Posts Tagged Race Preview

Reigning champ Erica Enders on a season-long high as Sonoma race approaches


SONOMA, CA — Fresh off her most encouraging outing of the year, back-to-back and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders is anxious to get to Northern California for this weekend’s Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.

Enders qualified a season-best second on the Denver elimination ladder and logged an elimination round-win before parts failure cost her just enough time to lose her second-round race against Allen Johnson. Nevertheless, the huge uptick in performance has the entire Elite/Mopar Dodge Dart race team feeling better about themselves.

“I think with the gains we made in Denver we can definitely carry those to Sonoma and continue to work on making the car better, making better runs, and me driving awesome,” Enders said. “That definitely is the goal in Sonoma: To pick up where we left off in Denver and go in an even more upward direction.”

It has been a catch-up year for Enders and company as the team switched manufacturers just as NHRA implemented the biggest rules-package changes in class history. Enders went from two years of dominating Pro Stock to fighting just to stay in the field for this year’s Countdown to the Championship. She currently sits nine points outside the top 10.

“We definitely need to make up some ground in the points,” Enders said. “With four races left before the countdown starts, we’re the one car sitting on the outside looking in, but only by a few points. I’m looking forward to heading to Sonoma, the second stop on the Western Swing, and making up some ground. If we have truly turned the corner, it’s coming at a perfect time.

“I’ve never won at Sonoma before, but it’s one of my favorite tracks on the tour. Where it’s located, being in wine country, sure doesn’t hurt! I’m definitely excited to race there. It’s been a goal of mine to win at Sonoma for some time because of it being one of my favorite stops. We’re looking forward to going back there.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m., Friday, and 1:10 and 4:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Friday, and 7 to 8 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in PT).

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders ready to show what her Mopar can do in Denver


DENVER, CO — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders has come to Bandimere Speedway for the Mopar Mile-High Nationals for many years, always knowing how difficult it is racing in the thinner Colorado air, but this year Enders is driving a Hemi-powered Dart, and she relishes the chance to race on even terms with her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge.

“I’m pretty excited about the opportunity,” Enders said. “The Hemis have run well on the mountain for years and years and years. Hopefully, this can be a turnaround weekend for us.”

Plus, this Denver race marks a special occasion. Ten years ago, she raced as a teammate to Richie Stevens, Shaun Carlson, and Gene Wilson.

“This race also marks the 10-year anniversary of my first race with Mopar back in 2006,” Enders said. “Pretty cool deal.”

This Denver race is pretty cool for another reason, too: It will be the first race in NHRA history to be televised live on a national broadcast channel (FOX).

“That will definitely be awesome,” Enders said. “It’s my sponsor’s race, and hopefully we’ll get some additional coverage. It’ll be great for our class and our sport.”

The FOX broadcast team will show an event unlike any other in the sport. Since Denver has a mile-high altitude, engines in Pro Stock are robbed of air and horsepower. That completely changes the dynamic of Pro Stock drivers from the moment they drop the clutch to when they cross the finish line.

“It’s very different as a driver,” Enders said. “Pro Stock being a naturally aspirated class, we’re the ones who are most affected by the thin air. We’re the ones who probably run the slowest, according to class. From a driver’s standpoint, the clutch feels completely different, your shift points come at a completely different time, and the way the motor accelerates is very different. Driving with your ear is completely out of the question.

“I’ve raced up on the mountain for the last 12, 13 years, so hopefully my experience comes into play. It will certainly take us a couple of qualifying passes to be able to get a handle on things as far as car setup and driving, but I’m optimistic and looking forward to the challenge.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m., Friday, and 4 and 6:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 6 to 7 p.m., Friday, and 9 to 10 p.m., Saturday. FOX will carry eliminations live from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in MDT).

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders returns to site of first pro victory


CHICAGO, IL — Two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders returns to where all of her professional success started, Route 66 Raceway, for the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals this weekend.

Four years ago, Enders was still fighting for her first victory, racing to six final rounds over her career but without sealing the deal. However, when Enders and her team got to Chicago, they felt really good about their chances.

“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Enders said. “When we got to the track on Thursday — I don’t know why but it happens at a handful of racetracks — we had a good feeling when we walked through he gate. I was always hopeful that whatever track we were at would be the track where I got my first win, but that was definitely an awesome weekend.

“I’m sure when I get back there it will all come flooding back. That was one of the better days, for sure.”

Enders qualified third that weekend, but rain delayed the start of eliminations. Finally, she dispatched Kurt Johnson, Vincent Nobile, V. Gaines, and Greg Anderson to secure her first career victory.

“I remember there was a long rain delay, and we didn’t start first round until almost 4 o’clock, so it was a long drawn-out day,” Enders said. “It was really cool to come out on top. There are pictures proudly hanging in my office of the winner’s circle when my guys doused me with beer. It was awesome.”

Enders became the first woman to win in the Pro Stock class, and that victory launched a spectacular career. She won three more races in 2012 and two in 2013 before moving to Elite Motorsports for the 2014 season. Enders then won six times and the 2014 Pro Stock championship and had an even better season last year. She won nine races and the Pro Stock title one more time, and Enders was recently awarded an ESPY nomination for Best Driver for that accomplishment.

“I love Chicago and I always have, even when I raced Sportsman there in the early years of the track,” Enders said. “It definitely holds a lot of really special memories for me. It’s where we finally won our first Pro Stock race, and that was a night to remember.”

Of course, Enders would love to repeat her 2012 performance this season, her first with the Elite/Mopar Dodge. The team continues to develop the new Dart and new fuel-injected engines, but progress is being made.

“We’ve had some down times since the East Coast swing, but my guys have been working really hard in the engine shop,” Enders said. “Hopefully, the scoreboards will show some of the progress that we’ve made.”

In addition to racing her Pro Stock Dodge, she’s entered in Super Gas with the ORTEQ Energy Technologies roadster for owners Cody Ortowski and Buddy Wood.

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5:15 and 7:45 p.m., Friday, and 3:15 and 6 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry qualifying action from 10 p.m. to midnight ET, Saturday and eliminations live beginning at 2 p.m., Sunday.

Dutch Boy/Menards driver Erica Enders hopes to scoop up another Norwalk trophy

Erica Enders | NHRA Norwalk, OH 2016

NORWALK, OH — Two NHRA Pro Stock world championship trophies sit in the New Orleans home of Erica Enders, but one of her prized trophies is an ice cream scoop.

Winners at Summit Motorsports Park receive a special billet ice cream scoop, symbolic of the popular ice cream served at the track. Enders scored at the 2014 Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, winning the sought-after ice cream scoop, too.

“We’ve had some success in Norwalk in the past, qualifying on the pole a handful of times and finally going on to win the coveted billet ice cream scoop,” said Enders, who races her Dutch Boy Paints/Menards Dodge there this weekend. “That sits proudly in my trophy room. I say every time going into Norwalk that we really love and respect the Bader family and how they operate a great facility.”

Norwalk is one of the favorite stops on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule for competitors, including Enders.

“It’s always a treat to go back.” Enders said. “They go above and beyond to treat the racers like family. From the guys who take tickets at the front gate to the guys who bring ice around for us, everybody is helpful and has a smile on their face. We’re excited to go back to Norwalk.”

A victory in Norwalk could be elusive this season, as Enders’ Elite team continues to develop its new Dart with new fuel-injected engines, but though she may be tempering her expectations, she continues to have the utmost faith in her team.

“Maybe right now, the kind of success we expect isn’t turning on win lights,” Enders said. “It’s going to be getting through this adversity and still be stuck together like glue, still being positive, and still having fun. That’s what it’s all about. Yes, we want to win races for Mopar, JEGS, and everyone else, but at this point, all we can do is continue to work hard.

“We’ll be back on top; I have absolutely no doubt in that. It’s just a matter of time. I don’t know how long that’s going to be, but we’ll be back.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m. ET, Friday, and 1 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry qualifying action from 8 to 9 p.m., Friday, and 7 to 8 p.m., Saturday. The first two rounds of eliminations will air live beginning at noon, Sunday, with a three-hour recap later in the evening, beginning at midnight.

Elite/Mopar champion Erica Enders looking for three Father’s Day wins in a row


BRISTOL, TN– With two world championships, 21 national event wins, and a 221-137 race-day record, 32-year-old Erica Enders already has experienced many high points in her drag racing career, but perhaps the two moments she takes the most pride in happened the last two years at Bristol Dragway when she won back-to-back NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals titles on Father’s Day.

“Going all the way back to the beginning, my dad (Gregg Enders) always has been there for me,” Enders said. “He used to race himself and that’s what got me started. He sacrificed everything to make my dreams come true, and although I’ll never be able to fully thank him for what he’s done, winning the last two years on Father’s Day and dedicating those Wallys to him was a very cool feeling.

“Those two wins have made Bristol one of my favorite tracks of all time. I already loved the place because it’s a Bruton (Smith) track and it’s really, really nice. Then you throw in the way the fans treat us there and the beautiful scenery, it’s so easy to love that place.”

While it’s fun to reminisce on the past and conjure up the images of good times with her father, Enders can’t help but look at this year’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals as a place she’d love to finally get her Elite Performance/Mopar Dodge Dart on a winning course.

“It’s no secret we’re struggling a bit,” Enders said. “But as I’ve said many times, we have an awesome team of professionals over here and no one is complaining about all the extra work that has been put in this year trying to get our two Dodges up to speed.

“We see encouraging signs in testing, at the shop on the dyno, and even from our teammates Jeg (Coughlin) and Vincent (Nobile), so we know we’re getting closer. We just need to keep our heads down and work.”

As a driver, Enders has been doubling down on her efforts in the cockpit.

“I have a few things I do mechanically with the car, but I know the biggest impact I can make is behind the wheel,” she said. “I’ve worked extremely hard on my mental focus and keeping the exact routine every time. I want to do all that I can to help, and if that means I need to cut double-O lights at the Tree, then that’s what I strive to do.

“We won a lot of races and two championships as a team and we’ll get through this as a team. That’s what my dad taught me. There’s no quit in this pit.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m. ET, Friday, and 1 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at 1 p.m., Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying action from 2 to 4 p.m. ET, Saturday, and eliminations from 4 to 7 p.m., Sunday.

Chemistry remains strong for Pro Stock champ Erica Enders and Elite Motorsports


ENGLISHTOWN, NJ — From her first day behind the wheel of an Elite Motorsports race car, Erica Enders knew she was in a special situation.

Chemistry between Enders and her race team was solid on that first day and has only continued to grow. So despite some struggles during the 2016 season, Enders and her team remain a tight-knit group as they head to the NHRA Summernationals this weekend at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

Enders won the 2014 and 2015 Pro Stock championships with Elite, going to the winner’s circle 15 times over that span. Why? People.

“I attribute most of our success to personnel, absolutely,” Enders said. “My guys build great horsepower, and my crew chiefs build a fantastic race car. But what we have is so unique and so special. Even through these hard times right now, it’s not wavered, not one bit.

“We used to say, ‘Horsepower is a great deodorant.’ But when things aren’t going right, it’s easy for people to have a shorter fuse and snap at one another.”

That hasn’t happened this season as Enders and her team develop a new Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge.

“We still have a blast,” Enders said. “Does it stink not to run well? Absolutely. Are we mad we come back? Yeah, but it doesn’t change the bond that we have. It just makes us want to dig deeper and work harder. I wouldn’t pick anyone else in the entire world. I choose to spend my free time with these guys. They’re absolutely amazing, and I’m forever indebted to Richard (Freeman). He could’ve picked anybody, and he picked me.”

Team owner Freeman sets the tone for the solid team chemistry, hiring a group of people who work well together and have fun.

“I feel like people are the most important part of the puzzle,” Enders said. “Yeah, you need a good race car and good horsepower, but you can’t buy what we have. That’s what’s so cool about it. Every team out here has to be a little envious of what we have in that aspect, and that makes me proud.”

From crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll to engine builders Jake Hairston and Nick Ferri to crewmembers Chase Freeman, Robert Freeman, Royce Lee Freeman, and Brett McGehee, Enders’ team remains close.

“You couldn’t have hand-picked a better program,” Enders said. “I can thank Richard Freeman for that. He’s a really good judge of character, and he picked each and every one of us and put us together. I knew from the first test session we had together before the season opener in 2014 that it was different.

“I walked on the pit mat, and everything was different. It was fun, we were laughing, and we were doing well together.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. ET, Friday, and 1:45 and 4:15 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry qualifying action from 9 to 11 a.m., Sunday. Eliminations will air from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Sunday.

Erica Enders welcomes role as defending Pro Stock world champion


EPPING, NH — Becoming a champion in any sport can often be a burden to those who achieve the highest level of success, but two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders welcomes the role she earned in 2014 and 2015 by beating the best drivers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. As she races in the NHRA New England Nationals this weekend at New England Dragway, Enders carries the No. 1 on the side of her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge.

“I worked my entire life to become a champion,” Enders said. “Carrying the No. 1 on my window is a huge honor, especially in a class that is as competitive as Pro Stock.”

Of course, winning one title doesn’t guarantee success the following season, but Enders knows the only way to continue reaching her goals is to keep doing her best time after time.

“It comes with positives and negatives,” Enders said of being a champion. “We’ve had a target on our backs from the get-go, but being back-to-back champions makes it a bigger target. I do my best every single time I go up to the starting line, and I don’t care who I race, but it does seem that my competitors race me differently than they race other people.

“I take that as a compliment that my competitors give me their best every time because they can absolutely count on getting my best from me, regardless of who they are.”

That consistent effort pays dividends, as seen by her back-to-back titles. The 2016 season has been a struggle, though, as her Elite team continues to develop a new Dodge Dart and new fuel-injected engines.

“This year has come with its challenges,” Enders said. “We have to stay true to ourselves and stay the course. We’ll get to where we’re going, and when we do, it’ll be game on.”

Along with expectations, being a champion carries additional responsibilities, especially at the racetrack. Enders’ time is taxed more than ever, and though that’s a good result from her success, it does take some adaptation.

“The fan responsibility has significantly changed in the last two years,” Enders said. “I’ve had the most loyal, fun group of people who have been supportive to us over the years, and the group is steadily growing. That’s a huge compliment to what we’ve accomplished.

“I know this year hasn’t exactly made a lot of our fans proud, but they can rest assured that we’re doing everything in our power to get back to the top.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m. ET, Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will carry live qualifying action from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations will air from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Sunday.

Pro Stock champ Erica Enders holds special memories of Topeka


TOPEKA, KS — Heartland Park Topeka has a special place in the heart of Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge driver Erica Enders, the two-time Pro Stock champion.

Heartland Park, site of this weekend’s NHRA Kansas Nationals, is where Enders became the first woman to earn a No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock, and it’s also the track where she scored a dominant victory in 2015, nine years after that first No. 1 qualifier.

Enders was in her second full year of Pro Stock in 2006, driving the Slammers car. In the second round of qualifying for the NHRA Summer Nationals, Enders made a pass of 6.785 at 203.06 mph to jump to No. 1. She held on to that spot to become the 52nd driver to earn a Pro Stock No. 1.

“It was a huge milestone for me and my young Pro Stock career,” said Enders, who was 22 at the time. “It was definitely exciting. The fans were crazy. I signed a lot of autographs that weekend and got a lot of congratulations from a lot of people: a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls. It’s definitely a neat memory.”

Enders got to share the memory with her father Gregg, who helped start Enders’ career as an 8-year-old driving a Jr. Dragster in her home state of Texas.

“It was cool to share that moment with my dad,” Enders said. “He’s the reason why I was in that position in the first place.”

Fast-forward to 2015, and Enders is now driving for Elite Motorsports. She had won in Las Vegas and Houston earlier in the year, repeating race victories from her 2014 championship, but her Topeka success had been limited to that No. 1 qualifier in 2006.

“At that point of the season, we had won the same races that we had won the year before,” Enders said. “Every race we went to where we hadn’t won, we were hoping to break that. Topeka was a track that we typically didn’t have much luck or success at, so to win in the fashion that we did was pretty cool.”

Enders was low for all three of the qualifying sessions (the fourth was rained out) and set the Pro Stock track record of 6.515 seconds at 211.43 mph to again win the No. 1 qualifying spot.

On race day, Enders was quickest in all four rounds, beating Greg Anderson in an early-evening final round to win the race.

“We were low for every session, No. 1 qualifier, and we beat Greg in the finals,” Enders said. “It was a rain delay on Sunday, and we finished under the lights. It was pretty cool.”

Rain had delayed the final, and the winner’s circle celebration had to be moved indoors — not that Enders or anyone on her Elite team minded.

“The winner’s circle was in the barn with the scales,” Enders said. “It was different, for sure, but still awesome.”

Pro Stock qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m., Friday, and 1:30 and 4 p.m., Saturday. Eliminations start at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET, Saturday. Elimination action will be broadcast live from 2 to 5 p.m. ET, Sunday.

Enders will also compete in Sportsman racing this weekend, as she returns to the Super Gas ranks behind the wheel of the ORTEQ Energy Technologies roadster for owners Buddy Wood and Cody Ortowski.