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Two-time defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders hoping to get back on track at DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals

by Mike Haag | Posted on Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Courtesy of the NHRA

LAS VEGAS – The first three races in the new-look Pro Stock class haven’t brought the desired results for two-time defending world champion Erica Enders. But if she is looking for good vibes and a swift turnaround, her recent stellar track record shows there might not be a better spot for that to happen than The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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It is the site of this weekend’s 17th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals and Enders has cashed out big time over the past two seasons in Las Vegas. Of everything that’s made up her dominant two-year stretch in Pro Stock, there may be nothing more impressive than what she’s done in Las Vegas.

She has won the spring and fall race at the track each of the last two years, but it hasn’t stopped there. Enders has claimed the last two K&N Horsepower Challenge titles, an all-star bonus event that takes place during the spring race. A third double-up weekend is on the line for Enders and her Mopar Performance/Elite Dodge Dart GT, and she’s ready to erase the sour taste of three first-round losses to open the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

“It’s awesome to have that kind of run, and it’s pretty unheard of,” Enders said. “We’ve had an incredible two years there, and we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us to do well this weekend. Twenty-two consecutive round wins in a row is huge, so Vegas has obviously been good to me. I’m hoping Lady Luck will get on our side this weekend. We certainly haven’t had the best start to the year.”

Richie Crampton (Top Fuel) and John Force (Funny Car) were also last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including three hours of live finals coverage starting at 5 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the fourth of 24 events in the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Series season and Enders is focused on a turnaround.

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The sleek new Pro Stock cars feature a number of differences, including fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter. It’s made for a massive adjustment, and Enders and her Elite Motorsports team are still tracking down the answers. It’s not been ideal, and three first-round losses have provided frustration, but Enders knows her team too well to think things won’t get turned around quickly.

“All of that starts with your leader, and [team owner] Richard [Freeman] is really positive about it and kept us all swimming in the right direction – a term he likes to use,” said Enders, who has 21 career wins. “It would be very easy to get down, especially when you’re used to winning, but that’s part of the process we’ve got to go through to get our new program up and running. It’s only a matter of time before we’re back where we were before. Like I tell the fans all the time, ‘Just hang on; we’re coming.'”

The slow start is a far cry from the last two seasons, when Enders won a combined 15 times, but she trusts the process. In order to find solutions, Enders said she’s seen plenty of hard work, effort, determination and perseverance from her team, which means the talented Texan may be back to her winning ways soon enough.

“They’re the best group of people in the whole world, so I know the tables are going to turn,” Enders said. “It’s just a matter of time. It’s a brand-new program, and they work every day at it. I’m hopeful Vegas will be that turning point in our season like it was last year.”

“I’ve certainly got the best group of people, and the adversity that we’re going through only makes us stronger, only makes us work harder, only wants us to fight for it more. I wouldn’t want to go to battle with anyone else.”

Enders’ Vegas win a year ago was her first of the year, kicking off an impressive stretch. It started a string of three victories in four races and she was never lower than second the rest of the year.

She will face an uphill climb this weekend in Vegas, in part because of the dominance of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaros driven by Greg Anderson and Jason Line. Anderson won the most recent race in Gainesville and has two victories in 2016, while Line holds the points lead and a win in Phoenix. Other challengers include teammates Drew Skillman, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Bo Butner, Chris McGaha, Allen Johnson and Vincent Nobile.

Her first round matchup in the eight-car K&N Horsepower Challenge field is Johnson. Other opening round matchups include No. 1 seed Anderson versus fan vote winner Coughlin, Line against Shane Gray and Skillman versus McGaha.

“It’s definitely a huge weekend, and we’ve been fortunate enough to double-up the last two years in a row,” Enders said. “That’s the same goal going into this weekend. I’ve said it every week this year that it’s a tall order, but with the right group of people, anything is possible, and I certainly do feel like our program is coming around. We had a good off-week at the shop and found some things we think are going to put us in the right direction. Our hopes are high, and we’re very confident. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but when it’s your day, it’s your day. We’re hoping for three in a row.”

In Top Fuel, Crampton powered to victory over Larry Dixon in the final round last year to earn his first victory of the season. He will face off against Leah Pritchett, who won her first career race in Phoenix, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who has eight career victories at the facility, Doug Kalitta, Winternationals winner Steve Torrence, reigning world champ Antron Brown, J.R. Todd, Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican and Brittany Force, who won her first race at the most recent event in Gainesville.

The Funny Car class continues to get tighter, with everyone chasing current points leader Robert Hight, who won at Gainesville. Others to watch include Ron Capps, who won the opening race in Pomona, John Force, defending world champion Del Worsham, Phoenix winner Tim Wilkerson, Alexis DeJoria, Jack Beckman, two-time world champion Matt Hagan, Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon and Tommy Johnson Jr.

As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.

The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 1 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 2, at 1 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 3.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 644-4444 or visit www.LVMS.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.

DENSO SPARK PLUGS NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT: 17th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, the fourth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The race also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series.

WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of downtown Las Vegas off Interstate 15.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, April 1-3

SCHEDULE:        

FRIDAY, April 1 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, April 2- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:10 and 4:05 p.m.

K&N HORSEPOWER CHALLENGE at 1, 4 and 5 p.m.

SUNDAY, April 3 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11:15 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noon

TELEVISION:      

FRIDAY, April 1, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m.  (ET)

SATURDAY, April 2, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 9 p.m.  (ET)

SUNDAY, April 3, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 5 p.m. (ET)

2015 EVENT WINNERS: Richie Crampton, Top Fuel; John Force, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Enders, K&N Horsepower Challenge.

MOST VICTORIES: Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Robert Hight, 3, FC; Greg Anderson, 3, PS; Jeg Coughlin, 3, PS; Kenny Bernstein, 2, TF; John Force, 2, FC; Cruz Pedregon, 2, FC; Mike Edwards, 2, PS; Erica Enders, 2, PS; Allen Johnson, 2, PS.

MOST K&N HORSEPOWER CHALLENGE VICTORIES: Greg Anderson, 4; Kurt Johnson, 4; Jeg Coughlin, 3; Bob Glidden, 3; Warren Johnson, 3; Larry Morgan, 3; Bruce Allen, 2; Erica Enders, 2; Allen Johnson, 2; Jim Yates, 2;

TRACK RECORDS:            

Top Fuel – 3.722 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’15 and 332.67 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. ’15.

Funny Car – 3.931 sec. by Tommy Johnson Jr., Oct. ’15 and 325.92 mph by Del Worsham, Oct. ’15.

Pro Stock – 6.559 sec. and 210.28 mph by Erica Enders, Oct. ’15.

NATIONAL RECORDS:    

Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car – 3.879 sec. by Jack Beckman, March ‘16, Gainesville, Fla. and 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C. and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 644-4444. Tickets also available online at www.lvms.com/tickets.

NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS

GLENDORA, Calif. — Point standings following the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –

Top Fuel: 1.  Brittany Force, 251; 2.  Clay Millican, 210; 3. Doug Kalitta, 205; 4. Steve Torrence, 199; 5. Terry McMillen, 178; 6. Leah Pritchett, 166; 7. J.R. Todd, 157; 8. Tony Schumacher, 155; 9. Richie Crampton, 153; 10.  Antron Brown, 149.

Funny Car: 1.  Robert Hight, 280; 2.  Ron Capps, 279; 3. John Force, 221; 4.  Jack Beckman, 205; 5.  Courtney Force, 201; 6.  Del Worsham, 189; 7.  Tim Wilkerson, 183; 8.  Chad Head, 162; 9.  Alexis DeJoria, 119; 10.  Matt Hagan, 118.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 337; 2.  Greg Anderson, 331; 3.  Bo Butner, 233; 4.  Drew Skillman, 205; 5.  Chris McGaha, 161; 6.  (tie) Jeg Coughlin, 160; Allen Johnson, 160; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 138; 9.  Alex Laughlin, 121; 10.  Erica Enders, 97.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 129; 2.  Hector Arana, 99; 3.  Andrew Hines, 79; 4.  LE Tonglet, 74; 5.  Chip Ellis, 62; 6.  (tie) Michael Ray, 52; Jerry Savoie, 52; Jim Underdahl, 52; 9.  Angelle Sampey, 35; 10.  (tie) Scotty Pollacheck, 33. Melissa Surber, 33.

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.