Erica Enders was writing her NHRA retirement letter after the first round of the Route 66 Nationals in Chicago last month.

The five-time Pro Stock champion had just lost, but while doing so she made the quickest pass of race day. In a season where anything that could go wrong seemingly has for Enders and her Elite Motorsports team, it was another gut punch.

“So, in one point, I’m writing my retirement letter because I suck, but at the other point, you’re like, ‘Oh, well, our race car has turned around, we’re seeing a glimmer of hope,’” Enders said Friday at Bristol Dragway. “We went and tested in Tulsa and proved what we think we found in Chicago.

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

The swing in emotion is, unfortunately, not new for Enders — at least not this year, sitting 14th in the championship standings with two round wins. It’s quite the turn for the veteran and her team, who climbed to the Pro Stock mountaintop in 2014 with her first world title and then set about putting on a masterclass of success and domination in the years to come.

Since the opening weekend of 2023 in Gainesville — when her car didn’t start for the first round of eliminations — it’s been one gremlin after another, days upon days of testing and a constant deciphering of what’s working and what’s not.

And for Enders, it’s become a mental game with herself.

“My sister (Courtney) joked yesterday on the way from the airport that we’re going to hide all the razor blades,” Enders said. “All joking aside, it’s painful. It sucks. It’s awful because you spend the same amount of money, you work just as hard, you’re trying everything you can and we didn’t forget what we’re doing. It’s just not working in our favor right now, and that’s OK.

“But it’s definitely dark. It definitely sucks. I’ve deleted my social media apps off my phone because I want to strangle idiots on the internet that have no clue what they’re talking about. But at the same time, it’s part of what comes with living in a fishbowl, right? They sit on their couch and eat Cheetos and they watch us race, and they think they can be a Monday morning quarterback when we’re doing all we can. We just try to keep a positive mental attitude about it. But the human aspect, it’s not always easy.”

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 had just two wins across the following two seasons.

A positive mental attitude might be the right approach, but it’s easier said than done. Through the rough start to her 10th season with Elite, Enders admits it’s hard not putting it all on her shoulders.

“One of my crew chiefs, this morning, walked in and he put a finger on each…temple, and he’s like, ‘It’s the six inches right here that’s going to make the difference.’ That’s what’s made the difference and made me a five-time world champion — what happens up 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 and sit in seminars; it was pounded into our heads since we were little kids.

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

Enders sat in the No. 3 qualifying spot after the first round Friday in Bristol. If the team has found what they’ve been searching for and believes a turnaround is near, she isn’t looking to regain all the lost ground in one race. At this point, just a good result of any kind will be a welcome deep breath for everyone.

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

“But coming off a 10-race-win season with 13 final round appearances and our fifth world title, it’s hard to swallow because, again, we didn’t forget. But I think that to just get the momentum to swing in the opposite direction would be huge for us. I’m looking forward to that.”