Posts Tagged Charlotte

Defending event champion Erica Enders returns to Charlotte in a vastly different role


CHARLOTTE, NC — One year ago, Pro Stock racer Erica Enders arrived at the first race of NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs as the No. 1 seed, having won six regular-season national events, including the previous two stops in Brainerd, Minn., and Indianapolis.

This year, as Enders brings her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart back to zMax Dragway for the ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, things are much different. Her dominating run to back-to-back championships hangs in the balance as she finds herself a distant ninth in the rankings with no victories on her 2016 scorecard.

“It’s been a challenging year, no doubt,” Enders said. “Very different from the last two years. Switching manufacturers and making this commitment with Mopar to put them on top, we kind of knew it would take a little time and it has. Then we had the biggest rule changes in class history. It all kind of added up.

“We started a little behind and it feels like we have been in catch-up mode all year. But we have made progress, and having another week at the shop to try more things should help us in Charlotte. There are reasons to be encouraged.”

Ever the optimist, Enders has found a way to put a positive spin on her lackluster regular season as her Elite Motorsports team has struggled to get the newly mandated fuel-injection systems to match their powerful Hemi motors.

“The word that keeps popping into my head is loyalty,” Enders said. “When we were crushing everyone, there was a line out the door of people wanting to talk to us. This year, we’ve found out who our real friends are, and it’s made me so grateful to the companies and individuals that are there for us through thick and thin.

“Mopar has been awesome. They want this as much as we do. Transportation Impact has been great, and they have more than 100 employees coming up from Emerald Island, N.C., this weekend to cheer us on. Mark Stockseth is a rock. Stan and Sheila Holt of Lupe Tortilla have been with me since I raced Jr. Dragsters; I love them. Kim and Steve Bruno with United Mechanical, everyone at Melling, Carl Foltz and his group at CFE, these are the people who are true supporters, and we love them all.

“Motivation for me is never a problem, but putting this select group back on top, that’s what drives us all. And like I say every weekend, I wouldn’t trade my guys for anyone. There’s no quit in this pit. I really am a lucky girl.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:15 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast qualifying action from 6 to 7 p.m., Friday, and 11 a.m. to noon, Sunday. Eliminations will air live from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in ET).

Two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders reaches Four-Wide semi’s

Erica Enders | NHRA 4-Wide Sunday

CHARLOTTE, TX — The results may not be obvious, but Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team continue to make progress at the start of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Enders raced to the semifinals of the seventh annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals presented by Lowes Foods on Sunday at zMax Dragway, moving up to seventh in the Pro Stock points standings.

The two-time Pro Stock world champion switched manufacturers for 2016, and combined with some NHRA-mandated rules changes, Enders and her team have not been their elite-level selves through five races, but Enders keeps battling and her team keeps improving.

“We learned a lot this weekend,” Enders said. “We completely used this race as a test session for us. I’m glad we were able to learn some stuff, and we certainly made a move in the right direction. The things we figured out this week we’ll apply to Houston.

“Our rigs were supposed to go directly to Houston, but they’re going to go back to the shop and we’re going to work on our race cars and try to do our best to win in our hometown next week.”

Enders has won the last two races at Royal Purple Raceway, site of the Pro Stock race next weekend.

She heads there with some momentum. Enders finished second in her quad in the first round, making a pass of 6.630 seconds at 209.88 mph and trailing only teammate Drew Skillman.

“First round was a much better run for us,” Enders said. “But by no means was it a great run. That was encouraging.”

Enders then drilled her three competitors on the Christmas Tree in the semifinals with a .024-second reaction time. Had she matched her first-round elapsed time, Enders would have made it to the final, but the Dodge Dart shook the tires and she had to lift.

With her first-round light of .027, Enders remains one of the top drivers in the class.

“To me, that part’s easy,” Enders said. “That’s my job, to be focused. I really pride myself on my driving techniques. I try to perform as perfectly as possible every time. There are a lot of extra distractions here at this event, and I feel like we’re the best in the world. We proved it two years in a row, and we’re just going to keep getting better.”

Perseverance is key for reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders

Erica Enders | Charlotte NHRA 4-Wide 2016

CHARLOTTE, NC — After two years of running roughshod over the competition in winning back-to-back Pro Stock world championships, Erica Enders has come back to the pack this year in her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart. Her seasoned race crew and engine builders knew it wasn’t going to be easy switching from another brand to Mopar and the Hemi powerplant, and the growing pains they’ve experienced in the first four and a half races would cripple most teams, but not Enders’ group.

“We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last few years,” Enders said at the conclusion of qualifying for this weekend’s seventh annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals presented by Lowes Foods. “This is a pit full of multi-time champions and I wouldn’t change a thing about this team. They have proven time and again to be the best in the sport. It’s just not an easy thing to jump from one manufacturer to another. There’s going to be hiccups and we knew that coming into the season.

“Sure, it’s frustrating when you don’t run well and we did expect to be a little better this weekend than what we’ve shown so far, but we will stick to the master plan (team owner) Richard Freeman drew up when we signed with Mopar and keep on marching forward.”

Under the unique four-wide format, Enders — who qualified 10th with a 6.644 at 207.08 mph — will hope to be one of the two-quickest cars in her Round 1 foursome that will advance to the second round. She will be racing Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman (No. 2 qualifier with a 6.583), Alex Laughlin (seventh with a 6.611), and John Gaydosh Jr. (15th with a 6.762).

“The biggest bummer is seeing my guys and how hard they’re working and then not seeing positive results on the racetrack,” Enders said. “I’m more proud of them now then I’ve ever been because the determination and perseverance they’re showing is just incredible.

“Two cars out of each foursome advance, so our goal is to be one of those two cars. We know Drew has a great race car, so hopefully it will be him and I moving on, but I know it’s going to be tough.

“We’ve already got dinner cooking and no one is leaving until they are 100 percent satisfied that we have a race car capable of winning tomorrow. I’ll certainly do my best behind the wheel and we’ll take our chances.”

Pro Stock eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 10 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, and elimination racing from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Sunday. All times are listed in Eastern time zone.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders always a threat in Charlotte

Erica Enders 2016 burnout

CHARLOTTE, NC — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has an enviable record at zMax Dragway, site of this weekend’s seventh annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals presented by Lowes Foods. She won last October’s national event here, and she raced to the Four-Wide final in 2012, 2013, and 2014, so expect Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team to be contenders when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series races there this weekend.

“We’ve been to a handful of finals in Charlotte, and we were finally able to get it done last year,” Enders said. “It was a perfect time last year, being the first race of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. It was a super-exciting time for us.

“We’re going to Charlotte fresh off a test session, and we’re hopeful the things we found will point us in the right direction. It’s a challenge, but we’ll get there. We’ll be all right.”

Enders and her Elite team tested at Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park, fine-tuning their new Dodge Dart. She is coming off a semifinal finish in Las Vegas, which was her best race of the season, so Enders is looking to continue building momentum.

She’ll have to do that in the unique race that is the Four-Wide Nationals. Instead of the usual two-wide racing, four cars race at once at the event.

“It definitely presents some challenges, but I’ve raced at every Four-Wide event, and I feel comfortable with the process and the procedure,” Enders said. “It’s just the curveballs that are thrown at you by what the other three competitors are doing or not doing.

“For the most part, the class has gotten the hang of it. Having said that, this will be the first year with EFI. Some drivers’ staging procedures are different, and it will be very interesting to see how they handle it.”

Electronic fuel injection was mandated for 2016, changing things up in Pro Stock. Enders, though, continues to be at the top of her game, as witnessed by her three excellent reaction times in Las Vegas, including a holeshot victory in the second round.

In addition to racing this weekend, Enders is scheduled to visit Levine Children’s Hospital on behalf of Speedway Children’s Charities on Thursday, and she always looks forward to visiting friends Laura Cochran and Lacee Tuttle when she races in Charlotte.

“They’re two of my best friends,” Enders said. “They both live in the Charlotte area, so I’m excited to see them.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are schedule for 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., Friday, and 2 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 10 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, and elimination racing from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Sunday. All times are listed in Eastern Time zone.

Erica Enders makes more history by winning in Charlotte for first time

Erica Enders wins Charlotte 2015

CHARLOTTE, NC — Erica Enders can scratch another one off the bucket list.

The defending Pro Stock champion won at zMax Dragway for the first time, taking down Vincent Nobile on a holeshot in the final round of the NHRA Carolina Nationals on Sunday, and in doing so, she continued to pile up impressive numbers for her career and for her outstanding 2015 season.

“That is pretty neat,” Enders said of winning in Charlotte. “Back when I drove for Cagnazzi (Racing), this was one of the facilities that they had never won at. It was obviously a goal of ours. Coming in this weekend, I had runner-upped three or four different times here, a couple at the Four-Wide Nationals and one at the regular race. This was actually the place where the win lights malfunctioned and we thought we got our first win against Greg Anderson, but then they were like, ‘Sike, you don’t get it,’ and took the trophy over to him.

“That was definitely an interesting roller-coaster ride of emotions, but to finally be able to win here in Charlotte is definitely awesome.”

The victory — Enders’ class-leading seventh of the season and 19th of her career — kicked off the Countdown to the Championship. She was already the No. 1 seed for the six-race Countdown, and she increased her points lead to 83.

And the numbers don’t stop there:

  • Her 19th career win passed Shirley Muldowney on the all-time win list for women and Enders now trails only Angelle Sampey (41)
  • The Charlotte win was her third consecutive victory, tying the mark set by Sampey in 2002 and Muldowney in 1977 for most wins in a row by a woman
  • Her seventh win of 2015 tied the mark set by Sampey in 2001 for most wins in a single season by a woman

“Yeah, it’s pretty incredible,” Enders said. “My PR guy was telling me some stats on the way down the hallway and that is pretty surreal. I feel like I’m in a dream. I just don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a great group of guys and to work for such an awesome team owner. We have fun together and that is what makes it so cool. We are able to be successful and have fun. Nobody said that you had to be miserable while you are doing it.

“It’s a true blessing, and to be able to pass Shirley — it was crazy in Indy to tie her. Angelle is a friend of mine, lives about 20 minutes from my house (in New Orleans). She is by far the winningest female in NHRA drag racing, so it’s definitely cool to put my name alongside of theirs, a true honor.”

Enders stamped her name in the record book with another final-round holeshot. She beat Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, and then did the same to Nobile here.

Nobile’s pass of 6.575 seconds at 211.13 mph was quicker than Enders’ 6.581-second run at 210.97 mph, but her reaction time of .012-second (compared to Nobile’s .022) made the difference.

“In the second round we had an issue with our clutch and were able to barely make it up for the semifinals against (Allen Johnson),” Enders said. “And we had another interesting thing happen before the final. It was like they were throwing all that they could at us to see us fail but we rose above. That was pretty cool.

“It’s just a confidence booster in getting in the race car up there when my crew chief (Rick Jones) said, ‘Hey, look up in the right corner of your windshield. What does that say? It says No. 1. There is a reason for that.’

“Just having them stand behind me even when I might not be there mentally that day it pumps me up. They are there for me. My guys are who make me a better driver.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders will begin title defense from No. 3 spot in Charlotte


CHARLOTTE, NC — Pro Stock World Champion Erica Enders begins her title defense on Sunday from the No. 3 qualifying position at the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway.

Enders sits atop the Pro Stock points standings as the six-race Countdown to the Championship begins here this weekend, and she has shown plenty of speed and consistency during qualifying. Her best pass was 6.536 seconds at 211.83 mph, and she races Vieri Gaines in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Gaines qualified No. 14 with a top lap of 6.670 at 210.05 mph.

With the warmest temperatures of the weekend expected Sunday, Pro Stock drivers and teams will need to negotiate a difficult track, but Enders knows her Elite Motorsports team will be up to the challenge.

“We’re going to have a long day cut out for us tomorrow,” Enders said. “It’s going to be the hottest day of the weekend, and I think it’s going to be survival of the fittest.

“That makes me happy because I know what my guys are capable of. When the racetrack is in great condition and the weather’s just right, everybody can run well, but when things are not wonderful is when we really seem to excel. I’m speaking optimistically and am hopeful that tomorrow is a long day.”

Three of Enders’ four qualifying passes were within .015-second, showing the consistency needed to win on race day. In Q3, Enders’ Chevrolet Camaro suffered a damaged engine, but her team replaced it and made a solid pass in the heat of the day, 6.551 seconds at 211.53 mph.

“We started off on the right foot: We were low for the first session,” Enders said. “When we went up for Q2, we had some interesting things happen, and we hurt a motor today, so it’s definitely been an interesting weekend so far.

“We wrapped up qualifying with a decent, race-day prep run and ended up being third-quickest for the session, so that’s good.”

Enders is a six-time winner in 2015, including the last Pro Stock races on the schedule. The most recent was the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, where she beat Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final.

“Right now, my teammate and I are on opposite sides of the ladder,” Enders said, “so that’s fun if you want to look forward and see what could potentially happen.”

Pro Stock eliminations are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Erica Enders, Elite Motorsports ready to defend Pro Stock championship


CHARLOTTE, NC — Pro Stock champion Erica Enders begins the Countdown to the Championship playoffs from the lofty No. 1 spot at this weekend’s NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway.

Victories in the last two races, including the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals two weeks ago, cemented her No. 1 spot — and a 30-point lead over the No. 2 driver — in the points standings.

“I’m really excited to be in the No. 1 position because that 30-point bonus would have significantly changed things in Pomona [Calif.] last year when it came down to the final round at the final race with Jason (Line) and I,” Enders said. “Had I lost that round, I would have lost the championship by one point.

“We still have a ton of work cut out for us going into the Countdown. We weren’t the fastest car at Indy, but you bet your butt our guys are back in the shop working on that to see if we can find some more horsepower and get our act together for the Countdown.”

Enders has six victories in seven final-round appearances in 2015, racing to the semifinals in five other races. She also has five No. 1 qualifiers and has amassed a 40-12 round-win record through 18 races.

“We came off the win in Brainerd [Minn.], went to Indy, and won at Indy,” Enders said. “We want to carry that momentum. You want to start off the Countdown on the right foot. These are the six most important races of the season. You have to have as little parts failure as you can. You have to change things out more frequently than you would have before just to stay ahead of the game.

“I’m really excited. I’m very optimistic about the final six races. I know that my guys are as well.”

Enders won the 2014 world championship by winning twice, racing to the semifinals twice, and reaching the second round twice in the six-race Countdown. That experience can only help as she guns for her second consecutive season title.

“I feel like we as a team learned a lot about ourselves last year, being able to perform well in those high-pressure situations,” Enders said. “Behind the scenes, of course, your stomach is in a knot. I joked last year going into the final round that I could have puked. I think my crew chiefs were the same way. So much is on the line for one round.

“We were pretty tough. That’s something that we learned, and I’ve become a much better driver with the guys that are surrounding me now. My Elite Motorsports team has helped me so much. I feel that even in crazy situations — when things break, go wrong, you’re rushed, or you’re not in sequence — I’ve learned how to overcome those feelings and just be able to block that out.

“I feel like I can have anything thrown at me and can have anything thrown at us and we can come out on top. That’s something that we had to learn and had to acquire over the years. Going into this Countdown, yes, I feel like we are the best that we have ever been, and I’m very, very excited about what’s to come.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:15 and 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 12:45 and 3 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations begin at 1 p.m., Sunday.

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


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.”