SONOMA, CA – July 28, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Erica Enders saw the makings of a turnaround to her 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season begin to unfold last weekend in Denver. The two-time defending Pro Stock world champion knows that not building off that momentum surge would not only be a huge disappointment, but also a huge blow to her chances of competing for a third straight world title.
Enders qualified a season-best second in Denver in her Mopar Performance/Elite Dodge Dart GT, and also earned a round win at the first race of the famed Western Swing.
It was a major step forward in what has been a frustrating year in the redesigned Pro Stock class for the Houston native and her Elite Motorsports team, but Enders knows plenty of work remains beginning at this weekend’s 29th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway. She remains outside of the top 10 in the points standings and after winning 15 races over the past two seasons, Enders is still looking for her first of 2016 heading into wine country.
“We definitely need to make up some ground in the points,” said Enders, who sits in 11th place and is nine points out of 10th. “With four races left before the Countdown starts, we are the one car sitting on the outside looking in, but only by a few points. I’m looking forward to heading to Sonoma, the second stop on the Western Swing, and making up some ground. If we have truly turned the corner, it’s coming at a perfect time.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winner of an event that will be televised by the FOX national broadcast network for the first time. It is the 15th of 24 events during the 2016 season and will mark a pivotal one for Enders.
It may not be a must-win race, but it could be a crossroads event for the talented Enders, who has 21 career Pro Stock wins. If she has turned the corner and takes another step forward in Sonoma, it could prove to be a thrilling finish for Enders and her Elite Motorsports team.
This season has very much been a work in progress for Enders, as adjusting to the new Pro Stock class, which features fuel-injected engines, flat hoods, 10,500 RPM rev-limiters and shortened wheelie-bars, has not been easy. But if Denver signifies the start of Enders’ turnaround, she will be ready to make things interesting in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. To do that, though, Enders knows she needs to perform in what is expected to be quick conditions in Sonoma.
“We’re certainly pleased with our performance gains (in Denver),” Enders said. “It shows that our hard work is paying off. Having said that, we still have a long way to go. We’ll load up and go to Sonoma definitely with our heads held high because of the gains made here. I’m looking forward to racing at sea level again, or closer to sea level, and kicking (butt) in Sonoma.”
Conditions will certainly be far different in Sonoma, which means significant adjustments to Enders’ Dodge Dart GT, but Enders is feeling good vibes coming from the race last weekend. She has been impressed with how hard her team has continued to work through the struggles and Enders believe the team built a significant amount of momentum in Denver.
“I think with the gains we made in Denver we can definitely carry those to Sonoma and continue to work on making the car better, making better runs, and me driving awesome,” Enders said. “That definitely is the goal in Sonoma: To pick up where we left off in Denver and go in an even more upward direction.”
The class has been dominated by teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson in 2016, with points leader Line winning seven times and Anderson adding six more. But the duo failed to win for the first time this season in Denver, as veteran racer and 2012 champ Allen Johnson claimed his first win of the season. Enders is one of many in the class who hopes that opens the floodgates, but she will also have to deal with the likes of defending event winner McGaha, teammate and five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin, Bo Butner, who is third in points, Drew Skillman, Shane Gray and Vincent Nobile.
Enders, though, has a number of firsts in mind for the weekend, including picking up her first win of 2016 and her first victory at scenic Sonoma Raceway.
“I’ve never won at Sonoma before, but it’s one of my favorite tracks on the tour,” Enders said. “Where it’s located, being in wine country, sure doesn’t hurt. I’m definitely excited to race there. It’s been a goal of mine to win at Sonoma for some time because of it being one of my favorite stops. We’re looking forward to going back there.”
In Top Fuel, Brown raced to the winner’s circle for his fourth victory of the year in 2015 en route to his second Top Fuel world championship. Brown has three wins and the points lead in 2016, along with four career Sonoma wins, but will have to ward off a host of talented drivers, including Doug Kalitta, who has three victories this season and five in Sonoma. Others to watch include back-to-back 2016 winner Shawn Langdon, two-time 2016 winner Steve Torrence, eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, who won for the first time in 2016 last weekend in Denver, J.R. Todd, Richie Crampton, Clay Millican, Terry McMillen and Brittany Force, who is also a two-time winner this season.
Funny Car’s Beckman outlasted Tommy Johnson Jr. last year in Sonoma and went on to win two more races in 2015, finishing second to reigning world champion Del Worsham. Beckman picked up his first win of 2016 in Chicago, but everyone is chasing points leader Ron Capps, who has four wins in Sonoma and four victories this year. John Force will look to claim his eighth Sonoma win coming off his win on Sunday in Sonoma, while others gunning for the win include Courtney Force, two-time 2016 event winner Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, Tim Wilkerson and Robert Hight.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec defeated Jerry Savoie in the final round a year ago, and enters the event this year with the points lead on the strength of three victories. His teammate, reigning world champion Andrew Hines, has won back-to-back races, is second in points and is a two-time event winner in Sonoma. Savoie, a Louisiana alligator farmer, has raced to two runner-up finishes this season and will be a threat to win. Others to watch in the two-wheeled category include recent Englishtown, N.J., and 2004 Sonoma winner Angelle Sampey, Chip Ellis, Hector Arana, Matt Smith, LE Tonglet, Steve Johnson, Hector Arana Jr. and Scotty Pollacheck.
Eight qualified Pro Stock Motorcycle racers also will be gunning for the winner’s check and trophy in the highly-competitive NHRA Pro Bike Battle at Sonoma Raceway. Krawiec is the defending winner of the all-star bonus event.
The Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
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 how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
As part of NHRA’s ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Funny Car class, legendary Funny Car drivers Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Ed “The Ace” McCulloch will be honored during pre-race ceremonies.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, July 29, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 30, at 1:10 and 5 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 31.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-870-RACE (7223). Tickets also are available online at www.sonomaraceway.com. Kids 12 and under are admitted free on Saturday, July 30, in general admission areas with a paid adult (advance only). For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
TOYOTA NHRA SONOMA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 29th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals, the 15th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.
WHERE: Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, Calif. The track is located at the intersection of Highways 37 and 121.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 15 feet above sea level; Track direction is north to south.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, July 29-31
FRIDAY, July 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:30 and 7 p.m.
SATURDAY, July 30 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:10 and 4:15 p.m.
NHRA PRO BIKE BATTLE AT SONOMA RACEWAY at 1, 3 and 4:50 p.m.
SUNDAY, July 31 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Friday, July 29, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Saturday, July 30, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, July 31, FOX will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 4 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Jack Beckman, Funny Car; Chris McGaha, Pro Stock, Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, 7, FC; Doug Kalitta, 5, TF; Greg Anderson, 4, PS; Antron Brown, 4, TF; Ron Capps, 4, FC; Darrell Alderman, 3, PS; Warren Johnson, 3, PS; Eddie Krawiec, 3, PSM; Jason Line, 3, PS; Jim Yates, 3, PS.
Top Fuel – 3.707 sec. by Antron Brown, July ‘15; 329.10 mph by Dave Connolly, July ’15.
Funny Car – 3.921 sec. by Jack Beckman, July ‘15; 325.77 mph by Matt Hagan, July ‘15.
Pro Stock – 6.499 sec. by Chris McGaha, July ’15; 213.00 mph by Shane Gray, July ‘15.
PS Motorcycle – 6.785 sec. by Eddie Krawiec, July ’12; 198.79 mph by Hector Arana Jr., July ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.676 sec. by Brittany Force, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.862 sec. and 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 870-RACE (7223). Tickets may also be purchased online at www.sonomaraceway.com.
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings (top 10) following the 14th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
1. Antron Brown, 1,145; 2. Doug Kalitta, 1,088; 3. Steve Torrence, 982; 4. Brittany Force, 953; 5. Tony Schumacher, 916; 6. Shawn Langdon, 800; 7. J.R. Todd, 799; 8. Clay Millican, 681; 9. Richie Crampton, 660; 10. Leah Pritchett, 553.
1. Ron Capps, 1,120; 2. Courtney Force, 998; 3. Jack Beckman, 976; 4. Matt Hagan, 881; 5. (tie) Robert Hight, 877; Del Worsham, 877; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 855; 8. John Force, 821; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 793; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 733.
1. Jason Line, 1,548; 2. Greg Anderson, 1,466; 3. Bo Butner, 955; 4. Allen Johnson, 885; 5. Vincent Nobile, 758; 6. Drew Skillman, 753; 7. Chris McGaha, 661; 8. Shane Gray, 658; 9. Jeg Coughlin, 613; 10. Alex Laughlin, 595.
Pro Stock Motorcycle:
1. Eddie Krawiec, 742; 2. Andrew Hines, 633; 3. Angelle Sampey, 534; 4. Jerry Savoie, 500; 5. Chip Ellis, 386; 6. Hector Arana, 375; 7. LE Tonglet, 364; 8. Matt Smith, 290; 9. Steve Johnson, 268; 10. Michael Ray, 262.
Source: National Hot Rod Association