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Weekend Doesn’t Go Erica Enders’ Way At 50th Annual NHRA Gatornationals

After a rigorous several days of testing, Erica Enders hoped the payoff would come at this weekend’s 50th annual NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. But an early exit in Pro Stock prevented that, delaying plans for the two-time Pro Stock world champion’s first win of 2019.

Despite a good start on Friday in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports RJ Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro, Enders couldn’t make another jump the next day in cool weather conditions. She started eliminations in ninth, falling in the first round to Chris McGaha with a run of 6.751 at 173.63 mph. Enders was dynamite off the starting line (.015), but got loose down track and had to shut off en route to the frustrating finish.

“It was extremely disappointing and disheartening after all the effort we put into it this week,” said Enders, who ran 6.518 at 211.13 in qualifying. “I’ve made a lot of passes in these cars, but it was just sucking me into the wall. I was trying to hang on as long as I could, but eventually I had to shut it off. We crushed them down low, at the 330 and 660, but sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re bug.”

Unfortunately for Enders, it was a bug against the windshield type of weekend for the standout, who sits fourth in Pro Stock points after three races.

Enders also made her 2019 NHRA Pro Mod debut in Gainesville, running well in her turbocharged Elite Motorsports/PEOPLEASE Camaro. In the quickest qualifying field in NHRA Pro Mod history, Enders just missed out qualifying with pass of 5.779 at 257.58. Pro Mod teammates Steve Matusek and Alex Laughlin, who advanced to the final in Pro Stock, ran 5.761 and 5.773, respectively, giving the Elite Motorsports team a solid baseline to open 2019.

“We were behind the eight-ball and we just kind of chipped away at it,” said Enders, who made her NHRA Pro Mod debut last season. “With how we left Valdosta (for testing), to get it sorted out and run a 5.77, it was pretty amazing. I hate not qualifying, but when you look at what we’ve done with this program, it feels like great things are going to come.

“With Steve and Alex, and (tuner) Shane (Tecklenburg) and Justin (Elkes), the sky is the limit. Just give us a second. The field was really fast and it’s a really tough class. It’s no different than Pro Stock. Both classes have really stout competition.”

Enders will next race in Pro Mod at her hometown track in Houston next month, but she will look to get back on track in Pro Stock in three weeks at the four-wide race in Las Vegas.

This week, which included testing a variety of cars in Valdosta, didn’t turn out like Enders hoped, but the 23-time event winner knows there are weekends like this throughout the course of a season. The only thing Enders and her standout team can do about that is limit them as much as possible, and that’s the plan after leaving Gainesville empty-handed.

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“We do the best we can every time we go out there, but (this weekend) was not meant to be,” Enders said.

This story was originally published on March 18, 2019. Drag Illustrated

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