Posts Tagged Brainerd

Consistent Erica Enders still asking for more from Melling Performance/Elite Camaro

BRAINERD, MN — Fresh off a runner-up finish at the NHRA tour’s last stop in Seattle, two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders has proven her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro is very consistent this weekend at the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Enders qualified mid-pack in the No. 8 position in the elimination field, running a best of 6.665 at 206.42 mph to go with a 6.679, a 6.682 and a 6.695. While the car is repeating well, Enders says an issue getting out of the starting blocks is holding them back.

“It’s obvious we have big horsepower based on the speeds we’re running in relation to the other cars,” Enders said. “At the same time, it’s certainly no secret we are struggling with all three of these Elite Motorsports cars in getting them off the line. It’s vital to have big horsepower if you want to contend in this class but you’ve got to be able to apply it right at the initial hit.”

Enders has reached the final round four times in the first 16 races of the 2017 season, winning the trophy in Epping, N.H., and coming in second in Atlanta, Chicago and the tour’s last stop in Seattle.

“We’ll continue to chip away at it,” she said. “That’s what do — work and work until we fix whatever is holding us back. No sense in shoulda, coulda, woulda, we just need to make it run properly. I have extreme confidence in my crew to get us running strong again.”

Enders has the unenviable task of racing one of her teammates, five-time class champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., in Round 1. Coughlin was a touch slower with a best time of 6.669 at 207.40 mph, giving lane choice advantage to Enders. The two have raced just one other time this year with Coughlin taking the win in Round 1 at Englishtown.

“This class is so challenging and extremely humbling,” Enders said, “and now I’ve got my teammate Jeg in the first round. He’s only a five-time champ. The one bright side to that whole deal is one of us is going to the second round. We’ll continue to chip away at it and see what we can find for all of our team cars but we’ve got to find it quick with the Countdown to the Championship (playoffs) approaching.”

Brainerd International Raceway has been good to Enders in the past. She won this race in 2012 and 2015 and was runner-up in 2011. Her win in 2012 came from the No. 1 starting position.

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

Multi-time Brainerd champ Erica Enders an eyelash away from her next victory

Erica Enders | NHRA Pro Stock 2017

BRAINERD, MN — Just a few days removed from competing in the closest drag race of the entire NHRA season, two-time Brainerd champion and crowd favorite Erica Enders knows she only needs to gain an eyelash of performance to score her next victory, which she hopes will come at this weekend’s 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Enders finished the recent Seattle race just .0006 behind Drew Skillman. The almost imperceptible margin between the two cars has only served to motivate and inspire the two-time series champ to grind even harder for her second win of the year and 23rd of his illustrious career.

“We’re feeling good in our camp coming off such a big weekend,” Enders said. “Losing by less than an inch is tough but on the flip side, we gained a lot of ground on our tune-up and to even be in that position considering the little slump we had this summer is a real credit to my guys.

“I know we’re all looking forward to Brainerd. We’re excited for a break in the weather because it’s been so hot at the shop in Oklahoma and back in Louisiana. Plus, we’ve had some great success at BIR in the past. That’s always a good feeling when you’re heading to a race, knowing you’ve done well at that track.”

The driver of the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro claimed wins at this event in 2012 and 2015. She also was runner-up there in 2011 and earned top qualifier honors in 2012.

“Brainerd also is where you get to pin your name on the Countdown to the Championship big board, showing you earned a spot in the playoffs,” Enders said. “I’ll never forget the first time I got to do that in 2011. It was quite a feeling of accomplishment. We’ve been lucky enough to do it every year since and we’ll do it again this weekend, so that’s really exciting.

“Back in 2014, the first year we went on to win the championship, I was able to pin my name up there in the No. 1 spot. That was incredible. We ended up starting the Countdown in second, but at Brainerd we were No. 1 and it felt special.”

The native Texan has some very specific goals for this visit to BIR.

“We want to win,” Enders said, “and we’re very hopeful about gaining another spot or two in the rankings before the Countdown starts. Ultimately, the last six races of the year are the ones that matter the most, so even though the NHRA resets the points at the start of the playoffs, the higher ranked you are the better it is for your team.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3:45 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry the first two rounds of qualifying action from 8-9 p.m., Friday, and the final two rounds of qualifying from 6-8 p.m., Saturday. Live eliminations will air from 1-4 p.m., Sunday. (All times are local and subject to change.)

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders flashes driving skills in Brainerd semifinal finish

Erica Enders | Brainerd 2016 | NHRA Pro Stock

BRAINERD, MN — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders stared down the pressure and responded in championship fashion — again.

Enders won on a first-round holeshot for the second race in a row and advanced to the semifinals of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals on Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway before falling to points leader Jason Line. But she put up a fight in that race, too.

“We tried,” Enders said. “If you’d have asked me after Friday whether we’d go to the semifinals, I’d have never thought it was possible, but Saturday went a lot better, and we made strides in the right direction on Sunday.”

Drivability issues hampered Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team on Friday before she made two solid passes Saturday to claim the No. 11 qualifying spot. That put her up against Shane Gray in the first round, but Enders pulled off a 024-second reaction time and made her pass of 6.619 seconds at 207.94 mph hold up.

Gray, the No. 6 qualifier, had the third-quickest run of the round at 6.593 seconds at 209.36 mph, but it wasn’t enough.

Enders also won on a holeshot in the first round in Seattle, beating Alex Laughlin to take over the No. 10 spot in the Pro Stock points standings. After beating Allen Johnson in the second round, Enders climbed over teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. to ninth in the points.

“To have a turnaround weekend like we did, to make up the ground on Alex, to solidify our spot in the Countdown is extremely important to me,” Enders said. “It was an exciting day.”

Unofficially, Enders is 13 points ahead of Coughlin and 49 ahead of 11th-place Laughlin. The top 10 race in the Countdown to the Championship, which is locked in after the next race, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

“It was definitely a fun weekend,” Enders said. “Another positive note is our Hemi powerplant stayed together, and that’s going to be crucial going into these last seven races. We’ll try to continue to spread the gap, and game on come Charlotte.”

Enders left first on all three higher-qualified opponents she faced Sunday. She had a .013 light against Johnson and made her pass of 6.656 seconds at 207.40 mph hold up as No. 3 qualifier Johnson slowed to a 6.732-second pass at 189.34 mph.

Line, the No. 2 qualifier, was nearly five-hundredths behind on the starting line, as Enders had a .024 light to his .072 reaction time, but Enders fell just short after a pass of 6.644 seconds at 207.75 mph couldn’t hold off Line’s 6.595-second run at 209.79 mph.

“E2 and E3 didn’t go like we thought they would, as far as e.t. is concerned, and I did not do my job against Jason,” Enders said. “All it takes is .022 to win that round, and that makes me mad because I’m better than that 97 percent of the time I let the clutch out. Just one of them deals. It’s got to be your day.”

It felt like old times for most of the day, as Enders raced to her second semifinal of the season. Enders and her team reached the semi’s regularly in 2014-15, but 2016 has been a struggled with the switch to electronic fuel injection and Dodge.

“We were all a little bit out of shape, it seems like, for going rounds on Sundays,” Enders said. “Everybody was huffing and puffing, trying to get things done before we got called to the lanes the next time. Before we fired (before the semifinals), I told (crew chief) Rick (Jones), ‘It’s fun to go rounds on Sunday, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘Heck yeah! We barely made it.’ I told him, ‘Believe it or not, we used to do this every week.’ He’s like, ‘I know, but we’re out of shape.’ “

With determination and passion, Pro Stock champ Erica Enders is ready to battle

Erica Enders | Brainerd 2016 NHRA Pro Stock | Mopar

BRAINERD, MN — When the calendar turns to Sunday, two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team know anything can happen.

So though Enders qualified No. 11 for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals on Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway, she is confident in her and her team’s ability to make things happen.

“Sunday is a whole different day,” Enders said. “You just look at what happened in Seattle. It’s anybody’s day on race day, and you go out there with the mentality that we always do: It’s crunch time right now. We’ve got two race days left before the Countdown, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ll see what happens.”

Enders jumped into the top 10 in the Pro Stock points standings in Seattle, and she leads Alex Laughlin by nine points heading into Brainerd. Two races remain before the Countdown to the Championship begins, and only the top 10 get a chance to race for the 2016 title.

Enders’ best qualifying time in Brainerd was 6.660 seconds at 207.08 mph, but that was an improvement over Friday’s performance.

“Friday was definitely one of the worst days, for sure,” Enders said. “The fact that we were able to go from A to B today is pretty significant. It’s humbling that we’re this deep into the season and still are struggling as much as we are.

“But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to be doing this with anybody else other than the group of people we have at Elite Motorsports.”

Drivability issues limited Enders on Friday, but her and her Elite team simply went to work.

“As frustrated as they are, they still are so determined and so passionate about what they do,” Enders said. “They put their heads down and get to work. It was a long night last night, especially for our EFI guys. They came back today with a whole new setup for these cars, and for (teammate) Jeg (Coughlin Jr.) and I to be able to have good drivability with these cars is pretty crucial. We haven’t been able to stage and do the best burnouts or backups smoothly.”

That did happen Saturday, when Enders made two somewhat conservative runs.

“Everything went as planned today, “Enders said. “That was a baseline run for us in Q2 because he and I had two bad runs yesterday. They were very conservative, get-down-the-racetrack runs. We have a lot of room to improve.”

Pro Stock eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m. CT, Sunday.

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.”

Perfect Light the Only Thing that Goes Right for Enders-Stevens in Brainerd

Erica Enders-Stevens transmission issues cut Brainerd eliminations short

BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 17) — Elite Motorsports pro Erica Enders-Stevens was certainly ready for her first-round race against Dave River, recording a perfect reaction time of .000-second to jump off the starting line in what appeared to be another victorious quarter-mile run. But just a few hundred feet later Enders-Stevens’ Camaro fell silent, and for the first time all year she was handed a first-round loss.

“We changed everything there was to change on the race car because of this big swing in the weather, and this time something got us,” Enders-Stevens said, referring to an overnight 30-degree drop in ambient temperatures. “I mean we can go down the Ho Chi Minh trail with this car. We go A to B every time, so it’s a little mind-boggling when it doesn’t happen.

“We came back to the trailer, analyzed the data, and immediately found what went wrong. Suffice it to say all of those parts are going in the trash, and now we’ll just reload and put this day behind us. We’ll get to the shop for a few days and then head right back out to test. We want to make absolutely certain this never happens again.”

With the loss, Enders-Stevens is in jeopardy of losing the points lead she has held for the last 13 races, a span of five months. Close friend Allen Johnson entered this event 32 points behind Enders-Stevens and advanced to the second round before yet another rain delay halted the action.

“It won’t be a great feeling if we lose the points lead,” Enders-Stevens said. “It was a really cool moment personally to go up on stage at driver intros and put my name up there in the No. 1 spot on the Countdown leaderboard. No woman has ever done that in the playoff era of drag racing and we really want to be the first. I guess we’ll have to see what happens with Allen.”

The Elite Motorsports team next competes Aug. 29-Sept. 1 at the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.

“Hopefully, we get to Indy and get back to doing what we’ve done all year, which is consistently getting down the racetrack and turning on win lights,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve got all the faith in the world in my guys and I know that we’re the best team out here. I’ve said that after every race this year, and it’s never more true than right now. I’m a lucky girl.

“We plan to test a bunch before Indy in St. Louis. We’ll run my car and (husband) Richie’s car until the guys are 100 percent ready for Indy. Having twice the data will only help our cause that much more.”

Enders-Stevens Right on Track as Brainerd Race Turns to Eliminations

Erica Enders-Stevens qualifies 3rd at Brainerd

BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 16) — Pro Stock championship points leader Erica Enders-Stevens has placed her front-running Elite Motorsports Camaro in solid contention for this weekend’s 33rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, qualifying third in the factory hot rod class with a swift 6.630 at 207.69 mph.

“I’m so happy to be driving again,” said Enders-Stevens, who last arced July 20 in Denver. “Thankfully, it’s kind of like riding a bike where everything came right back to me the first pass down the strip. Obviously, the team picked up right where we left off as well. I’m a happy girl.”

The points leader for the last 13 consecutive national events, Enders-Stevens skipped the last two races on the Mello Yello tour as her team prepares for the upcoming Countdown to the Championship. The NHRA’s six-race version of playoffs begins mid- September in Charlotte.

“Any time you’re out of the seat for an extended amount of time it’s tough on you,” Enders-Stevens said. “Seat time is priceless and it was hard staying home when everyone else was racing, but we had to be patient and see the bigger picture, which is the championship. It really does feel good to be back in the car, though, for sure.”

By qualifying No. 3 on the ladder, Enders-Stevens will begin her quest for a second Brainerd trophy opposite Dave River, who qualified 14th with a 6.793 at 204.23 mph. The two have raced just once this season with Enders-Stevens taking the win.

“We had a huge lead but that’s gone so we definitely have our work cut out for us,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve had the dominant car all year but a couple of teams have started to catch up. The two Summit cars are right there, which always seems to be the case in the second half of the year, and my buddy Allen Johnson is just a round and a half back. Jeg (Coughlin) is right there also.

“Our focus is on the Countdown and we’d love to be No. 1 heading into that deal but if we’re not, that’s okay also because we’ll be right there in the mix no matter what. The fight is going to take place among the same group of drivers and we need to be ready for it, no matter where we all start. I’m not worried about the start; I’m focused on the finish.”

Qualifying action from BIR will air at 10 p.m. CT, Saturday, on ESPN2. Pro Stock eliminations begin at noon, Sunday, with ESPN2 airing all the action in tape-delay beginning at 8 p.m. CT.

Pro Stock Points Leader Enders-Stevens Ready for Brainerd Return

Enders-Stevens Ready for Return at Brainerd

BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 12) — No other driver is probably more excited for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend at Brainerd Int’l Raceway than Elite Motorsports Pro Stock ace Erica Enders-Stevens, who sat out the previous two races on the NHRA schedule while her team prepared for Brainerd and the Countdown to the Championship.

“Everyone worked really hard during the two weeks we weren’t racing,” Enders-Stevens said. “We should be better than ever, and we’re excited to get back at it.

“The guys have been working really hard in the engine shop. They left this morning to go to (co-crew chief) Rick (Jones’) to get the car fine-tuned, and then we’ll head to Brainerd.”

Enders-Stevens remains the points leader in the ultra-competitive class, an indication on how strong she and her Elite team have been in 2014. In 14 races, they have four victories in five final-round appearances, with two more semifinals and two No. 1 qualifiers. She has not lost in the first round all season and has qualified third or better 13 times.

“We looked at the math leading up to Denver to see if it would be feasible to miss those two events,” Enders-Stevens said. “It worked out to where we still kept our lead, even though it’s a small lead. But it doesn’t matter if you have a 1 million-point lead or a one-point lead when you leave Indy: It all goes back to zero.

“Our plan is do to well, be consistent in Brainerd and Indy, and hopefully go into the Countdown as the No. 1 seed and work from there.”

Enders-Stevens has one victory at Brainerd, in 2012. She also reached the final here in 2011 and currently holds the track record of 6.542 seconds, set in 2012.

In addition to getting ready for Brainerd, Enders-Stevens and her team have prepared for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and the Countdown, which begins in Charlotte on Sept. 12.

Enders-Stevens will have husband Richie Stevens as a teammate for Indy and the Countdown, and Elite will supply engines for Shane Tucker in Indianapolis.

“We took the two weeks off so the guys in the shop could work on things,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’re going to have three drivers with Elite Performance power starting in Indy, and we took the time to get all our ducks in a row. We’re going to come out swinging.

“I’m ready. It will be great to get back behind the wheel.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 1 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. ESPN2 will carry all qualifying and elimination action.