BRISTOL, Tenn. (June 17) – Erica Enders and the KLR Group Pro Stock team showed their mettle this weekend in the 12th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
Enders and the team rallied from being on the bump in the third qualifying session to posting a semifinal finish during Sunday's eliminations.
She eventually fell to race winner Mike Edwards in a rematch of the 2011 final round in Bristol. Enders was forced to push the clutch in her GK Motorsports Cobalt just past half-track as it went hard right. Edwards went 6.680 seconds at 206.54 mph to beat Enders' 7.372 at 143.46 mph.
"I'm really disappointed," Enders said. "To look at the bright side, after the third session of qualifying, I would've never dreamed that we'd make it to the semis on Sunday."
Enders and her team faced a myriad of problems during qualifying, including changing engines before the final session. Enders was temporarily bumped out of the field in Q4 before qualifying No. 11 in the final session.
Sunday, the team awoke with new hope for a solid performance, and Enders delivered.
"We really had to put Friday and Saturday behind us," Enders said. "Coming into today, we all had new attitudes and a good outlook on things and confidence we could run. We went out there and proved that. We were third-fastest of the session in the first round and third-fastest in the second round, too."
Enders took down No. 6 qualifier Rodger Brogdon in the first round with a pass of 6.670 at 206.51 mph to beat Brogdon's 6.682 at 205.91 mph. That put her against No. 14 qualifier Kurt Johnson in round two, and her run of 6.677 at 206.04 mph was enough to beat his 6.703 at 205.82 mph.
Next was Edwards, who won the 2011 Bristol race after Enders shook the tires off the starting line. Enders and Edwards were the first pair out after Funny Car, and the left lane wasn't perfect.
"Being first out behind those Fuel cars is never ideal," Enders said. "And when the sun comes out the first time, it's a challenge. We've been there before, and we'll be there again. We've just got to continue to learn from it."
Enders launched well, but the car got out of the groove down the track.
"It shook down low, and it made a right-hand turn," Enders said. "I'm usually pretty good at correcting, and I try to drive through just about everything, but I was on full lock. My hand was past 6 o'clock on the wheel, and I couldn't go any further left. When you're going 180 mph, these things are a challenge to drive. We were a full car out of the groove, in the marbles, and the thing started to spin. When the rear end starts to wiggle, these thing bite quick. No one would've driven through that."
Enders could only watch Edwards drive away to the win light.
"There's no trophy or check that's worth crashing a car for," Enders said. "I had no choice but to abort that run. Before I clutched it, I glanced right, and he was a car out on me. If I looked over and didn't see him, I was hanging on."
Enders remains sixth in the Pro Stock points standings after reaching the semifinals for the second race in a row. She's also won at least one round in five of the last six races.
"I really wanted to win for my dad on Father's Day," Enders said of her dad, Gregg Enders, who was on hand. "But we're back to being one of the top cars. We're right with the best of the best. We've got to keep grinding."