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Erica Enders finishes second in Seattle after closest race of NHRA season

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Seattle 2017

KENT, WA — Professional drag racing is the only motorsport in the world with the need to time things to the 10-thousandth of a second, an increment of time put to the test in the final round of Sunday’s 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals when two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders was edged by Drew Skillman by .0006 seconds, or an estimated one inch, making it the closest drag race of the entire season.

“That was so close,” Enders said. “I thought I had him. It felt like we were just a sliver ahead of him but it’s really hard to tell at that speed. You’re not really looking over because 100-percent of your focus is getting to that stripe first. I was pretty sure I was going to push the gas pedal through the floorboard.”

Had Enders gained one more tick at the starting line — she left five-thousandths of a second ahead of Skillman — her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro would have reached the other end first, but Skillman’s 6.604 at 209.33 mph was just enough to take the win ahead of Enders’ 6.609 at 209.49 mph.

“Good for Drew,” said Enders, the 2012 Seattle winner. “He’s my bud so it’s cool, but I will say he owes me one or two now so we’ll have to get him next time. It was cool to be in the closest race of the year and really cool to make a little personal history in the semifinals also.”

In reaching her 39th career final round, Enders reached the impressive milestone of 250 elimination-round victories when she beat a red-lighting Tanner Gray in the semifinals. Gray was an over-eager -.068 at the tree and could only watch as Enders zoomed to a 6.633 at 208.71 mph.

“Saying 250 round wins is pretty crazy because it was so hard to get there,” Enders said. “But it’s also been so rewarding. I wouldn’t change my life for anything.”

Earlier in the day, Enders beat quarterfinal opponent Jason Line with a 6.595 at 209.46 mph to Line’s 6.603 at 209.30 mph. She opened the day with a 6.592 at 210.08 mph victory over a resigned Matt Hartford.

“If you had told me last Saturday night after four so-so qualifying runs that we’d turn the corner Sunday over there and learn enough to come here and get this car all the way to the finals I would have said you were crazy,” Enders said. “But my guys pull through in the clutch time and time again.

“It’s easy to have down times in the course of a season when you want to just go crazy but these guys never let us get down on ourselves. We rise up like champions and just get to work. That’s what we’ll do leaving here. We still have plenty to do to these Elite cars but we’re chipping away at it.”

The NHRA tour takes a weekend off before returning to action Aug. 18-20 with the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Two-time champ and No. 4 qualifier Erica Enders looking for more Seattle success

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Seattle 2017

KENT, WA — Erica Enders was fighting for her playoff life the last time the NHRA tour passed through Pacific Raceways. This time around, she easily secured her spot in the 2017 Countdown to the Championship by simply qualifying for the elimination field of the 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals.

Even better, Enders is four spots better and a world away from the struggles of last season. To wit, she’s qualified a lofty fourth on this weekend’s ladder in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro and she’s one of nine different winners the class has produced in the first 15 races.

“We have a shot, that’s all we ever ask for, and certainly we’re in better shape than we were last year,” Enders said. “It’s definitely been a different feeling coming into this weekend without the pressure we had one year ago. But to be honest, we’re still not super happy. We’re better, but nowhere near where we want to be.

“It seemed like we were really onto something earlier this summer when we won Epping and that every weekend one of these Elite Motorsports cars was racing for the trophy. But we’ve found out how extremely finicky the electronic fuel injection can be. It’s been a fight, not only for us but for everyone. That’s why we’ve had so many different winners.”

After a couple of down weekends, Enders and crew found the heartbeat of their Chevrolet last weekend in Sonoma during an elimination race against good friend Bo Butner.

“We didn’t win the race but it was the first really good pass we had made in a while,” Enders said. “It gave us a new baseline tune-up that seemed to work. We came in here with something to build on and it’s worked to some extent. We’ll keep chipping away.”

A winner here in 2012, Enders’ best pass this weekend flashed a 6.575 at 210.31 mph on the Seattle scoreboards. She also ran a 6.596, a 6.614 and a 6.631 in the other three qualifying sessions.

By qualifying fourth on the modified 14-car grid, Enders first opponent on Sunday will be No. 11 qualifier Matt Hartford, who closed qualifying with his best pass of the weekend, a 6.643 at 207.46 mph. Enders opened the 2017 season by beating Hartford in Pomona in their only head-to-head meeting of the year.

“We’ve got a car that goes A-to-B, which is a big start,” Enders said. “We have a tune-up that seems to be working and we’ve got all the talent in the world in this pit. I know the guys won’t rest until we’re back running like we were in Epping.”

Pro Stock eliminations will begin at noon, Sunday. The FOX Network will broadcast the action live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (Times are local and subject to change.)

Seattle success on the mind of two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders

Erica Enders | NHRA 2017 Pro Stock

KENT, WA — Erica Enders has placed a push-pin in this weekend’s 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways as the place she would most like to get her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro back into the winner’s circle.

There are many reasons the two-time world champion is feeling especially optimistic as the NHRA series completes its Western Swing of consecutive races in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle. First, she opened the newly created Eastern Swing with a win. Second, her team had a nice up-tick in performance last Sunday in Sonoma. And third, she’s a past winner in Seattle.

“There’s definitely a lot of optimism in the Elite Motorsports pit after our race day run in Sonoma,” Enders said. “We have been struggling for a few races but the guys made a big move between qualifying and eliminations in Sonoma and the car really responded. Now we can start fine-tuning that setup and hopefully we’ll be back where we were when we won Epping a few months ago.

“We’re going back to a track where we’ve had some success. We made it to the winner’s circle there in 2012 and it’s always been a really fun place to race. The city of Seattle is so pretty and it’s a race weekend we always enjoy. I’m definitely looking forward to getting there.”

Bracketing the two NHRA “Swings” with wins would represent a huge step towards securing a position in the Countdown to the Championship, drag racing’s six-event version of playoffs. Races in Seattle, Brainerd and Indianapolis will complete the regular season. At that point, only the top 10 drivers in the points are eligible to run for the title.

“There definitely is a renewed sense of hope here,” Enders said. “We are back to believing the sky’s the limit moving forward. We are closing in on the Countdown to the Championship and we’ve got to get this Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports car headed in a more consistent direction. We are going to do our best to get there.”

To get the team primed for the stretch run, team owner Richard Freeman arranged a white-water rafting trip this week in Oregon. It was just what the group needed, according to Enders.

“It was definitely a wild deal,” Enders said. “I’m an adrenaline junkie but I had never whitewater rafted before. I was a little nervous about it ahead of time but anything this team does together, we always end up having a blast. (Fellow racer) Bo and Randi Lynn (Butner) were able to join us as well so it was a lot of good fun with some great friends.

“You need these times to get business and racing off of your mind, even if it’s just for a day, and focus on the family side of this crazy sport. It was another great team-building experience, something we were blessed to do together. All-in-all, a really cool experience.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 and 5 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air the first two rounds of qualifying action from 6-7 p.m., Friday. The main FOX Network will broadcast eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Despite her best run of the weekend, Erica Enders edged in Sonoma’s opening round

Erica Enders | NHRA Sonoma 2017 | Melling Performance

SONOMA, CA — A late night in the Elite Motorsports pit produced a massive turnaround for two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, who had struggled mightily through two days of qualifying for this weekend’s 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Unfortunately, despite posting her best run of the meet by far, Enders came up just short in her first-round race with three-time 2017 winner Bo Butner.

“That was definitely a huge step in the right direction considering we basically got zero data from four really off-pace qualifying passes,” Enders said. “I’m really so proud of my team for hanging in there and persevering even when there was barely a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel yesterday afternoon.”

After topping out at 6.949 at 211.89 mph during time trials, Enders’ crew, led by the father/son duo of Rick and Rickie Jones, got her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro fixed overnight, producing a very competitive 6.567-second run at 212.13 mph. Second-place qualifier Butner was just slightly quicker, taking the win with a 6.549 at 212.03 mph.

“Had we made that run right there in the fourth qualifying session we would have positioned ourselves much differently on the ladder,” Enders said. “Had that been the case, I think today’s turnout could have been the winner’s circle but as my team owner says, ‘If crickets had pistols, the birds wouldn’t mess with them.’

“No one usually cares about the ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda,’ but in this case I do because, in my opinion, I have the smartest guys in the business working on my car. We have literally been stumped for a handful of races but what just happened is a huge step in the right direction and definitely gives us some hope heading up to Seattle. Now we have something to work with.”

The 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals are scheduled for Aug. 4-6 at Pacific Raceways.

“Today gave us a huge injection of hope and we’ll go on to Seattle a little more confident,” Enders said. “The main thing is we want to be up and running at the top of the charts by the time the Countdown starts. We’ve got three more races so we’ll get this Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro tuned up by then and give it hell from there.”

Crowd favorite Erica Enders hoping for better results on race day in Sonoma

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Sonoma 2017

SONOMA, CA — The first two days of the 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals have been a bit of a struggle for two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders, but that hasn’t dampened the spirits of the always popular pro from Houston.

“We definitely have an issue that we are working to fix,” Enders said after qualifying a season-low 15th on the grid with a 6.949 at 211.89 mph. “Everybody is doing all they can to figure out what the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro wants and, so far, it’s just not translating to the scoreboard.

“The good news is that tomorrow is a new day and we will take what we have learned and try to move forward. I wouldn’t want anyone else behind me except for this Elite Motorsports crew. We go through the ups and downs of this journey together and we’ll get this fixed and move forward.”

The way Enders sees things at this point is that you must be prepared to beat everyone in the field if you hope to reign victorious on race day. She knows that anyone capable of qualifying for an NHRA national event is also capable of winning the race, so she’ll focus on what’s ahead, rather than what’s already transpired.

“We aren’t two-time world champs for nothing,” Enders said. “Struggling at times is all part of the journey. We learn as we go and we keep working at it. The incredible thing about my crew is they never make the same mistake. Once we figure out something that isn’t working, it’s over and we never go back to that spot again. There is a method to the madness.”

To run the table tomorrow, Enders will first have to take care of Round 1 opponent Bo Butner, who qualified second with a 6.546 at 211.63 mph. The two drivers have gotten very familiar this year, racing five times in total. Butner is an impressive 4-1 against his good friend Enders.

“I hope to surprise him and get one back,” Enders said. “They’ve had a great year, winning three times already, so it’s obviously a tough draw for us in Round 1 but when you qualify 15th, what do you expect?

“We are all very frustrated. It’s an unfortunate situation but at the end of the day we get to do what we love with the people that we love so we are still winning. We’ll be here all night because we’ve definitely gotta get this car fixed. I have complete faith in this team.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry live eliminations from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Melling Performance pro Erica Enders vying for vintage victory at Sonoma Raceway

SONOMA, CA – Two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has her sights set on some racing redemption in her bright red Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro this weekend at the 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at scenic Sonoma Raceway, set in the heart of Northern California’s wine country.

“We love going to Sonoma,” Enders said. “It’s one of my favorite places to race, and let’s face it, a trip to the wine country is certainly fun and something my whole team looks forward to every year. This year I’m hoping to finally get a Wally (trophy) in Sonoma and get a little payback on the Christmas Tree after Denver.”

Enders has reached at least the semifinals in three of the previous four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events, including the latest event in Denver. However, a red-light foul start in the semifinal round on Thunder Mountain cost her a chance to race for her second national event victory of the season.

“You know, there’s a saying in baseball that essentially says if you don’t get caught stealing base sometimes then you’re not trying hard enough,” Enders said. “I completely agree. The Pro Stock class is the most competitive class in the NHRA. Sometimes you push it just a little too much and that bright red bulb comes on.

“We’ve obviously got our Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro running very well. Our performances lately attest to that. We just need to seal the deal and get more Wallys. I’m always a pretty optimistic person, but right now I have the highest amount of confidence in Richard (Freeman, team owner), Rick and Ricky Jones (crew chiefs) and our team to get the job done.”

Enders, a Houston native, has yet to race in a final round at Sonoma Raceway in her 13-year career. This weekend marks the midpoint of the NHRA’s Western Swing, three events in consecutive weekends ending in Seattle.

Last month in Epping, N.H., Enders won her first event of the season, the first win for the fan-favorite since the fall of 2015. She has collected 22 Wallys in her already legendary career.

A trip to the final round in Sonoma would not only be a first for Enders in the wine country, but it would also signify a historic milestone for the 33-year-old – 250 elimination round wins.

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:15 and 7 p.m., Friday, and 1:10 and 4:20 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first two rounds of qualifying action live from 8-9 p.m., Friday, and live eliminations from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Strong semifinal finish in Denver for two-time world champ Erica Enders

DENVER, CO — Two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders kept her hot streak alive with a strong semifinal finish at this weekend’s 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at beautiful Bandimere Speedway.

Enders now has one victory, one runner-up result and two semifinal finishes since the first week of June, a steady streak of performances that has her climbing up the championship points rankings.

“We’re pleased with the weekend, for sure,” Enders said. “You always set out to win the race and after qualifying No. 2 on the ladder, we had high hopes of bringing home the Wally (trophy) today. You know in this sport there’s only one happy camper at the end of the race but we’re optimistic about the way we’re running lately and we’re anxious to get to California next weekend and do it all over again.”

The day started with a first-round dismissal of Alan Prusiensky, with Enders powering her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.983 at 198.06 mph over Prusiensky’s 7.041 at 195.68 mph.

Rival Chris McGaha was next and he gave up the win at the starting line with a -.002 second red-light start. It was a fortuitous moment for Enders as McGaha had a better elapsed time, running a 6.969 at 197.05 mph to Enders’ slower but winning 6.978 at 198.29 mph.

“The first two rounds all three of our team cars were struggling at the hit,” Enders said. “Jeg (Coughlin) shook in Round 1 and had to give up his run. Vincent (Nobile) had two really good passes but his crew chief Lump (Brian Self) told us they were right on the edge. And my runs all were touchy. It’s part of racing up here.”

Looking to make a statement, Enders wanted a quick start against semifinal opponent Bo Butner, but her anxiousness ultimately cost her the race as she fouled at the start by -.007 seconds. It may not have mattered anyway as she soon chattered the tires and was forced to shut off and drift to the finish. Butner won with a 6.948 at 198.47 mph.

“When I put the car on the chip it was pulling me forward,” Enders said. “I still didn’t expect to red light but it happens. As a driver, you never want to red light but I’m not going to beat myself up over this one. There were other factors involved.

“Bottom line, the Melling Performance/Elite Chevy is running great and we’re going to keep our chins up and move on to the second race of the Western Swing in Sonoma. I’m going straight there to visit with some sponsor friends and maybe tour a winery or two. We should be rested and ready for Friday.”

The NHRA tour quickly moves to California’s wine country for next weekend’s 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.

Two-time Pro Stock champ looking for Denver victory from No. 2 qualifying position

DENVER, CO — Erica Enders’ Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro has been the second-quickest racecar after all three Pro Stock qualifying sessions contested this weekend at Bandimere Speedway as the world’s best quarter-mile drag racers line themselves up for the elimination rounds of the 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.

Now she just needs to figure out how to end race day one spot better.

“We have a really fast hot rod here and we are going into race day No. 2 on the ladder so I’m super pleased with our performance so far,” Enders said. “We have certainly worked really hard at getting this car ready, especially with some extra testing last week in Tulsa before heading out on this three-race Western Swing, so I think we’ll be a tough out tomorrow.

“All credit to my guys, starting at the top with our team owner Richard Freeman, our quartet of crew chiefs — Rick and Rickie Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Brian Self, Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston on the engines, and the best crew in the sport, I’m really a lucky girl and I know it.”

Enders best pass was a 6.930-second blast at 198.85 mph, which she recorded in the event’s second qualifying session Saturday afternoon. She had run a 6.944 at 198.17 mph in Friday’s lone time trial, and she finished with a 6.979 at 198.82 mph Saturday evening. Friday’s qualifying was shortened to one round due to on-and-off rain showers.

“We would have loved to get all four rounds, especially here in Denver where it’s so hard to tune these things,” Enders said, referencing the altitude of the track. “Still, I’m definitely happy with what we’ve done here.

“That last qualifying session is totally on me as a driver. It’s so different up here on the mountain as far as everything is concerned, how the car feels, how it drives and when your shift points come, and I just made a rookie mistake that run and messed up in low gear. No biggie, we’ll put it behind us and get ready for eliminations.”

With 14 cars making qualifying passes, the usual 16-car ladder will be replaced by a modified 14-car grid, which awards a second-round bye to the winner of the No. 1 versus No. 14 pairing. That head-to-head battle features Enders’ husband Richie Stevens against top qualifier Drew Skillman.

“The 14-car ladder is definitely interesting,” Enders said. “Richie only races a few times a year so I’ll be pulling for him. We have (No. 13 qualifier) Alan Prusiensky (7.024 at 196.53 mph) in the first round so we’ll need to be ready. We’re hoping for a really long day tomorrow for this Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. The FOX Network will carry eliminations live from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

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