October 4, 2023

Enders battle through a mentally ‘dark’ NHRA Pro Stock season

Erica Enders wrote her NHRA retirement letter last month after round one of the Route 66 Nationals in Chicago.

The five-time Pro Stock champion had just lost, but in doing so she made the fastest pass of the race day. In a season where everything seemed to go wrong for Enders and her Elite Motorsports team, it was yet another underbelly.

“So one minute I’m writing my retirement letter because I’m bad, but the next you’re like, ‘Oh, well, our race car turned around, we see a glimmer of hope,'” Enders said at Bristol Dragway on Friday. went to test in Tulsa and proved what we think we found in Chicago.

“It’s hard to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, we’ve found our problem and we’re going to come out of here (and succeed),’ because until you get to a national event with the other competitors on the same track, you don’t have to you don’t really have anything to pass by, but we feel like we’re definitely on the right track.”

The swing in emotion is sadly nothing new for Enders – at least not this year, with 14th in the championship with two wins. It’s quite a turn for the veteran and her team, who climbed to the Pro Stock mountaintop with her first world title in 2014 and then embarked on a masterclass of success and dominance in the years to come.

Since the 2023 opening weekend in Gainesville – when her car failed to start for the first round of eliminations – it’s been one gremlin after another, days after days of testing and a constant deciphering of what works and what doesn’t.

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And for Enders, it has become a mental game with himself.

“My sister (Courtney) joked yesterday on the way from the airport that we’re going to hide all the razors,” said Enders. “All jokes aside, it is painful. It sucks. It’s awful because you spend the same money, you work just as hard, you try everything you can and we haven’t forgotten what we’re doing. It’s just not working in our favor right now, and that’s okay.

“But it sure is dark. It absolutely sucks. I deleted my social media apps from my phone because I want to strangle idiots on the internet who have no idea what they are talking about. But at the same time, it’s part of life in a fishbowl, right? They sit on their couches and eat Cheetos and they watch us race, and they think they can be a Monday morning quarterback if we do everything we can. We just try to keep a positive mental attitude towards it. But the human aspect is not always easy.”

While Enders may have several championships to her credit, she’s no stranger to the ebb when things conspire to not go her way. Image via NHRA

Enders is built for the challenge. She went a decade (also filled with ups and downs) before winning her first race in Pro Stock. After winning back-to-back world titles in 2014 and ’15, she went winless in 2016 and managed just two wins in the next two seasons.

A positive mindset may be the right approach, but that’s easier said than done. During the rocky start to her 10th season with Elite, Enders admits it’s hard not to put it all on her shoulders.

“One of my crew chiefs came in this morning and he put a finger on each… temple, and he said, ‘It’s the six inches here that’s going to make a difference.’ That’s what made the difference and made me a five-time world champion — what’s happening here,” she says, gesturing to her own head. “And I give my dad a lot of credit for that, because before he made his money in business, he was a positive mental attitude coach.Courtney and I grew up in that environment.We didn’t have to go to seminars, it was drilled into our heads since we were little kids.

“Being mentally strong and mentally strong is a huge advantage. But there’s the other side where you wake up some mornings and you really have to talk yourself into it. You get out of the rental car and think, “I don’t want to hang out with these people today.” But we are all human, we all put on our pants the same way. It’s a struggle, but you just have to focus on the good. I could have a normal job and work from 9 to 5, but instead I get to come here and play with race cars.”

Enders sat in third qualifying spot after Friday’s first round in Bristol. If the team has found what they’ve been looking for and believes a turnaround is near, it’s not out to regain all lost ground in one race. At this point, a good result of any kind will be a welcome deep breath for everyone.

“Absolutely,” Enders said. “I joke about it, but (everyone) is like, ‘We’re going to Bristol and we’re going to win this weekend.’ I’m like, “(Expletive), I want to win the first round. Let’s talk about that. Let’s take baby steps and just get there.”

“But after a season with 10 wins, 13 final round appearances and our fifth world title, it’s hard to swallow because again, we haven’t forgotten. But I think it would be huge for us to just get the momentum to swing in the opposite direction. I look forward.”

Story originally appeared on Racer

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