Posts Tagged Countdown

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

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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).

Rare mistake yields semifinal finish for Erica Enders at NHRA Finals

Erica Enders Pomona Finals 2015

POMONA, CA — Erica Enders didn’t become a two-time Pro Stock World Champion without being competitive, so one can understand why she was disappointed after falling in the semifinals of the Auto Club NHRA Finals on Sunday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

An extraordinarily rare mistake cost Enders against Allen Johnson, ending her triumphant season with nine victories and the 2015 championship.

“I didn’t drive like I wanted to this afternoon, but our season was great,” Enders said. “The competitor in me is really mad that I screwed up. I am human and it’s the first time I’ve done so probably since the spring. I guess we’re all entitled, but at the same time I’m better than that.

“I hate it because we probably win the race if we get through that round. It’s just one of those deals. There’s nothing to hold our heads down about.”

Enders clinched the championship at the previous race, in Las Vegas, winning her second consecutive event and third in the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

But after beating Vieri Gaines and Larry Morgan on Sunday in Pomona, Enders had some issues on the starting line against Johnson. She decked the engine before Johnson was staged, and then after backing off and hitting the throttle again, Enders had a rare poor reaction time, .068-second. By comparison, she had an average light of .016-second in the playoffs.

Johnson got off the line with a .005 light, and his pass of 6.572 seconds at 209.17 mph was enough to hold off Enders’ quicker 6.542 at 212.43 mph.

“What happened on the starting line was really screwed up and was my fault,” Enders said. “I didn’t rise to the occasion. I hate it; I wanted to win 10 on the year. But what can you say? I had a career season. People in drag racing would give anything to have a season like I did.

“If you put everything in perspective and look at the big picture, it’s kind of hard to be mad about one race. I just know that I’m better than that.”

Still, Enders will celebrate with her Elite Motorsports team at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Awards Ceremony on Monday night at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland.

“My guys were the first ones to pick me up,” Enders said. “We carry each other. We’ve had a lot of races where things didn’t go right setup-wise, and we’ve had a lot of races where the driver hasn’t been very good.

“But that’s where we’re different than everyone else. We stand by each other, we’re not critical, and we don’t pile on each other when the other messes up. That’s how we roll.”

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders gunning for 10th victory of 2015

Erica Enders Pomona 2015 Auto Club Finals

POMONA, CA — Erica Enders has already captured the biggest prize in the Pro Stock class of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series: the 2015 championship. But the two-time series champion is far from finished with the season. Enders is a nine-time winner in 2015, meaning she already holds the record for most wins in a season by a woman, but she wants No. 10.

“I’m proud that we locked the championship up last weekend,” Enders said. “But I’m going into tomorrow with the mindset that I want to win No. 10 on the season. That is my job, that is my goal, and that is what I will do.”

Enders, who clinched the championship during her victory in Las Vegas, qualified No. 2 for the Auto Club NHRA Finals on Saturday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona with a stellar pass of 6.503 seconds at 213.33 mph.

“That was our first decent run of the weekend,” Enders said. “Obviously, that’s nice to be able to go to sleep on Saturday night with that run. (No. 1 qualifier) Greg (Anderson) made a killer run and he had us by a hundredth in the 60-foot, and that’s what he outran us by. We know where we need to improve.”

Enders starts her pursuit of victory No. 10 on Sunday against V. Gaines, who qualified No. 15 with a top pass of 6.570 seconds at 211.63 mph.

“We have a great race-day setup,” Enders said. “That’s something my guys are excellent at, giving me a fast, consistent race car on Sunday. We’ve proven all year that’s what it takes to win, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Enders will also keep an eye on Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman, who qualified No. 4 and is on opposite sides of the ladder from her. Skillman, the leading contender for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award as the NHRA’s top rookie, is fourth in the points standings but has a shot at finishing second.

Enders is also looking to cap a spectacular Countdown to the Championship, in which she has won three of the five races in the playoffs, including two in a row. Plus, she has raced to the final in four of the five Countdown races.

Pro Stock champion Erica Enders not resting on laurels in final race of 2015

NHRA Drag Racing

POMONA, CA — The 2015 Pro Stock championship belongs to Erica Enders and the Elite Motorsports team, but don’t think for a second that Enders will coast her way through the Auto Club NHRA Finals this weekend at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Enders wrapped up her second consecutive Pro Stock championship in Las Vegas two weeks ago, winning her ninth race of the season, but she and her team want win No. 10.

“We’re all racers, and we all grew up at the racetrack,” Enders said. “I started in a Jr. Dragster. (Co-crew chief) Rickie Jones was at the track when he was a little kid as well. We stay hungry because it’s our passion and we want to be the best.

“My guys are perfectionists. We go out and make an excellent run and win the race, then come back and analyze the data and say, ‘We needed to do this and that.’ They just want to be perfect. Even though we were the best that day (in Vegas), they want to get better.

“I’m the same way as a driver. I want to go in and just do the best that I can for the guys that work so incredibly hard for me. We accomplished what we wanted to as far as the championship is concerned. That pressure is off of us, but we definitely want to go out there and finish the season strong.”

Enders and her Elite team have made an amazing run in the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s playoffs. Enders has three victories and four final-round appearances in the five Countdown races, proof that championship athletes perform their best when under pressure.

She heads to Pomona on a two-race winning streak, too, having won in Dallas before clinching the title with the victory in Vegas.

“All this stuff is so storybook, so awesome,” Enders said. “I’m really blessed to be a part of a great team and great organization at Elite Motorsports. Our season’s not over yet. We get to go to Pomona and plan on winning that one, too. We’ll see how it goes.”

Enders’ two-year run at Elite Motorsports includes two championships, 15 race victories, and 12 No. 1 qualifiers.

“My career took a turn for the best when I joined Richard Freeman and Elite Motorsports,” Enders said. “It just goes to show that with the right people, anything is possible. Money and sponsorship doesn’t hurt, horsepower doesn’t hurt, but those things don’t win races, those things don’t win championships. It’s been proven over and over again because the wealthiest guys in the sport haven’t been able to get it done.

“We run on a very limited budget and we’ve been able to do it. It’s just the right group of people in the right places. We have great team chemistry, we’ve jelled so well, we work well together, we trust each other. Most importantly, we have fun. Having that much fun, I feel like it makes us even more successful on the racetrack. It has been a whirlwind to have been able to win (15) Pro Stock races in (two) years. It’s crazy. I had always hoped, but I never thought it would happen. Just goes to show that God’s timing is perfect.”

With championship in reach, Erica Enders snares No. 1 spot in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS, NV — First things first.

Erica Enders, the 2014 NHRA Pro Stock world champion and current points leader, grabbed the No. 1 qualifying spot for the NHRA Toyota Nationals on Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On Sunday, she can clinch her second consecutive championship.

Enders increased her points lead to 162 over the Pro Stock field by being quickest in all four rounds in Las Vegas. She needs to finish the race with a 151-point lead to wrap up the title.

“Tomorrow is going to take consistency,” Enders said. “I say it all the time: A to B, focus one round at a time. Every round is tough. There are no gimmes in Pro Stock. I know better than anybody that you can go from hero to zero really quickly.

“Las Vegas has been really great for me in the past, so I’m looking forward to continuing that trend tomorrow. We’re going to just do our best and see what happens. My goal is to not think about the championship, even though everyone keeps asking me about it. I want to win the race, and that is my first goal. Tomorrow is one round at a time.”

Drivers receive 20 points for each round victory, so Enders needs to match or exceed the performance of her closest competitors in the points race, Greg Anderson, Chris McGaha, Drew Skillman, Allen Johnson, etc.

Otherwise, Enders would take a sizable lead to the final race of the season, the Auto Club NHRA Finals Nov. 13-15 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Pomona, Calif.

But after earning her sixth No. 1 of the season and 18th of her career, Enders is focused on winning the race, too. She has won three national events in a row in Las Vegas, and counting the last two K&N Horsepower Challenge races, Enders has won 18 rounds in a row here.

That prowess continued into this weekend, as her track-record pass of 6.559 seconds at 210.28 mph earned her the No. 1 spot. That run was Friday, but she was also quick in the two qualifying sessions Saturday.

“We did have some great runs today,” Enders said. “Today’s conditions were a little bit different than yesterday’s. It was obviously warmer, so the track was warmer. We made two really nice, consistent passes just getting ready for tomorrow. It is going to be the warmest of the three but not much warmer than today.

“I’m excited that we were able to make those four consistent passes and fine-tune some things. I am confident going into tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens.”

Erica Enders smashes Las Vegas track records to earn provisional pole

Erica Enders Las Vegas 2015 Countdown

LAS VEGAS, NV — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports team aren’t trying to cruise to their second straight title, but they threw down a monster pass in the second qualifying session of the NHRA Toyota Nationals on Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to claim the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot.

The run, 6.559 seconds at 210.28 mph, set track records for elapsed time and speed and it was the fastest corrected run in Pro Stock history — taking into account altitude and other factors — at 6.381 seconds at 216.65 mph.

“I’m glad we were able to accomplish it,” Enders said. “Having said that, we’ve got two more important runs tomorrow. We need to scoop up all the qualifying bonus points we possibly can and try to stay on the pole. We need to go into Sunday with our heads down and get to work. We’ve got a lot to accomplish still, and I want to win the race. I want to make it four in a row. I couldn’t be more proud to be their driver; they’re an awesome group of men.”

Enders needs to leave Las Vegas with a 151-point lead to clinch the championship. She came into the race 154 points ahead, padding that by three based on qualifying points from the first two sessions.

Plus, she has been dominant in Las Vegas over the past two years, sweeping both national events in 2014 and winning here in April. To go along with those two victories, Enders has won the special K&N Horsepower Challenge here the last two years.

“I think we have 18 consecutive round-wins here, and the goal is to get to 22,” Enders said. “Having said that, we go back to taking things one at a time. My guys performed really well here, and my crew chiefs seem to have a good handle on this track and the dry air.

“Our race car is working. We stumbled onto some stuff in Dallas that we had been working really hard to figure out. As most people watched, they could see our performance change a little bit on Sunday. We certainly translated that to here. I’m excited and cautiously optimistic to be in the position we’re in.”

Enders has been quickest in both qualifying sessions this weekend, but her Q2 pass was the most impressive.

“We made a good run in the first session,” Enders said. “The weather (for Q2) was actually not as good as it was for the first session, so we really just stepped on it. I could not be more proud of my team. Our Elite Performance horsepower is really showing through right when we need it most. Pair that with our excellent teamwork, and my driving has been pretty decent lately. The sky is the limit for us.

“That run was pretty hateful. Of course, my guys got back to the computers in the trailer and were nit-picking, trying to be perfectionists about it. That’s what makes them as great as they are.”

Vegas is ‘just another race’ for championship front-runner Erica Enders

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders can clinch her second consecutive championship at the 15th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals. After all, she has a massive 154-point lead on her nearest rival in the standings and is riding an otherworldly winning streak of 18 straight rounds of competition at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, winning five successive races at the facility.

Yet the record-setting driver from Texas says this weekend’s race is no different than the first 22 this year, of which she has won eight, an all-time, high-water mark for female drivers.

“I’m treating this race like all the other ones; I want to do my very best to put this Elite Motorsports Camaro in the winner’s circle,” Enders said. “We have an awesome team with the best mechanics, engine builders, and crew chiefs in the world and we have a lot of confidence. To change the way we’ve been racing at this point would be crazy.”

Crazy indeed. Enders’ eight victories (Las Vegas 1, Houston, Topeka, Bristol, Brainerd, Indianapolis, Charlotte 2, and Dallas) lead all professional drivers, regardless of category. Her 52-14 race day record also blows away the entire professional field.

As for her good fortune at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Enders, who is married to fellow Pro Stock driver Richie Stevens, has won three national events and two K&N Horsepower Pro Stock Challenges in her last three trips to the high desert.

“It’s no secret Las Vegas has been very, very good to us,” Enders said. “I love the track, and the fans that come to those races are already in a party mood being in Vegas, so the atmosphere is always very upbeat.

“Coming off a win in Dallas (Oct. 18), that also raises our level of confidence. We are carrying a lot of momentum at the right time. Last year was do-or-die every round when we came to Vegas. This time we have a little cushion in the points, but we know we’re not done racing. There is work to be done, and these guys are super hungry to get another championship.

“God has a plan for us and it takes a lot of stress off my shoulders knowing that my destiny has already been set. I just need to do what I can behind the wheel and then let God handle the rest.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 12:15 and 3:45 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. Eliminations are scheduled to begin at noon, Sunday. All racing action will be shown on ESPN2.

Points leader Erica Enders now has destiny in her hands at crucial Dallas race


DALLAS, TX — Race day at the 30th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals could very well go down as the one that decides the Pro Stock championship with the top three drivers in the Mello Yello points stacked up for early head-to-head battles when eliminations begin Sunday at Texas Motorplex.

Current points leader and reigning NHRA champion Erica Enders has a slight advantage in her Elite Motorsports Camaro as she outqualified both second-ranked driver Greg Anderson and third-place Chris McGaha, who won the last race in Reading, Pa.

Adding a huge dose of intrigue, Anderson and McGaha are slotted to face one another in the opening round, with Enders getting the winner of that head-to-head match should she manage to beat Vieri Gaines in her Round 1 race. The end result is that only one of the three top drivers in the points has a chance to reach the semifinals.

“Wow, it’s crazy the way the elimination ladder worked out,” Enders said. “Greg and Chris facing each other right off is a huge race. Greg outqualified him (6.484 to 6.518) but Chris did win Reading, so he could score an upset.

“We just need to take care of business against V., which will not be easy, and we need to win with a good-enough elapsed time to try and maintain lane choice for the winner of Greg and Chris’ race. It’s a ton of pressure, but we work best under pressure, and I think our track record proves that point.”

Enders, who tops the NHRA charts with seven victories this year, had a best pass of 6.480 at 213.47 mph, which slotted her fourth overall, a few ticks behind her teammate Drew Skillman, who took the pole with a 6.471. In Round 1, she will enjoy lane choice over Gaines, who had a best pass of 6.543 at 209.39 mph. Enders is 4-0 versus Gaines this season.

“V. is my buddy and a true gentleman racer,” said Enders, who is married to fellow Pro Stock driver Richie Stevens. “But I’ll tell you what, when he’s at the line, he’s going for the win every time. He’s a very tough draw.

“We’ll go into race day like we do every weekend: with a desire to be the quickest and the fastest car on the property. We’ll double- and triple-check everything on the car and we’ll be ready for whatever happens. The guys know what’s a stake here. This is a team full of champions.”

Enders entered the weekend 72 points ahead of Anderson and 104 points up on McGaha. Each round won on race day is worth 20 points.

“It’s not a total do-or-die race because we’ve got a little cushion in the standings and we’ve still got Las Vegas and Pomona on the schedule,” Enders said, “but we could sure make it tough on them if we can turn on the win light four times tomorrow. We need to take care of business and I need to do my job behind the wheel. I love it; having our fate in our hands is what we want.”

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