Posts Tagged Race Recap

Start of Pro Stock title defense doesn’t go as Erica Enders planned

Erica Enders burnout at Pomona 2016

POMONA, CA — Two-time Pro Stock World Champion Erica Enders hates losing, so it’s fair to say she won’t love this Valentine’s Day.

Enders lost in the first round of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season opener, shaking the tires at the hit and almost immediately getting out of the throttle of her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge Dart.

She could only watch as Elite teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. sailed to the victory, but Enders is far from distraught. After massive changes in the off-season — a manufacturer switch to Dodge and an NHRA-mandated change to fuel-injected engines limited to 10,500 rpm — Enders knows better times are ahead.

“We’ve got to keep a positive attitude and keep the mindset that this is only a beginning for us,” Enders said. “We just finished putting our motors together on Wednesday in Phoenix. We can only go up from here, and I know that with all my heart. It is a very tough pill to swallow. I hate losing, I hate losing first round. If there’s any consolation to it, at least it was to my teammate.”

Enders qualified No. 9 in Pomona, the first time since the Sonoma, Calif., event last August that she qualified outside of the top half of the field.

“We’ve got to do some work with these race cars,” Enders said. “That run marks run No. 15 under our belts, and that’s nothing, considering I had over 300 runs on my other car. We’ll learn it, we’ll get it, and we’ll be back to the top — you bet your butt.”

Enders had tempered her expectations for Pomona, knowing the new Dart and Mopar engine is early in its development by Elite Performance, but she didn’t expect such tire shake against Coughlin.

“The track was way different today than it was the whole weekend,” Enders said. “We run behind the fuel cars, and they did zero track prep, which is pretty detrimental to our class. Of course, being first out doesn’t help, but that was our own fault.

“All things considered, coming here we figured we’d be a middle-of-the-pack car, and that’s exactly what we were. We’re going to go home and go to work on this stuff. We’ve got a couple weeks until Phoenix, and in between Phoenix and Gainesville there’s another couple of weeks. I fully expect by the Gatornationals to be a lot more competitive. We’ll keep moving in the right direction.”

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.”

Near-perfect reaction by Erica Enders not enough in Reading quarterfinals

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READING, PA — For the first time in two months, reigning Pro Stock champion and current points leader Erica Enders will not reach the final round of an NHRA national event in her Elite Motorsports Camaro. Enders, the wife of fellow Pro Stock driver Richie Stevens, fell in the second round to Bo Butner Sunday at Maple Grove Raceway when her engine expired, squandering a near-perfect .004-second reaction time.

“When it’s not your day, it’s just not your day,” said Enders, who has three wins and a runner-up in the last four races. “There’s nothing you can do about it. This whole weekend has been goofy with all the rain and only getting one qualifying session. Then we switched to a new motor this morning and hurt it against Kenny (Delco, first-round opponent). The guys thrashed to change it out and then we blew that one up big time against Bo.

“No one did anything wrong. My driving was good (.044-second advantage in Round 1 and .025 in Round 2) both rounds and the guys did everything they normally do. We just had some bad breaks.”

Enders entered the weekend a massive 113 points ahead of Greg Anderson, and even if Anderson goes on to win this race, the NHRA Keystone Nationals, she’ll still have a nice cushion atop the rankings.

“That’s a blessing,” Enders said of her lead. “We raced hard to get that lead, beating everyone straight up to earn those points, and we really wanted to add to it here. That obviously isn’t going to happen, but we’ll hold our heads high and move on to the next event and do what we’ve done all year.”

The NHRA tour takes next weekend off before heading to Texas Motorplex near Dallas in Enders’ home state of Texas. That race takes place Oct. 16-18.

“It’s a home race basically for me and for the guys from Elite,” Enders said. “I was born and raised in Houston and the Elite shop is in Oklahoma, so this is like meeting in the middle of where we’re all from. We always have fun in Dallas because being so close to all of our homes we have lots of friends and family come and support us.

“I think we’re all excited to have a weekend off, too. It’s a grind when you’re going hard every weekend, plus the break will give us time to go through the cars front to back and get these engines freshened up.

“We’ll come back stronger than ever and try to sweep the last three races and just put this thing away. It’s a fun time and we’re all enjoying the ride.”

Erica Enders extends points lead with brilliant performance in St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS, MO — Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders fell short of her fourth consecutive victory, but she still extended her Pro Stock points lead with a runner-up finish at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals on Sunday at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Enders continued to put on a brilliant driving display at Gateway. She became the first driver in NHRA history to win three consecutive finals on holeshots when she won in Charlotte last weekend and then left first on all four opponents this Sunday, including reaction times of .002, .002, and .003 in her last three rounds.

“I’m super comfortable in the car,” Enders said. “I know what I’m capable of, I know what my guys are capable of, and that gives me peace of mind. I’m able to go out there and do my job. We’re going to leave with our heads held high, go to Reading, and try to continue to spread the points on those KB boys.”

By racing to the final round, Enders extended her points lead to 113 over KB Racing driver Greg Anderson, who lost in the second round.

“It was a great points day,” Enders said. “The competitor side of us allows us to be frustrated when we don’t win, but we’ll go back and go through our notes, and one of us will stay and test tomorrow. It’s a great day. A.J. helped us a lot by beating Greg second round, and I was able to put another 40-point spread on him.

“That’s all that matters. We’ve got to keep pace. I really wanted to win four in a row and have eight for the season and have those records, but God has a bigger plan, and I’m OK with that. We’ve got our eye on the big prize.”

Enders began her day by blitzing Alex Laughlin with a pass of 6.586 seconds at 210.87 mph, but crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll made improvements on her Transportation Impact Camaro. Against Elite teammate Vincent Nobile, Enders had a .002 light and made a pass of 6.620 seconds at 211.66 mph to get the win.

Another .002 light gave her a jump on semifinal opponent Bo Butner, who made the quicker pass, a 6.520 at 212.43 mph, but Enders’ 6.524-second pass at 212.06 mph was enough to hold him off.

In the final, Enders had an .003 light, but her car went into immediate tire shake, and all she could do was watch teammate Drew Skillman get his first career victory with a pass of 6.529 at 211.63 mph.

“Of course we want to win, but today was Drew’s day,” Enders said. “It was just meant to be for him. If I have to lose, I’m glad it’s to my teammate, so we’re still able to share the winner’s circle under the Elite Motorsports banner.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Bizarre second round sends Erica Enders home early in Seattle

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SEATTLE, WA — A series of wacky circumstances helped end Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders’ day in the second round of the NHRA Northwest Nationals on Sunday at Pacific Raceways.

After beating Bob Butner in Round 1, Enders faced Elite teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the second, but from the start, almost nothing went right.

“I fired the car and had no oil pressure and no vacuum, so I radioed my guys and told them,” Enders said. “My crew chief just waved me in the water to start the burnout. I went to start my burnout, and then they were waving their arms to stop, so I aborted the burnout.

“They told me to shut it off, and they pulled my front-end clip off. Turns out the oil sump belt had come off, so there was no oil turning to the motor. They put that on, put the front end back on, and I fired it up. I had to reset all my switches, and the starter said I could do a short burnout. As I was pulling up, they were like, ‘No, back up.’ I backed up through the water and started my whole procedure over again. It was extremely rushed, and I was unable to do a burnout across the starting line, which means we couldn’t put any rubber down or burn through the resin.”

That’s detrimental to a recalcitrant Pro Stock car, though Enders did make a decent pass of 6.530 seconds at 211.89 mph. Coughlin, who shut the engine off in his Camaro while he waited for his teammate, won with a run of 6.532 seconds at 211.96, earning the victory on a holeshot.

“We did what we could with what we had,” Enders said. “I pulled in and pre-staged, but to be quite honest, I didn’t rise to the occasion today. I’m pretty disappointed in myself as a driver. Regardless of the distractions up there, I’m a world champion for a reason, and I didn’t show it today. It makes me mad, but at the same time, there were eight things that were horribly wrong all at one time, and it was a distraction. This is a game that’s won and lost by thousandths of a second.

“There have been multiple times when I did rise to the occasion, but today just wasn’t one of them.”

Enders, the 2014 Pro Stock World Champion, was grateful to Coughlin for waiting.

“The fortunate thing is my teammate Jeg Coughlin waited for me,” Enders said. “He didn’t have to, but we’re a team back here, and we’re a team up there. He shut his car off, and he wasn’t going to pre-stage without me. That speaks a lot about his character and the class he brings to this operation.

“The good thing about that round was that I was racing a teammate. Nobody else would have waited, and one of the red cars was going to the semifinals.”

Enders, who qualified No. 7, took out Butner with a pass of 6.518 seconds at 212.13 mph, leaving first with a .034-second reaction time. Butner’s run was 6.524 seconds at 212.39 mph.

“We feel like we made a really good move in the right direction with our race car. We’d been struggling the last two weeks, and that was evident by the scoreboard. But we fixed it, so that’s something else to be proud of.”

Enders now looks forward to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in two weeks at Brainerd International Raceway.

“You can bet I’ll show up in Brainerd mad,” Enders said, “and wanting to win that race.”

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