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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.)

A Bandimere prayer comforted, inspired two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders

DENVER, CO — In the anxious moments just before Erica Enders clinched her first Pro Stock championship in Pomona, Calif., John Bandimere stopped in the staging lanes to wish her luck. Being a spiritual man, Bandimere, longtime owner of Bandimere Speedway in Denver, site of this weekend’s 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, said a quick prayer with Enders, an impactful moment that has stuck with the 22-time national event winner.

“Mr. Bandimere has a real presence about him and it really calmed me down and reminded me who is really in charge,” Enders said. “We always put ourselves in God’s hands and that upcoming round was easily the biggest of my life, but Mr. Bandimere put it all in prospective for me with that prayer. I’ll never forget it.”

Soon after her moment with Bandimere, Enders beat Jason Line to win the race trophy and secure the 2014 championship, all in one 6.480-second pass.

“It was really neat because my relationship with the Bandimeres goes back to the very beginning of my driving career,” Enders said. “Not just my pro career, I’m talking about my Junior Dragster career when I was 8 years old. We used to run in the Western Finals at Bandimere every year so I’ve been around their family and this racetrack for more than 20 years now.”

Surprisingly, Enders has never won on Thunder Mountain, but it seems this year’s trip may be the perfect time to break her Denver duck. She’s coming off a strong runner-up result at the NHRA tour’s last stop in Chicago and is just four races removed from a big victory in Epping, N.H.

“This year has been such a huge improvement from last year, not just for my group but for all four of our team cars,” Enders said. “Richard Freeman (team owner) made the commitment to put our program back on top and we’re all working very hard towards that goal. It’s really cool to see it coming together and hopefully by the time we get to the Countdown, we’ll be rolling.

“Denver has been a pretty good place for us, even though we haven’t won here, we always do pretty well. Last year our best race of the season came at Bandimere so despite the fact it’s hard to tune here because it’s unlike any other place we go, my guys know how to make all the right adjustments. We’ll be ready to race come Friday.”

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

“I hope to see Mr. Bandimere and maybe we can have another little prayer together,” Enders said. “Who knows, we started the Eastern Swing with a win. Maybe we can do the same thing to start the Western Swing.”

Erica Enders charges to Pro Stock finals in Chicago, settles for second place

CHICAGO, IL — Two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders nearly recreated history Sunday at the 20th annual Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals before coming up a fraction of a second short of her ultimate goal of winning another Wally trophy.

Enders was the first woman in history to win a Pro Stock race in 2012 when she reigned supreme at Route 66 Raceway. Although she couldn’t close the deal this time through, her third final-round showing of the season proves her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro will be a contender once the playoffs start.

“These are the days that are really exciting,” Enders said. “Dealing with live TV on FOX forced us to have 30-minute turnarounds between rounds so it really tested the mettle of the crews. As always, my guys answered the call and we had one heckuva outing.

“Chicago has a special meaning to us. We got our first win here back in 2012 and my first final-round appearance was at this track in 2005 so it’s been very good to me over the years. Would we like to have won today? Absolutely, but it was a good day all-in-all for the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports team.”

For the third time ever, Enders faced good friend Drew Skillman in the final round. This time it was Skillman with the better car as he was able to quickly catch and pass a fast-leaving Enders to win with a 6.627 at 209.23 mph to Enders’ 6.655 at 207.37 mph. Skillman now has a slight 2-1 advantage over Enders when the trophy is on the line.

“When you look at the other ETs on paper, there’s no reason why we should have gotten past second round, let alone third, so getting to the final was a real bonus,” Enders said. “I’m proud of my team and I’m proud of the racing we did today. I’m definitely happy with our performance here.”

Enders improved her career record to 22 victories and 16 runner-up results. She has one win and two runner-up finishes this year.

This particular day wasn’t easy. After beating part-timer Chris McGaha in Round 1, 6.651 at 208.91 mph to McGaha’s 6.665 at 208.59 mph, she faced multi-time world champions and teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line in back-to-back rounds.

Against Anderson she used a massive .051-second reaction time advantage to steal the win with a 6.649 at 208.68 mph to Anderson’s quicker-but-losing 6.614 at 209.59 mph. She then narrowly edged Line by .006 seconds with a 6.649 at 208.46 mph to Line’s 6.654 at 208.88 mph. Enders left on all four of her Sunday opponents.

“The adrenaline was pumping all day and my Rick Jones Race Cars-built Camaro was so solid,” Enders said. “It was a fun race.”

The NHRA tour takes a weekend off before returning to action July 21-23 with the 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver.

“We are taking a team vacation to Grand Cayman, all 26 of us,” Enders said. “When we get back we are going to test in Tulsa before we head out on the Western Swing. We’re running better but we still have work to do on all four team cars. We’ll try to sort them out in Tulsa. I’m excited for the time off and excited to get back after it in Denver to see if we can’t carry this momentum.”

TWO-TIME PRO STOCK CHAMP ERICA ENDERS TRENDING THE RIGHT WAY AT ROUTE 66 RACEWAY

CHICAGO, IL — One of the most popular drivers in NHRA history, Erica Enders is used to “trending” on social media as she always seems to be at the forefront of fan’s online conversations. This weekend at the 20th annual Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals, Enders is executing a different type of “trending,” this time involving her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.

Since the start of qualifying, Enders has managed to improve in each of the four sessions, finally settling on a respectable 6.600-second quarter-mile pass at 210.50 mph that pegged her ninth on the elimination grid.

“Yeah, not too bad,” Enders said. “We’re certainly not exactly where we want to be because we’ll most likely be starting race day in the first pair out and we definitely won’t have lane choice, but I’ll still bet on my Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports guys every time.

“We definitely used all four qualifying runs as test sessions, really on all four of our team cars, so we’ve acquired a lot of data and gotten better every run even if it’s just by a little bit, so we are directionally correct at the moment and I hope that trend continues tomorrow.”

Enders “directionally correct” performance shows her starting the weekend with a 6.652 at 208.62 mph, improving to a 6.631 at 208.42 mph in Round 2, and then a 6.624 at 210.37 mph in Round 3 before posting her run of record in the final session.

“The way the car ran in the last round, it leads us to be optimistic about tomorrow,” Enders said. “I think we can make some pretty significant improvements and win some rounds. I’m ready. I’m hungry for another win.”

A victor earlier this season in Epping, N.H., Enders opens race day against part-time competitor Chris McGaha, who qualified eighth with a 6.596 at 209.98 mph. Enders and McGaha have not raced one another this season.

Joining her teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the grandstands between professional sessions, Enders spent her downtime Saturday taking in as much of the JEGS Allstars event as possible. The JEGS Allstars pits the best 80 Sportsman racers from the last 12 months against one another for individual and team titles.

“The racing was so intense,” Enders said. “Having come up through the Sportsman ranks and still racing the Lucas Oil series when I can, it’s just awesome to see how great those Allstars are out there. That’s such a huge honor for those racers and they certainly put on a show for the fans today.”

The first round of Pro Stock eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air live coverage from 3-6 p.m., Sunday. Times are local and subject to change.

Erica Enders eager to take her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Pro Stocker to Chicago

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Norwalk 2017

CHICAGO, IL – Two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has a wealth of quarter-mile excitement to draw from this weekend as she takes the controls of her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro at the 20th annual Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals, just outside of Chicago.

“Chicago has a lot of meaning to me because we won our first Pro Stock race there in 2012 after seven long years of trying,” Enders said. “It was such a huge deal, a culmination of so many things. It felt wonderful. It was a big relief and also immediately made you want to do it again. I’m always excited to head back to Chicago.”

Enders, a 33-year-old native of Houston, and her team are also excited about getting additional primary sponsorship backing on the sides of her red racer from marketing partner Melling Performance this weekend as well as NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ events in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., Seattle, and Indianapolis.

“Having Melling Performance step up and take the doors for the rest of the summer is really big for our team,” Enders said. “We’re going to do everything we can to put our red Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro in the winner’s circle at least few times.”

Chicago holds many opportunities for Enders to celebrate at one of the NHRA’s historically quickest and fastest racetracks. Among those is the running of the JEGS Allstars event, a unique race-within-a-race Saturday for the “Best of the Best” from the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

“I’ll definitely be up in the stands watching the JEGS Allstars race,” Enders said. “My Elite Motorsports teammate, Jeg (Coughlin) Jr., and his family put on the biggest and best race of the year for the top Sportsman drivers and the competition is intense. You know I’ll be rooting for Division 4!

“We’ve had significant success in Chicago over the years, not only in Pro Stock, but I always do well there in my Sportsman cars too. I’ve never won a Sportsman race there, but I always seem to go deep on race day. I have a good vibe with that racetrack, for sure.”

Last month Enders, one of the sport’s most popular drivers, won in Epping, N.H., marking the first win for the Houston native since the fall of 2015. However, the feisty resident of New Orleans and her team are not resting on their laurels after a taste of success and some overdue time off.

“The week off was definitely needed after racing four weekends in a row,” Enders said. “It gave all of us a chance for a quick rest and then get back to work on some things we need to do. We stayed to test after Norwalk in an effort to get the car a little more consistent for these summer races.

“We’re doing so much better this year, but we’re nowhere near satisfied yet. There’s a lot more on the horizon and our goal right now is to reach a strong level of consistency before the Countdown to the Championship (playoffs) starts.”

Pro Stock will hold qualifying sessions at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m., Friday, and 3:15 and 6 p.m., Saturday. First round of eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. NHRA TV on Fox FS1 includes live Chicago coverage 5-7 p.m., Saturday, and 3-6 p.m., Sunday. Times are local and subject to change.

Melling Performance moves to title sponsor position on Erica Enders’ hot rod

WYNNEWOOD, OK — Melling Performance, a longtime associate sponsor of Elite Motorsports and two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders, will become title sponsor of the 22-time national event winner for five national events, beginning with next weekend’s 20th annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago and continuing through the 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indy.

“Everyone at Melling Performance is excited about our association with Erica and Elite Motorsports,” Melling Performance CEO Mark Melling said. “After being at the races, I thought it would be great to see the Melling Performance Decal on the doors of Erica’s RED #9 racecar. It reminds me of the Bill Elliott days in NASCAR.

“Melling has been launching a ton of new performance engine parts, and we are pumped to see our logo on the side of her RED Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro!”

Melling Performance will adorn the doors of Enders’ racecar at the upcoming NHRA national events in Chicago, Denver, Sonoma, Seattle and Indianapolis.

“Looking over the landscape of Pro Stock, it’s really quite an accomplishment to bring a company the size and caliber of Melling into a title sponsorship role,” team owner Richard Freeman said. “It reflects well on the entire class, the NHRA and our friends at FOX as well. Exposure for our sport and more importantly our sponsors is growing and that’s important to the long-term economic vitality of our race team.”

Enders is one of the top female racers in history. Only Enders, Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey have won world championships in any of the top forms of motorsports and her two championships, 22 national event wins, 18 No. 1 qualifiers and admirable 242-161 race day record place her in elite company.

“I’m so excited to have Melling Performance step up like this,” Enders said. “We recently toured their facility and I was completely blown away. They aren’t state-of-the-art, they are way beyond that. It is like something out of the future. I was so impressed with everything they showed us.

“We’ve become friends with everyone at Melling and they have definitely become part of the Elite family over the past few years. I can’t wait to drive this Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro into the winner’s circle this weekend.”

Melling is a leading manufacturer of oil pumps and other power train components. Melling serves the global automotive original equipment and aftermarket industries and is noted for its strong engineering, product development and distribution capabilities. Melling operates 10 facilities in North America.

Too quick at the Tree, two-time champ Erica Enders departs Norwalk race early

Erica Enders | 2017 NHRA Pro Stock Norwalk

NORWALK, OH — As the driver of the lower qualified car in the less-favored left-hand lane, two-time world champion Erica Enders knew a stellar reaction time would help her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro race team tremendously in their Sunday morning match-up with teammate Vincent Nobile.

Unfortunately, Enders dropped the clutch a fraction of a second early, drawing a -.004 second red-light disqualification, which negated her quicker pass of 6.583 seconds at 210.93 mph. Nobile took the victory at the start and then ran a 6.595 at 210.37 mph to advance to the quarterfinals of the 11th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.

“There’s no excuse for a red light,” Enders said. “I just left too early and that cost us the win, plain and simple. I feel bad for the guys because Rick and Rickie (Jones, co-crew chiefs) had a great tune-up for the conditions and we would have won under most situations, but woulda, shoulda, coulda…I didn’t get it done.

“I’m continually amazed at the talent on this team and the togetherness we share. I’m the only one beating myself up. Everyone else is saying, ‘don’t worry E, we’ll get ’em next time.’ We win and lose as a team and today didn’t go our way. At least our Elite Performance teammate Vincent advanced. Hopefully he takes his Mountain View Tires Camaro all the way to the winner’s circle. If not him, then our other teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr.”

After four national events in a row, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will take a weekend off before starting the second half of the 24-race season July 7-9 with the 20th annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals near Chicago.

“Elite cars have been in five straight finals and six of the last seven finals coming into this race,” Enders said. “I won Epping and Alex (Laughlin) won Bristol. Me, Jeg and Vincent also have runner-up finishes. We’re definitely in the mix every weekend and we’ll go home from here, take a little break, and get ready to crush ’em in Chicago.”

FOX Sports 1 programming of today’s race begins at 6 p.m. ET, Sunday.

Once again, Erica Enders opens eliminations against an Elite Motorsports teammate

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock Norwalk 2017

NORWALK, OH — For the fifth time this season, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders will face a teammate from her Elite Motorsports camp at the start of eliminations. This time its Vincent Nobile, who she’s opened against twice previously and faced four times overall in 2017 competition.

“It always sucks racing a teammate, especially in the first round,” said Enders, who is 3-1 versus Nobile this year. “Vincent is a great competitor and I know both crews will bring everything they have. First round, for sure, will be a heavyweight battle for all four of our Elite Motorsports cars because we are all racing each other. I guess we should be happy that at least two Elite cars will advance no matter what.”

Although Enders was third in Friday’s provisional field, she dropped to 10th place in Saturday’s heat, giving lane choice away to Nobile. Still, the two are very close in performance with Enders running a best of 6.623 at 208.36 mph and Nobile going 6.616 at 210.01 mph.

“We had a top-three car yesterday but the weather is so different today and we fell back a little bit,” Enders said. “Tomorrow will be different as well and I remain very confident in my team’s ability to take whatever the weather and racetrack throws at us.

“There was a lot more water in the air yesterday, but with today’s better weather being a little hotter it became a much more difficult track. Power management was a little trickier. We just need to get a handle on it and do what we know how to do on race day. We have a lot of experience and data going into Sunday. I know we have what it takes to be a player when it comes to race day regardless of where we’re qualified.”

Saturday was a busy day for Enders as she pulled double duty, racing both her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Pro Stocker and the Omaha Track COPO Camaro in the Factory Stock Showdown. Enders already has an elimination-round win in the Showdown, beating No. 2 qualifier Peter Gasko when he fouled out at the start by -.007 seconds. She’ll face No. 8 qualifier Kevin Skinner in Sunday’s semifinals.

“My Omaha Track COPO Camaro is in the semifinals!” an excited Enders said. “This is the first time we’ve been able to get past the first round in the Factory Showdown so we’re pumped up. We made a decent run there but we definitely can tune it up and improve. I think we have a real shot at winning. We raced a guy first round who had us covered by a tenth of a second and found a way to make it happen.”

“I have an opportunity to bring home two Wallys tomorrow, which I have never done before. We are down to four cars so we just need to beat two more guys and we will be in the winner’s circle. Easier said than done, for sure, but we’re going to give it hell.”

Pro Stock eliminations start at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 programming begins at 6 p.m., Sunday. Times are local and subject to change.

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