Posts Tagged Countdown

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

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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

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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.

Erica Enders adds U.S. Nationals title to growing résumé

Erica Enders wins 2015 U.S. Nationals at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Erica Enders can now add U.S. Nationals champion to her growling list of accomplishments in what is becoming a legendary career.

Enders won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway with a brilliant driving display, beating her final three opponents on holeshots, including Elite Motorsports teammate Drew Skillman in the final round.

The victory cemented her No. 1 spot in the Pro Stock points standings for the Countdown to the Championship, which begins at zMax Dragway in Charlotte in two weeks, and it was her 18th career win, tying her for second all-time with the legendary Shirley Muldowney.

Enders may not be a legend yet, but she has accomplished a lot. She won the 2014 Pro Stock World Championship, becoming the first female to win the class title, and now she has won the biggest race of all, three years after a crushing defeat in the final round to a teammate.

“I’m struggling putting it into words because we’ve worked so hard for so long to get here,” Enders said. “There have been times in my career, particularly the final at Indy in 2012, where I really didn’t understand why things went down the way they did. It’s worth the wait. It’s worth the wait to do it with the right people and I couldn’t be more proud of my team.”

Her team is proud of her, too, especially after her driving Monday. After dispatching Vieri Gaines in the first round, Enders was actually outrun by Larry Morgan in the second round (6.613 seconds at 209.52 mph for Morgan to 6.617 at 209.01 mph for Enders), but her .036-second reaction time and .007-second head start was the difference.

Then came a big matchup in the semifinals against Greg Anderson, who was second in the points standings and the No. 1 qualifier here. But Enders drilled the Tree (.013 to .054) and overcame Anderson’s 6.591-second pass at 210.41 mph with her 6.618 at 209.39 mph.

“It was a challenge all day long, and our big round was against Greg Anderson,” Enders said. “Beating him allows us to go into the Countdown in the No. 1 seed. Those 30 points are going to be really, really crucial to us considering last year. Had we lost to Jason Line in the final (in Pomona, Calif., last year), we would have lost by a single point, so it’s huge. It’s huge for me, it’s huge for my team, and huge for any kid that ever had a dream. I came here as a little kid and I wanted to be here. Twenty-three years later we finally made it.”

In the final against Skillman, Enders had another .013 light to Skillman’s .025, and her run of 6.611 seconds at 209.75 mph was enough to hold off his 6.606-second run at 209.98 mph. The victory was her sixth of 2015, and her career total now matches Muldowney.

“Six wins in a single season is huge because I tied Shirley Muldowney,” Enders said. “I talk about Shirley an awful lot because she’s been a lifelong hero of mine because of what she had to endure driving back then. She still managed to do it with grace and class and come out on top. Over the years she became my mentor and my friend. I’m really lucky to have her in my corner. To put my name next to hers for a tie for all-time wins is incredible.

“I remember it like it was yesterday, wanting to get on the list, period, with just one win, and to say we have 18 is nuts.”

And it came at the race where she was named grand marshal. Enders got the call from Chevrolet before the race in Seattle, but she thought it was a joke.

“I kinda was like, ‘Are you joking?’ ” Enders said. “It’s a huge honor. I’m a Chevy girl through and through, and I’m very proud to drive a Camaro. It’s very neat, and it was a big honor to be up there today before the race. Jim Campbell has done a lot for our sport, as has everybody at Chevrolet. It’s just an honor. It feels surreal because I have to pinch myself to believe that we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Enders-Stevens crowned 2014 Pro Stock champion after NHRA Finals win

Erica Enders-Stevens hoists NHRA Championship trophy

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 16) — Taking fate into her own hands, Erica Enders-Stevens not only captured her sixth win of the season at the 50th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals but also the title of 2014 NHRA Pro Stock World Champion.

Surpassing Larry Morgan and Rodger Brogdon in the first two rounds of competition, Enders-Stevens’ Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro continued to step up round after round. But after both her and Jonathan Gray had perfect .000 lights in the semifinals, it was obvious Enders-Stevens wasn’t going down without a fight, advancing to the final round with a 6.494-second pass.

With the championship on the line during the final-round matchup against Jason Line, Enders-Stevens sealed the deal. Both drivers turned on the red bulb, implementing the “first or worst” rule, and Enders-Stevens’ -.002 reaction time beat out Line’s -.011 and secured her first season title.

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” Enders-Stevens said, “and that’s perfect proof that with the right group of people anything is possible and that’s all through God. I’ve got the right group, a group that stands behind me, and we have a blast together. That’s what it’s all about. Win, lose, or draw we love each other and that’s all that matters.”

Enders-Stevens beats Jason Line for 2014 Pro Stock Championship

Already with numerous accomplishments in the record books, Enders-Stevens joins Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey on an elite list of female NHRA champions.

“They are heroes of mine,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’m so thankful for their help and support in this venture. It means a lot to me to have my name on a list with Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey. They’re incredible racers and incredible women.

“What a blessing; this is awesome.”

Starting the dream season with a fresh start at Elite Motorsports, Enders-Stevens always knew that they were capable of going all the way. Her win in Pomona proved that.

“I definitely grew a lot,” Enders-Stevens said. “I learned a lot, I became better, and so did our team. I have them to thank for that. It was a long, hard year. I had to sit out two races and we were still able to accomplish this dream, and it says a lot of what we’re capable of. The sky is the limit.

“We’ve got a lot of great things happening for 2015, and I just couldn’t be more proud of my guys.”

Pro Stock points leader Enders-Stevens ready to make history in Pomona

Erica Enders-Stevens during Friday qualifying at Pomona

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 15) — A fast Royal Purple Chevrolet race car, a solid Elite Motorsports team, confidence in herself, and legions of fans have Erica Enders-Stevens poised to make history.

On Saturday Enders-Stevens qualified No. 3 for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway, and she carries a 19-point lead in the Pro Stock points standings into final eliminations at the season finale.

“What a blessing to be in the position that we’re in,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s going to come down to the wire, and it’s going to be a dogfight. I’ve got a good feeling and I’m happy.”

Enders-Stevens was terrific throughout the four qualifying sessions with a best pass of 6.526 seconds at 211.99 mph. She was quickest in two of the sessions and second-quickest in the other two as she chases the first Pro Stock championship of her career.

“The car’s great and it’s been good every run,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’re nit-picking thousandths of a second here and there and we’re happy. We’ve got a very consistent race car, and that’s what it takes on Sundays to win.

“We’ll go out there and do our best tomorrow, let the clutch pedal out on time, shift the car well, go A to B, and it could be a very good day. I feel confident and I’m excited.”

Enders-Stevens and Jason Line, who is in second place in the points standings, are on opposite sides of the ladder, so the championship could go down to the final round.

Should Enders-Stevens hang on to the championship lead, she would join Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey as the only female world champions in NHRA history and would become the first female world champ in Pro Stock.

She’s already had a stellar season, with five victories in six final-round appearances and six No. 1 qualifiers. She stormed back to the points lead in Las Vegas two weeks ago with a win from the No. 1 qualifying spot.

This weekend, her pit area has been swarmed with race fans trying to get a glimpse of the would-be champion.

“The fans have been incredible,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve spent hours at the back of the pit signing autographs and talking to people. I feel like I’ve got a lot of people pulling for us, which is really awesome. It shows, too, when we tow back to our pit in front of the grandstands. They’re hooting and hollering.

“I’ve been trying to take it all in because I know one day it will all disappear. I’m having the time of my life right now.”

Enders-Stevens begins her Sunday against No. 13 qualifier Larry Morgan, who made a top pass of 6.583 seconds at 209.30 mph.

Eliminations will start at approximately noon, Sunday, with both qualifying and elimination action broadcast on ESPN2 on tape-delay basis.

With the Pro Stock title in sight, Enders-Stevens is focused on having fun

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POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 10) — Even with the NHRA Pro Stock championship on the line during this weekend’s Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the No. 1 goal for Erica Enders-Stevens and her Elite Motorsports team is to have fun.

That has been the goal since Enders-Stevens joined the team this year, and it has paid off with five victories and the points lead heading into the season finale. And there’s no reason to change now.

“It’s such an awesome environment to work in, and (team owner) Richard Freeman is just an awesome guy to work for,” Enders-Stevens said. “He’s great at managing people, making everyone feel important, and at communication. We have team meetings, and we all always just stay on the same page. I think that’s how you make any relationship work, whether it be business or marriage or whatever.

“He’s done a really great job with that, and he’s made it very evident that if we’re not having fun, we’re not going to do it. We have a blast together.”

Winning helps that attitude, of course, but Enders-Stevens and her team are always smiling and joking no matter what. That positive outlook has helped through some trying times this season and enabled Enders-Stevens to bounce back from losing the points lead to regain it at the most recent race in Las Vegas.

Enders-Stevens is 17 points ahead of second-place Jason Line heading into Pomona after she beat Line in the Vegas semifinal before winning the race.

“People are the most important part of the puzzle, and Richard has certainly organized an elite group of people,” Enders-Stevens said. “Rick and Rickie Jones as my crew chiefs and all of the guys that work on my car, it’s just awesome, and we do have a blast whether we’re out to eat or at the racetrack winning and losing together. It’s always a fun time.”

But they take racing seriously, too, as shown by their terrific season to date. She has led the points standings for 13 of the 23 events so far in 2014, even after skipping two Western Swing races to prepare for the end of the year. In addition to the five wins, Enders-Stevens has raced to one other final round and four semifinal appearances.

Plus, she has scored six No. 1 qualifiers, including the last three in a row. In 18 of her 21 races this year, she has qualified in the top three 18 times.

All those numbers could add up to Enders-Stevens becoming the first female champion in the history of Pro Stock.

“Yeah, it’s certainly a huge feat to accomplish,” Enders-Stevens said. “I would have my name on a list with just Shirley Muldowney and Angelle (Sampey), and those are two of my heroes. To be able to have the opportunity to get it done is awesome in itself.

“At the same time I think any female racer will tell you that we just want to be looked at as a driver. The car doesn’t know the difference in gender, and it certainly doesn’t matter to me, but at the end of the day I guess it would be very awesome to be able to make history and just show any other females that maybe even had a little bit of doubt that they weren’t capable or whatever that I’m a perfect example of a normal kid — through hard work and certainly surrounding myself with the right people and having such a solid support group — that anything is possible, and I hope that’s the message that comes across to them.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 11:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. Eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. ESPN2 will carry qualifying and elimination action.

Enders-Stevens surges to Pro Stock points lead with stellar Vegas victory

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LAS VEGAS (Nov. 2) — When in high-pressure situations, champions deliver.

Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders-Stevens delivered under pressure Sunday, knocking out points leader Jason Line in the semifinals and then beating five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. to win the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The victory was the fifth of the season and 11th of her career, and it vaulted her into the Pro Stock points lead with one race remaining in 2014.

“It can’t get much better,” Enders-Stevens said. “It’s just really incredible. I can’t be any more proud of my team. We had a meeting coming in here on Thursday. (Team owner) Richard (Freeman) just reminded us to go out there, have fun, and stop putting pressure on ourselves. There’s no pressure from him or anyone else.

“When I came in here today I told myself I was going to give it all to God and do my best. I was a nervous wreck in Reading and I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be. That’s what I wanted to change coming in here. I just wanted to go out there and do what I know how to do. I’m confident in my guys and they’ve given me a great race car. Every time I fire up the car, it’s up to me.”

After winning in the first and second rounds, Enders-Stevens lined up against Line in the semi’s with championship implications in the air, and Enders-Stevens ripped off a .009-second reaction time, getting the crucial round-win when Line turned on the red-light.

Then, facing Coughlin in the final round, Enders-Stevens was even better, cutting a .007 light against one of the best drivers in the history of NHRA. She sped to the win with a pass of 6.587 seconds at 206.36 mph to beat Coughlin’s 6.596 at 209.14 mph.

“Those were two of the most important rounds of my career,” Enders-Stevens said. “I stepped up the plate and it feels good. (Crew chiefs) Rick and Rickie Jones were talking in my helmet and telling me, ‘Give it to God, do your best, if you want it, you’ve got to take it, don’t let up, and go after it.’

“That’s exactly what they did with the tune-up on the race car and that’s what I did behind the wheel today.”

The win against Line moved her to within three points of the lead, and beating Coughlin moved her 17 points ahead with only the Auto Club NHRA Finals on Nov. 14-16 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., remaining on the schedule.

“This is what it’s all about,” Enders-Stevens said. “I’ve been driving for 22 years, 10 of which I’ve been trying to make this Pro Stock deal work. Everything is just starting to come together. I know God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. All of those ups and downs in my Pro Stock career make this just that much sweeter.

“We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us in Pomona but what a cool position to be in. How blessed are we to be here? Regardless of how this ends, it’s been an incredible year and I could not be more proud.”

Title push continues with Enders-Stevens locking up No. 1 spot in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (Nov. 1) — The Pro Stock championship charge of drag racing superstar Erica Enders-Stevens continued Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the 31-year-old securing her third straight and sixth overall No. 1 qualifying effort of the 2014 season.

Enders, who entered then weekend 35 points behind class leader Jason Line, managed to make up eight markers in qualifying, closing the gap to 27 points, but the Texan knows the real damage can be done in eliminations, where each round is worth 20 points.

“There was still some left in that last run that ended up putting us on the pole,” Enders said. “We’ve got to piece it together even better tomorrow, be consistent, and go A to B every run. If I let the clutch out on time, we can go to the winner’s circle with this Elite Motorsports Camaro. We’ve all got to do our jobs and not get ahead of ourselves.”

Aside from her four victories, 13 races atop the points standings, and six No. 1 qualifying efforts, Enders-Stevens has qualified in the top three another 12 times.

“That’s pretty neat,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve had six No. 1s and eight No. 2s, and several of those second-place efforts we just barely missed being on top. It’s definitely the most No. 1s in one season in my career by far. It just goes to show what this team is capable of.

“Being able to get the top spot in the fashion we did it today was pretty exciting because all the cars were hauling out there. I was optimistic going into the last round. Analyzing the data from the three previous runs, we hadn’t killed it yet. That was really encouraging, so we were able to get after it on that last run.”

For her efforts, Enders-Stevens will open race day against first-timer Jeff Isbell, who ran a best of 6.829 seconds at 204.29 mph. Should they both advance through the earlier rounds, she could face Line in the semifinals.

“I’m really excited and really proud of my team,” Enders-Stevens said. “All of this is so monumental to me. This is 10 years that we’ve worked to get to this point and it’s all coming together. Regardless of how the year ends, I’m just really proud of my team.”

Eliminations for the Pro Stock class will begin at noon. ESPN2 will carry all of the action.

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