Elite seeks rapid and radical performance boost
Did Elite Motorsports bite off more than it could chew preparing for the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series? It sure looks that way, says Anne Proffit.
The team’s two-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders-Stevens had far and away the car to beat for the past couple of seasons and that’s all changed this year.
Elite switched from Chevrolet to Dodge cars and engines for the 2016 season. Then part-time teammate from 2015, five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., came onboard full-time. And then the NHRA changed the rules…
Instead of using the Mopar engine from 2015, Elite – along with every other team in the Pro Stock category – was forced to change from carbureted to fuel injected engines. This edict was handed down in late July of 2015, giving teams little more than six months to prepare. In addition, the teams went from having no set rpm limit to having to keep their engines at 10,500 rpm or lower.
Lacking carburetors, the cars had a different look to them, losing the bulbous noses that were part and parcel of Pro Stock for so long. An amended wheelie-bar size was also introduced in the hopes it would raise the front end of the cars, making them visibly more appealing (that hasn’t occurred).
(The final part of the new Pro Stock rules was the easiest: when advised at Bandimere Speedway last year that all teams needed to turn their cars around in the pit areas so they faced the fans who wanted to watch the mechanics at work, Elite was among those who complied at the very next race).
Enders-Stevens has been in the class since 2005, Coughlin has taken time-outs from the Pro Stock fray over the past few years, electing to revert to his Sportsman roots from time to time. However, neither Coughlin nor Elite engine builder Nick Ferri is unfamiliar with Dodge and its Mopar division, as they worked together to gain Coughlin his most recent title in 2013, driving a Dodge Dart. It appeared to be a good bet for the Elite team, for Enders-Stevens and for Coughlin Jr. to work together with Mopar for the 2016 season.
Although that decision was made before NHRA changed the playing field, Coughlin stuck to his guns and, like his teammate, made the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs, which has its third consecutive bout this weekend in Reading, PA. But Enders-Stevens was seeded ninth when the Countdown began, and Coughlin Jr was the final driver to make the cut, only beating last week’s first-time Pro Stock winner Alex Laughlin by a miserly two points. And ninth and tenth is where the Elite drivers remain,
When the NHRA encamps at Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, PA, site of this weekend’s 32nd annual Dodge NHRA Nationals, it will be true crunch time for Dodge’s and Mopar’s spear carriers in Pro Stock. Thus far the duo of Enders-Stevens and Coughlin Jr. been soundly beaten by the man Mopar cast aside last season, after 20 years – although he continues to race a Dodge Dart. That man is Allen Johnson, who isn’t light years ahead of the Elite drivers but has achieved something they haven’t – a race win.
Can Elite turn its fortunes around sufficiently in the good air that exists as seasons turn in the Northeast of the country? Enders-Stevens claims she’s looking for “Mopar magic” at Reading. “At our last Dodge race this year, we had our best qualifying performance (2nd in Denver),” Enders-Stevens said. “Hopefully that translates to Reading.” For Coughlin Jr., the Maple Grove racetrack holds a soft spot: “We move on to a race that’s near and dear in our hearts; I look forward to getting there, it’s a fun race.”
But one suspects it will only be classified as fun among the team members if Elite Motorsports shows signs of returning to a position of prominence.
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