TOPEKA, KS — Missing one of four scheduled rounds of qualifying may not seem like a big deal, but for two-time world champion and past Topeka titlist Erica Enders, a lost round can be the difference between qualifying mid-pack or at the top of the elimination field of the 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties.
“We came here with a renewed feeling of confidence after running so well in Atlanta and getting to our first final of the year,” Enders said. “And we were super happy to be bringing a brand-new motor that showed to be our best ever on the dyno back at the shop. We just wanted as many hits as possible to get it dialed in for race day so losing one to rain feels like a bigger deal than normal.
“Either way, we’re ready to race and we are confident in our abilities. It just would have been nice to get another chance.”
In typical Topeka fashion, wild weather has ruled the race so far. Friday it was on-and-off rainstorms that eventually caused the cancelation of one of the two scheduled rounds.
“We went out there in the one session basically just making a test run,” Enders said. “When you see there are only 14 cars so you’re virtually assured that you’ll qualify, you have the luxury of making test passes during qualifying and we pretty much had to that first run to match the new motor to the basic tune-up we use.”
Fast forward to Saturday when cooler temperatures produced mineshaft conditions.
“Everyone was flying today and we stepped up quite a bit from the 6.668 we ran Friday with a 6.573 at 209.69 mph right out of the box,” Enders said. “That showed us we were much closer to what we wanted to do. We came back in the final session and basically repeated the earlier run with a 6.574 at 210.08 mph.
“Rick (Jones, crew chief) jumped on the radio and said he thought we should have been quicker but I said, ‘Hey, we have a consistent car,’ which is always good, so I’m really liking our chances for what we can do tomorrow.”
Unfortunately for Enders, she has to race teammate Vincent Nobile in the opening round, Enders’ 6.573 giving her lane choice over Nobile and his 6.581.
“No one is happy we have to race each other in the first round but that’s the way the ladder came out,” Enders said. “I guess the good news is someone from Elite will be going to the next round no matter what so that’s a positive. We all use every run to learn something so we win as a team and share the wealth. It should be a good day.”
Pro Stock eliminations start at noon, Sunday. Television coverage on FOX Sports 1 will begin with a live show starting at 1 p.m. (All times are local and subject to change).