Erica Enders is finally back. The former Pro Stock champion picked up her first Wally since the fall Las Vegas race of 2015 when she defeated Tanner Gray at the NHRA New England Nationals for what was also her very first win in the fuel-injection era. She also beat both Bo Butner and Jason Line for the second time this season, getting a little revenge on Butner for that final-round loss in Atlanta and mercifully found her way back to the winner’s circle.
It’s been a long time coming. Don’t take my word for it; she said as much after picking up Wally No. 22.
“Today is a culmination of everything that happened over the past year and a half, since 2016 was tough for us,” Enders said.
After dominating Pro Stock for two seasons – winning 15 races and the season championships in 2014 and 2015 -- Enders and her Elite Performance team left their Chevrolet roots in 2016 and switched to a Hemi-powered Mopar, with less-than-successful results. She scored just 12 round-wins in 24 events (opposed to 58 in 2015) and even failed to qualify at the fall Charlotte event.
Since NHRA switched to fuel injection at the start of the 2016 season, 10 other drivers beat Enders back to the winner’s circle and three of them -- Alex Laughlin, Bo Butner, and Tanner Gray – did it with their first career wins, and one of those wins, Butner’s, came against her earlier this year in Atlanta. That Enders only runnered-up once likely comes as little consolation to the ultra-competitive driver.
One thing never changed for Enders as performance wavered during a tough 2016: her reaction times were killer. Her average reaction time in 17 elimination-round runs 2017 sits at .021 (discounting the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, a reaction-time nightmare, and any red-lights). Compare that to 2016 when her 33 elimination rounds yielded an average light of, you guessed it, .021-second.
Enders picked up two win lights on Sunday via holeshots, something that’s become a calling card in her career. Don’t get sleepy at the line on Enders: You’ll regret it. The performance in her Chevrolet Camaro has started to come around, too. In successful runs this year, Enders is averaging elapsed times of 6.581 seconds. That’s solid, and things are trending in the right direction.
She averaged runs of 6.553 en route to a Wally on Sunday; pair that with an average reaction time of .015 and you’ve got a 6.568 package that’s tough to beat in Pro Stock. Enders now sits in sixth place in the class with nine races to go until the Countdown begins; consider what the top five looks like in terms of average e.t. and reaction time.
If she uses her left foot like she did in Epping, Enders may be nearly impossible to beat. Of course, consistency needs to be part of her formula the way it has been part of Butner’s this season. That’s been the difference for the two-time winner this season: he’s made it down the track in every single one of his elimination runs in 2017. The same can’t be said for Enders.
But it seems like a corner has finally been turned for the former champ after a woeful 2016. The demons have been worked out of the engine, and her clutch foot is as good as it has always been. Given how competitive the field has been (Enders is the seventh winner in nine races) it’s anyone’s guess who ends up on top by the time we get to Indy. My advice? Don’t count out Enders. She’s finally right on track.