CHANDLER, Ariz. – Erica Enders’ two-year run in Pro Stock has been one of the most impressive stretches in the illustrious history of the class. She capped it off in Pomona last year with a second straight world championship but Enders isn’t ready for the run to be over yet.
Fresh changes await with new rules for the Pro Stock class and Enders will again have to compete against the top stars in the class in her Elite Motorsports Mopar Dodge Dart, but the two-time world champion is equal parts motivated and excited to defend her NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series crown amidst all the happenings.
The second step in that title defense during the 2016 season comes at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, home to the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, Feb. 26-28.
“It’s been an incredible run, and I feel like we’re nowhere close to being done,” said Enders, who has won 15 races over the past two seasons. “Having said that, it’s tough out there every year. It’s going to be a real tall order this year, for sure, with all the changes involved and the new program that we’re building. But we’ll get there. It’s going to take time, but we’re going to be fine. I always say it, but my money’s on us. We’ve got the best group, the best crew chiefs, the best team owner, the best chassis builder, (and) the best drivers. Game on.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the race in the Valley of the Sun. For fans watching at home, the race will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including Saturday qualifying coverage as well as live coverage of Sunday’s finals at 5 p.m. (ET). The race is the second of 24 during the 2016 season and will give fans an early look as to how Enders and the rest of her Pro Stock counterparts have adjusted to the changes in the class.
Enders will not only start 2016 with a new Mopar Dodge Dart, but the sleek new Pro Stock cars will feature fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter. It’s taken some adjustment, but Enders has total faith in an Elite Motorsports team, led by crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones, that have pushed all the right buttons the past two seasons. The team had a long to-do list in the off-season, but it has all come together quickly and seamlessly, and Enders is already impressed with the early returns.
“I pick them over anybody else in the whole world,” said Enders, who has 21 career wins. “I know that if anybody can (adjust), we can. It’s very challenging and there’s definitely going to be a learning curve involved. It’s going to take time to get better, but at the same time, you’ve got to be optimistic. And we are; we’ll be just fine.
“A lot of the teams over the off-season worked on the horsepower they had, we built two new teams, two new racecars and a whole new Mopar engine program. We’ve jammed as much as you could pack into an off-season. With EFI added to the equation with a lower rev limiter and shorter wheelie bars, it’s crazy.”
The learning curve is there for all of the top Pro Stock standouts, a list that includes Enders’ new Dodge Dart teammate, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin, last year’s top rookie Drew Skillman, tough Texan Chris McGaha, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Bo Butner and veteran racers Allen Johnson, season-opening Winternationals winner and early season points leader Greg Anderson, Jason Line and V. Gaines.
But Enders will continue to lean on a team that has been dominant the last two years.
“You learn a lot when you experience things with the right people,” Enders said. “I’d always hoped for what I have here at Elite, and to finally gotten a chance to work with such an elite group of people and to win the championship our first two years together says a lot.
“What impressed me last year is we were able to top what we accomplished in 2014, which was an absolute dream season. You wonder if that’s even possible, and then we went out there and did just that by winning nine races, the U.S. Nationals for the first time, and then to wrap it up a race early was just crazy.”
The goal may be to try and repeat the performance in 2016, but Enders, a previous winner at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, knows there may be bumps along the way. Bumps like her unexpected first round exit at Pomona last weekend. By now, though, Enders has proven time and time again that she and her team can overcome almost anything.
“When the chips are down, we pull together,” said Enders, who won three playoff races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in 2015, but heads to Phoenix sitting outside the top 10 in points. “Not every race is great. You get through those times and you get to further enjoy the really great ones. Nothing about us has changed. I’ve still got the same core group on my car: Same guys, same crew chiefs. We’ve grown, with Jeg and Vincent, so there’s more people we’ve added to the family, but the core group remains the same and so do our goals.”
In Top Fuel, defending world champ and three-time Phoenix winner Antron Brown will battle against a tough field of contenders including U.S. Army dragster pilot Schumacher, the defending and five-time CARQUEST Nationals winner. Other challengers include talented Aussie Richie Crampton, Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, Winternationals winner Steve Torrence, J.R. Todd and Quaker State dragster driver Leah Pritchett.
Defending Funny Car world champ Del Worsham is a former Phoenix winner and is opening his title defense against a strong lineup of challengers, including national record holder and seven-time 2015 winner Jack Beckman and 16-time world champ John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history at Phoenix with eight victories. Others to watch include Tommy Johnson Jr., series points leader and Pomona winner Ron Capps, defending event winner Hagan, Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria and Robert Hight.
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 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 27, also at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visitwww.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
CARQUEST AUTO PARTS NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, the second 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.
WHERE: Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz. Track is located off Interstate 10 at exit 162. Follow the signs.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Feb. 26-28.
FRIDAY, Feb. 26 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SATURDAY, Feb. 27- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SUNDAY, Feb. 28 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, Feb. 27, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Feb. 28, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise three hours of finals coverage at 5 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car; Rodger Brogdon, Pro Stock
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, FC- 8; Bob Glidden, PS- 5; Tony Schumacher, TF- 5; Jack Beckman, FC- 3; Kenny Bernstein, TF-FC- 3; Antron Brown, TF-3; Ron Capps, FC-3; Larry Dixon, TF- 3; Cory McClenathan, TF- 3; Darrell Alderman, PS- 3; Kurt Johnson, PS- 3; Warren Johnson, PS- 3.
Top Fuel – 3.720 sec. by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ’15; 329.91 mph by Schumacher, Feb. ’13.
Funny Car – 3.975 sec. and 324.83 mph by Matt Hagan, Feb. ’15.
Pro Stock – 6.498 sec. and 213.77 mph by Mike Edwards, Feb. ’13.
Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.884 sec. by Jack Beckman, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif. 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) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. — Point standings (top 10) following the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
Top Fuel: 1. Steve Torrence, 106; 2. Doug Kalitta, 94; 3. Richie Crampton, 77; 4. J.R. Todd, 72; 5. Clay Millican, 57; 6. Morgan Lucas, 52; 7. Antron Brown, 48; 8. Terry McMillen, 46; 9. Tony Schumacher, 42; 10. Brittany Force, 37.
Funny Car: 1. Ron Capps, 119; 2. Del Worsham, 97; 3. Robert Hight, 80; 4. John Force, 69; 5. Jack Beckman, 65; 6. Courtney Force, 59; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 55; 8. Chad Head, 54; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 33; 10. (tie) Gary Densham, 32; Matt Hagan, 32; Cruz Pedregon, 32.
Pro Stock: 1. Greg Anderson, 125; 2. Jason Line, 105; 3. Bo Butner, 84; 4. Drew Skillman, 75; 5. Vincent Nobile, 54; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 53; 7. (tie) Shane Gray, 52; Allen Johnson, 52; 9. Chris McGaha, 35; 10. Alex Laughlin, 33.