4:30 and 7 p.m. ET, Friday, and 12:30 and 3 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. ESPN2 will broadcast all the qualifying action from 7:30 to 10 p.m., Saturday, and the elimination rounds from 5 to 8 p.m., Sunday.

Rare first-round exit for world champion Erica Enders in E-town

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ENGLISHTOWN, NJ — For just the third time in the last two years, reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders suffered a first-round departure Sunday at the 46th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals.

Enders rolled up to the starting line for what should have been a routine race against Round 1 opponent Alan Prusiensky, who qualified more than a tenth of a second behind Enders, but as she executed her prerace burnout, Enders knew that something was wrong with her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.

“I could hear something was off in the motor on the burnout,” she said. “I radioed the guys and they said to go ahead and stage to see if the other guy would red-light (foul out) and give us a gift. I had a pretty good feeling we couldn’t make any sort of run, so that was the best hope we had.”

Following team owner Richard Freeman’s instructions, Enders staged her car and even peeled off a fantastic .016-second reaction time, well ahead of part-timer Prusiensky’s .042-second launch, but as she progressed down Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Enders could sense that her motor was laboring, so rather than risk further damage she pushed in the clutch and aborted the run.

“Fortunately we came into this race with a cushion at the top of the points, so if we have to give away a race, this is as good a time as any,” said Enders, who is married to fellow Pro Stock racer Richie Stevens. “Our lead will be gone by the end of the day, but we’ll regroup and be back to full strength by next weekend’s race.”

The Oklahoma-based Elite Motorsports team will repair the motor on the road as the NHRA tour heads straight to Epping, N.H., for the NHRA New England Nationals, which runs Friday through Sunday at New England Dragway.

“We have several motors on the truck, so we’ll fix this one and see how it runs and either use it in Epping or swap it out with another one,” Enders said. “All of the powerplants we have are about the same, so it won’t be an issue.

“I’m sure when they take the motor apart it will be something little. It happens in this sport. We’re running these motors at such a high rpm that stuff like this happens from time to time. I have the best team and the best engine guys in the world, so we’ll get her fixed up and ready for Epping.”

Pro Stock leader Erica Enders anxious to challenge for fourth win of the year

ENGLISHTOWN, NJ — After winning three of the last four races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, reigning Pro Stock champion and current points leader Erica Enders would be a favorite no matter where she qualified for this weekend’s Toyota NHRA Summernationals. Fortunately, her Elite Motorsports Camaro is running as well as she has been driving, setting the table for another potential victory celebration at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

“Our confidence and attitude is certainly in the right place after winning three of the last four races,” Enders said. “At the same time, past performances mean nothing in drag racing. You have to prove yourself each and every round, each and every race, so we’ll be ready to do that.”

Enders qualified third with a 6.500 at 213.60 mph, which means she’ll begin elimination racing with lane choice against No. 14 qualifier Alan Prusiensky (6.615 at 210.50 mph). So far this year, Enders has won from the first, second, and fourth starting slots.

“Consistency is the key in drag racing, and that’s especially the case in Pro Stock because every race seems to be decided by just a few thousandths of a second,” Enders said. “We know our capabilities and the three guys tuning this RacingInRed.com Camaro are the best in the business, so I know I’ll sleep well tonight.

“Race day always gets me excited, and when you’re on a hot streak that feeling is amplified. We tested some extra things today and feel like we have the perfect combination to go rounds tomorrow. That’s the plan.”

Although she has accumulated 15 professional victories — just three shy of legend Shirley Muldowney’s 18-win career mark — Enders hasn’t found ultimate success at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park to date. That’s something she’d like to change Sunday.

“I’m not sure why we’ve struggled here,” Enders said. “We did set the national speed record last year here, so that was cool, but otherwise I’ve never had a perfect weekend at Old Bridge. My husband Richie (Stevens, fellow Pro Stock racer) has done real well here, so we talked a lot about this track during the week. I hope some of his mojo rubbed off on me.

“The Napp family (track owners) have made this place such a special stop on the tour. They’re old Jr. Dragster racers like me, and I’d love to visit their winner’s circle. It’s such an historic race, definitely one I’d like to win.”

Eliminations for Pro Stock are slated to begin around noon ET. ESPN2 will carry all the racing action Sunday afternoon.

Erica Enders stays hot, puts Elite Motorsports Chevy at top of Pro Stock chart

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ENGLISHTOWN, NJ — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports team continue to pace the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class, speeding to the provisional No. 1 qualifier at the Toyota NHRA Summernationals on Friday at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

Enders was quickest in all three qualifying sessions and all four rounds of eliminations in winning at Heartland Park Topeka two weeks ago for her third victory in the last four races.

In the second qualifying session Friday in Englishtown, Enders’ pass of 6.508 seconds at 213.06 mph put the 2014 Pro Stock champion at the top of the chart.

“We just feel like we’re getting a better handle on the tire and the fuel,” Enders said. “I know I talk about that a lot, but it’s been a true challenge for everyone in the class. With our new race car, we’re applying those changes and learning the best we can from the data we’ve acquired. It’s all going in the right direction.

“Pro Stock goes in spurts and waves, and I know that, but right now we’re doing really well as a team. We’re having fun, most importantly, and that contributes a lot to our on-track success.”

While Enders’ streak of having low elapsed time in each round ended at seven, she bounced back from a 6.550-second run that was sixth-quickest in Q1 to take the top spot.

“In the first run, we were just way too conservative,” Enders said. “We went out there in Q2 and just got after it. I knew when I un-clutched it that we were on a good run. It just speaks volumes of my crew chiefs and what they’re capable of.

“Of course, they’re perfectionists, so when we got back to the trailer, they were like, ‘We should’ve done this, done that.’ We’re excited about tomorrow and proud of what we accomplished today.”

Enders was helped by better weather conditions in Q2, as temperatures dropped, but air conditions improved, too.

“The second session was definitely a little bit better,” Enders said. “In Pro Stock, we look at barometer mostly, how many water grains are in the air, humidity, so it was a little bit better on that run. We knew going into today that it wasn’t going to be record-setting conditions.”

And conditions tomorrow may not be any better, when the final two qualifying sessions are scheduled.

“It’s supposed to be seven degrees warmer, so we’re just going to have to watch the barometer closely and see what happens,” Enders said. “It should be OK, and if that’s the case, we’re going to do a little testing tomorrow and see if we can better ourselves for Sunday.”

Record setter Erica Enders returns to Englishtown on a roll

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ENGLISHTOWN, NJ — No one was faster during the 2014 Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park than Erica Enders, and no one is more excited to return for this year’s event.

Enders and her Elite Motorsports team set the national elapsed time and speed records in Englishtown a year ago, 6.464 seconds and 215.55 mph, and she still holds the speed mark.

“There’s a lot of history at Raceway Park,” said Enders, the 2014 Pro Stock champion. “I’m excited to go back because we set both ends of the national record there for e.t. and mph. The e.t. record was just broken by Jason (Line) in Charlotte, but we still hold the mph record. Definitely some fond memories there for me: My husband Richie (Stevens) has won there a handful of times, so it’s a lucky track for him.”

Plus, Englishtown is a favorite stop for Pro Stock competitors because fans in the area truly love the class.

“It’s Pro Stock country up there,” Enders said. “People there love Pro Stock, so it’s always exciting to get back to a racetrack where the whole grandstands want to see us race. The back of the pits are packed, and you get a lot of educated questions. It’s nice.”

Weather may not allow for record-setting runs this year, but Enders should still be among the fastest drivers. She is coming off a victory at Heartland Park Topeka, where she was the quickest in all three rounds of qualifying and in all four rounds of eliminations. The forecast calls for temperatures in the low 80s this weekend with a slight chance for rain.

“Englishtown and Reading are always two of the most likely tracks to have weather conditions conducive for record-setting runs,” Enders said. “If the conditions are there, I definitely put our money on us. We’ve certainly got a good handle on our hot rod right now, and I’ve been driving really well. We’ll see what the good Lord deals us with the weather, and we’ll go up there and do our best.

“Record or not, our goal is to win the race. Coming off a win in Topeka, I’m very excited to get back behind the wheel.”

The Topeka victory put Enders back on top in the points standings for the second time this season, and she leads Line by 58 points, but this is no time to be counting points, Enders said.

“It’s always exciting to lead the points, but it’s a long season,” Enders said. “We’re only a third of the way through it, and we’ve got a lot of races left. There are a lot of tough competitors out there in Pro Stock, and it’s going to come down to the wire. With the Countdown format, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to get very far ahead. We were 250 points ahead last year, and it came down to the final round of the final race.”

Qualifying for the Toyota NHRA Summernationals takes place at 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. ET, Friday, and 1:15 and 3:45 p.m., Saturday. Elimination racing begins at noon, Sunday. ESPN2 will carry all of the action.

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