Erica Enders | New England Nationals Eliminations

EPPING, NH — Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports/Mopar Dodge team went down swinging in the first round of the NHRA New England Nationals on Monday at New England Dragway.

Enders and crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones made some major changes to the setup of her Dodge Dart, but despite leaving first in her matchup with Alex Laughlin, she couldn’t turn on the win light.

“We made some pretty big swings on this car, trying to figure out what makes it happy,” Enders said. “The car was a lot happier that time, but it just didn’t run well. We had the wrong setup in it. It’s one of them deals. I missed the Tree, my guys missed the setup, and it stinks. The end result is the same: A first-round loss.

“I guess if there’s any positive to it, there’s not a nicer guy out here than Alex. He’s a really great kid. I still want to beat him, though.”

Enders’ reaction time was .044-second, compared to Laughlin’s .063, but her pass of 6.684 at 207.15 mph wasn’t enough to hold off his 6.622 209.14 mph.

Enders and her Elite team continue to develop her new Dodge Dart with new fuel-injected engines, and the 2016 season hasn’t gone as well as her championship years of 2014 and 2015, but Enders and her team won’t get discouraged.

“It’s tough when you work so incredibly hard, and it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about when you go to sleep,” Enders said. “To come out here and not be competitive is hard on all of us.

“I have zero doubt we’ll get there. I don’t know when, but all we can do is keep trying. That’s what we’ll do.”

The Epping race was originally slated for Sunday, but persistent rain delayed final eliminations one day. Monday brought sunshine and blue skies, though many fans could not return.

“It is weird when there is a rain delay,” Enders said. “In the past, I’ve had pretty decent luck with rain delays, like Bristol (Tenn.) last year and Chicago in 2012 — my first win — both of which were rain-delayed. They didn’t run on Monday, but we didn’t run first round in Chicago until 4 o’clock.

“The atmosphere is different. There are fewer fans here, and it kinda feels like a test in a way. But the weather’s nice — just wish it was yesterday.”