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NHRA champ Erica Enders wins hometown race, powers into points lead

Erica Enders-Stevens wins Houston 2015

HOUSTON — Erica Enders won another drag race Sunday in her native Houston to barge into the championship points lead for this first time in her title-defense season. Enders beat Allen Johnson, Vincent Nobile, Jonathan Gray, and Chris McGaha for her second straight NHRA victory. It was also her second consecutive win at Royal Purple Raceway, where she began her racing career at the age of 8.

“I didn’t think anything could top winning here a year ago,” said Enders, who attended Spring-Cypress High School and Texas A&M University, “but this just might have done it. We ran a special-edition car with Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants on the door. Stan and Sheila Holt (Lupe Tortilla owners) have supported me since I was racing Jr. Dragsters and they are like family to me. To win this one for them was over the top.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever worked harder for a win. We had a complete engine change before racing Jonathan. We went to warm up, and we realized there was a big problem with the motor. There was 10 minutes until we needed to be in the staging lanes and I thought we were done, but the guys got after it and pulled it off. They are unbelievable.

“Big thanks to everyone from all the other teams that jumped in and helped. That’s what’s special about drag racing: We all want to beat each other on the racetrack, but we’ll do anything to help the team you’re about to race if they need it.”

This was Enders’ 14th Pro Stock victory, although she quickly deflected any praise to team owner Richard Freeman of Elite Motorsports and crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones.

“I say it every time anyone asks and I’ll say it again, I have the best team in drag racing,” Enders said. “What we’ve been able to accomplish in the last year and half is nothing short of amazing. I always dreamt of winning here when I used to run my Jr. Dragster here with my dad and sister, and when I dreamed about winning, I would dream about being with a team just like this … the very best.

“I credit Richard for putting together an awesome group and constantly motivating them to push themselves every race. This is my dream and it continued today.”

By the numbers, Enders beat Johnson with a 6.562, ran a better 6.553 against a red-lighting Nobile, took out Gray with a 6.570, and dispatched McGaha with a 6.571. Her average reaction time was a stellar .017-second.

Enders will now take two weeks off before racing again May 15-17 at Atlanta Raceway in Commerce, Ga.

Overwhelming crowd-favorite Erica Enders ready to defend hometown NHRA title

HOUSTON — Houston native Erica Enders realized a lifelong dream a year ago when she scored her first pro-level victory at her home track of Royal Purple Raceway. She used the victory to springboard a career year that ended in an historic Pro Stock championship, the first ever for a female racer.

Now the little girl that cut her drag racing teeth at the famous dragstrip in the Houston suburb of Baytown is back, ready to do it all over again, this time with longtime supporter Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants as her title sponsor.

“It wasn’t my first win as a pro, but it was my first one here, the place where I used to dream about winning when I was a little girl in a Jr. Dragster, and that made it one of the best moments of my life,” Enders said. “If we could win again for Stan and Sheila Holt (owners of Lupe Tortilla), the Holt boys, and everyone else at all 16 of their restaurants who have been so supportive of me over the years, that just might top it all.

“We’re in good shape. The Pro Stock class is ridiculously good now, and having the No. 1 on the door puts a big target on us. Everyone is taking their best shots against us and we have to be ready to fight every pass. This team knows how to win and we’ll get after it tomorrow, just like we have every weekend.”

Enders, who was victorious at the last NHRA race in Las Vegas two weekends ago, will start eliminations as the No. 4 qualifier. Her best pass in qualifying was a 6.540 at 211.99 mph. As such, she’ll open race day action against good friend Allen Johnson, who qualified 13th with a best of 6.574 at 211.46 mph.

“Home races are such a blast,” Enders said. “The support of the crowd has been crazy, and having everyone stop by and congratulate us on all the success we’ve had is very humbling. I’m blown away by my fans and I love them all.

“It’s going to be a fun race. My team owner, Richard Freeman, is breaking in our new Rick Jones race car and he’s in the field. My teammate (Drew Skillman) is running great, and our engine customer, Rodger Brogdon, who also is from Houston, is looking strong, too. It could be a big day for Elite Motorsports!

“We also started a Kickstarter campaign this weekend for an online TV show we’ve been working on, so I encourage everyone to visit RacingInRed.com and check it out.”

Sunday’s eliminations will be aired live from 1 to 4 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

 

Erica Enders-Stevens gears up for Houston homecoming with Lupe Tortilla, Elite Motorsports

Enders-Stevens gears up for Houston homecoming

HOUSTON, TX — Coming home to Texas always puts an extra kick in Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders-Stevens’ step, and she has even more reasons to be upbeat about the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals this weekend at Royal Purple Raceway.

For starters, she will be sponsored by her favorite restaurant, Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants, and she’s coming off a second consecutive double-up at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Enders-Stevens won the special K&N Horsepower Challenge on April 25 in Las Vegas, then won the regular national event the next day. She became the first driver since Bob Glidden to pull off the sweep two years in a row, and now she’s coming to race in her hometown, where she won last year.

“Vegas was huge for us,” Enders-Stevens said. “We didn’t exactly start off the season the way we wanted to. Granted it wasn’t horrible, but we hadn’t gotten a handle on the tires and the fuel yet. Staying after Charlotte to test got things looking up for us. It was a huge confidence builder, and it was also pretty surreal to be able to double up two years in a row.

“That was an awesome experience. I believe we create our own momentum, and we’re on a high right now. I’m excited to carry that into Houston.”

She moved into second place in the Pro Stock points standings with the Las Vegas win and hopes to go back to back in her hometown. Born and raised in the Houston area, Enders-Stevens now lives in New Orleans with her husband, Richie Stevens.

The 2014 win in Houston was her first pro victory in her hometown.

“It was a really important race win to me, not only because it was my first professional win in my hometown but also because it’s sort of a home track for my team owner, Richard Freeman, as well,” Enders-Stevens said. “And it was the first Pro Stock race my dad ever got to see me win. It was really an exciting weekend and everything came together.”

Enders-Stevens hopes that happens again, especially after partnering with longtime friend Stan Holt’s Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants.

“We’ve got a different name on the door this weekend, and it’s a great family-owned business in Lupe Tortilla,” Enders-Stevens said. “Stan Holt has been a big part of my career going back to Jr. Dragsters, and he’s been a longtime family friend. We’re really proud to fly his colors in Houston and support him. Hopefully we’ll get a bunch of people to go try the best food in the country.”

Qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m. CT, Friday, and 12:30 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Final eliminations will start at approximately noon, Sunday. Saturday qualifying will be broadcasted at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and Sunday’s elimination action will air live beginning at 2 p.m.

Houston-based Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants to sponsor reigning champ Erica Enders-Stevens

Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants to sponsor Erica Enders-Stevens

HOUSTON, TX — Lupe Tortilla, routinely voted the top Mexican restaurant in Texas, will assume title sponsorship of the record-setting Pro Stock race car of reigning world champion Erica Enders-Stevens at the upcoming O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

A 31-year-old superstar in the world of professional drag racing, Enders-Stevens is a Houston native who attended Spring-Cypress High School and Texas A&M University. She has been supported by Lupe Tortilla founder Stan Holt, his wife Sheila, and their restaurants since she began her driving career at age 8, a relationship that continues to this day with her team owner Richard Freeman and his Elite Motorsports operation.

“Stan has always been a part of racing and my personal life for as long as I can remember,” Enders-Stevens said. “He has always been there for me and I consider him and Sheila part of my family. Stan even performed the wedding ceremony when Richie and I got married.

“We had the best year of our professional lives in 2014, winning six races and the championship. I was honored to become the first female Pro Stock champion and join my heroes Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey as the only women in history to win a major motorsports title. The neat thing is that Lupe Tortilla was with us every step of the way.

“It would be another dream come true to win this race for Stan, his sons, Sheila Mae, and all of their employees across the state. No matter what, if we can remind people to go eat at one of their restaurants, then I’ll be super happy, and trust me everyone leaves that place happy. It’s the best Tex-Mex ever.”

Based in Houston, Lupe Tortilla boasts 17 locations across the greater Houston area as well as Austin, San Antonio, Beaumont, and College Station.

“It’ll be really neat to see the Lupe Tortilla car on the racetrack,” said Holt, who drag races himself at the Sportsman level. “We came up with the idea to support Erica and the Elite Motorsports team at this race since it’s in our backyard, and when I talked to my sons about it they thought it would be a lot of fun.

“We always have a good time at the races, and many of the professional drivers and crewmen come to visit and have lunch or dinner when they’re in town. We have great relationships with so many people out there, including the Angel family, who own the racetrack. The NHRA is really a big family and we’re happy to feed them all.”

The 28th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals takes place from April 24-26 at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown.

Erica Enders-Stevens completes historic sweep in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders-Stevens turned in another brilliant driving performance to continue her run of success at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, winning the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals on Sunday to secure a second consecutive double-up at The Strip.

Enders-Stevens also won the K&N Horsepower Challenge on Saturday, completing the Challenge/national-event sweep for the second year in a row. The sweep earned Elite Motorsports a $25,000 bonus to go with the $50,000 earned from winning the Challenge.

“I guess we can start saying Vegas is our lucky track,” Enders-Stevens said. “Winning is very challenging, and to be able to do it at both Vegas races last year and then come back here and do it again shows what we’re capable of. But it’s also very surreal. There are so many tough competitors out there, and the bar has really been raised. I’m just proud of my team.

“It’s certainly a high-pressure situation, but my guys thrive on it. They perform very well under it, and I’m so proud of them.”

The Las Vegas winning streak has reached 18 round-wins, including last fall’s national event. She last lost a round here in October 2013 when she was with another team. She also became the first driver to sweep the Challenge and national event in consecutive years since Bob Glidden did it in 1987-88.

“I’m just really proud for Elite Motorsports and Elite Performance,” Enders-Stevens said. “My guys have worked so hard and continue to give me a great race car, which has been a struggle at the start of this year. I think we’ve got our hot rod back.”

The victory was Enders-Stevens’ 13th of her career and first of the season. A test session following the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte two weeks ago went a long way in her Elite team overcoming troubles with a new tire and new fuel for 2015.

Sunday, though, Enders-Stevens had to undergo her own troubles. Flu-like symptoms, including a sore throat and fever, left her dehydrated before the race, and she took intravenous fluids before the first round. She took another IV later in the day.

“I just really had to focus on the mental side of it,” Enders-Stevens said. “Anybody can relate to feeling so bad you don’t even want to get out of bed. To have to get in a race car on a 130-degree racetrack in a 15-layer firesuit certainly tests you. I just had to be positive.

“I asked my crew chiefs (Rick and Rickie Jones) to do their best to pump me up on the radio, so we had some fun out there. I give them the credit today. They gave me a consistent race car. Granted, we did win on a couple of holeshots, but that’s my job as a driver. You don’t get sick days here.”

Enders-Stevens responded with holeshot wins in the semifinals and final. She had a bye in the first round after Matt Hartford failed to make the call, and she then beat Jimmy Alund with a pass of 6.661 seconds at 207.27 mph to Alund’s 6.697 at 206.70 mph.

She then ripped off a .001-second reaction time in the semi’s to overcome Greg Anderson’s quicker 6.671 at 208.71 mph with her run of 6.673 seconds at 207.53. The difference was on the Christmas Tree, where Anderson’s light was .055.

In the final Enders-Stevens and Vincent Nobile — opponents in the K&N Horsepower Challenge final on Saturday — made identical 6.674-second passes. Enders-Stevens, though, had a .024 light, a tick quicker than Nobile’s .040.

“I don’t want to dwell on being sick,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s not that big a deal. Everybody gets sick. They took care of me, and we were able to get it done today and that’s all that matters.”

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Erica Enders-Stevens storms to second consecutive K&N Horsepower Challenge victory

Erica Enders-Stevens wins 2015 K&N Horsepower Challenge

LAS VEGAS, NV — Defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders-Stevens and her Elite Motorsports team broke out of their early seasons struggles in a big way, storming to a second consecutive victory in the K&N Horsepower Challenge on Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Enders-Stevens beat Chris McGaha, Jason Line (on a holeshot), and Vincent Nobile en route to winning the special race for the Pro Stock class.

“The swag is back and the confidence was definitely back after we tested in Charlotte,” Enders-Stevens said. “We had a very successful test, and everything started to come together. My crew chiefs called me several times this week, and just hearing the confidence in their voices gives me a peace of mind and allows me to be confident and perform to the best of my ability.”

And she extended her winning streak to 14 rounds in Las Vegas, including the 2014 Horsepower Challenge, both national events last year, and Saturday’s race.

“Fourteen rounds in a row, that’s very awesome,” Enders-Stevens said. “All the credit goes to my guys. They work so incredibly hard, and I’m so proud of them and I’m honored to be their driver.”

Enders-Stevens has two No. 1 qualifiers in 2015 but had yet to visit the winner’s circle until Saturday.

“We have struggled, there’s no doubt about that, at the beginning of this year,” Enders-Stevens said. “We stayed after Charlotte and tested on Monday and finally figured this hot rod out. The new tire had been giving us a little bit of an issue, but (crew chiefs) Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll thrashed at it, and their determination and perseverance turned this whole deal around.”

Enders-Stevens snared the No. 2 qualifying position for Sunday’s SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals with a pass of 6.617 seconds at 208.94 mph in Friday’s second qualifying session. That set up a promising day in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, a race pitting Pro Stock’s best against each other for a $50,000 prize.

Enders-Stevens started off against McGaha, and as McGaha slowed to a 17.154-second run at 46.29 mph, she got the win light with a pass of 6.690 seconds at 207.98 mph.

That matched her against Line, who had secured the No. 1 qualifier for the national event this weekend, but Enders-Stevens got the jump with a .017-second reaction time (to Line’s .033 light), and her 6.652-second pass at 207.88 mph was enough to hold off Line’s quicker run of 6.648 seconds at 208.62 mph.

After a quick turnaround for the final round, Enders-Stevens outran Nobile with a pass of 6.650 seconds at 208.01 mph to his 6.694-second run at 207.62 mph.

“We had about a 35-minute turnaround going into the final,” Enders-Stevens said. “Vincent was kind enough to wait; he was already buckled up when we pulled up, and I wasn’t even in the car yet. We were certainly thrashing, but my guys did a great job. They kept their heads together, and that’s what it’s all about: Pulling together, pulling your weight, and getting it done when you need to.”

Her victory also meant Frank Savarese of Fort Wayne, Ind., won a ’15 Toyota Tacoma as part of a K&N sweepstakes. K&N pairs lucky fans with each Horsepower Challenge driver, and Savarese drew Enders-Stevens’ name on Friday.

“He drew my number, and he told me afterward that he was hoping to draw us,” Enders-Stevens said. “I said, ‘Well, we’re coming in with a great car.’ After the first two qualifying sessions on Friday, I said, ‘We’re going to have a race car. If I can do my job as a driver, I’m hopeful you can leave with that awesome Toyota truck.’ ”

Enders-Stevens will go for her second consecutive double-double in the Las Vegas national event. She was due to race No. 15 qualifier Matt Hartford, but Hartford broke the engine during qualifying and will not be able to make the call for Sunday’s first round.

She’ll face the winner of the race between No. 7 qualifier Larry Morgan and No. 10 qualifier Jimmy Alund in the second round.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders-Stevens hoping for another Las Vegas double

Erica Enders-Stevens hoping for another Vegas double

LAS VEGAS, NV — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders-Stevens hopes to double down for the second year in a row at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Last March, Enders-Stevens won the special K&N Horsepower Challenge in Las Vegas and then doubled up the next day by winning the regular national event.

Is a repeat at this weekend’s SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in the cards?

“Vegas will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first win with Elite and we were able to double up there,” Enders-Stevens said. “Then we went there in the fall and won the race to take over the points lead for the championship.

“We swept the Vegas races last year, so we’re really excited to go back, especially coming off a successful test in Charlotte. It gives us a little boost of confidence heading to Vegas.”

Enders-Stevens joined Richard Freeman’s Elite team for the 2014 season, but she was winless with Elite before heading to Vegas. That changed when she knocked off Dave Connolly in the final of the Horsepower Challenge and beat Jason Line in the national event final.

“It was just a special weekend for my team and I,” Enders-Stevens said. “We were still pretty new together, and it was neat to see how well everyone worked together, even under such a high-pressure situation for $100,000. It was a weekend I’ll never forget.”

The K&N Horsepower Challenge is a special race for seven Pro Stock drivers based on qualifying points accrued since the 2014 event (one is added via a fan vote). Qualifying sessions Saturday are used for K&N Challenge elimination rounds, with the K&N final being an extra pass Saturday. The winner pockets $50,000.

“It’s a really exciting specialty race that K&N puts on every year for us,” Enders-Stevens said. “All of us Pro Stock guys are so appreciative of K&N for their involvement in NHRA and their support of our class. It’s an exciting weekend coming up, and being the defending champions makes it even more exciting for us.

“Two of the qualifying passes are K&N elimination rounds, so not only is Sunday important but Saturday is really important to us, too. We’ll get one day to get our ducks in a row and then we’ll swing for the fences on Saturday. I’m really excited about it, and I’m hopeful that we can get it done again.”

Qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. ET, Friday, and 1 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Final eliminations will start at approximately noon, Sunday. Saturday qualifying will be broadcast live at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and elimination action Sunday will be aired at 5 p.m.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders-Stevens looks for better days after tough Charlotte

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CHARLOTTE, NC — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders-Stevens saw her streak of consecutive NHRA Four-Wide Nationals final-round appearances at zMax Dragway come to an end in the second round Sunday.

Enders-Stevens had raced for the Four-Wide Nationals title in 2012, ’13, and ’14, but tire shake in the second round ended her chances of four finals in a row.

The 2014 Pro Stock champion hasn’t had the start to this season she would have liked, as a new tire and new fuel has delivered a wicked curveball to her Elite team.

“It’s one of those deals that we’ve got to work through,” Enders-Stevens said. “If any team out here can do it, I know that it’s mine because we have perseverance and determination. My crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll have the same no-quit attitude as the rest of us.

“We’re going to stay here and test tomorrow and figure this car out. We obviously have some issues and we will fix it.”

Enders-Stevens slipped into the Four-Wide field on Saturday despite not making a full qualifying run (Friday’s two sessions were rained out), and as the No. 16 qualifier she faced No. 1 qualifier Chris McGaha, No. 8 Shane Gray, and No. 9 Buddy Perkinson.

Enders-Stevens was sharp on the Christmas Tree with a quad-best .015-second reaction time, and her pass of 6.521 seconds at 214.42 mph was enough to beat McGaha’s quicker 6.481-second run at 214.28 mph as well as Gray’s 6.525 at 213.37 and Perkinson’s 6.550 at 212.19 mph.

“It certainly wasn’t pretty but we got down,” Enders-Stevens said. “We knew we had our work cut out for us after not getting down in qualifying, but like I’ve said before, I have all the faith in the world in my guys, and we were able to get it done.”

But in the second round against McGaha, No. 4 Greg Anderson, and No. 12 Jonathan Gray, Enders-Stevens’ red Camaro shook at the hit, and she was forced to push the clutch in.

“How we do doesn’t define us,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s how we pull through these tough moments as a team. I couldn’t ask for a better group than what I’ve got, so I’m really optimistic about what’s to come. This will just make us stronger.”

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