ETCHELLS SETS A MILESTONE AND DISCOVERS HEARTBREAK IN COLUMBUS HEBRON, Ohio, June 14, 1998 - Although Yogi Berra is credited with inventing the phrase "it's not over 'til it's over", Chuck Etchells semi-final run at this past weekend's Pontiac...
ETCHELLS SETS A MILESTONE AND DISCOVERS HEARTBREAK IN COLUMBUS
HEBRON, Ohio, June 14, 1998 - Although Yogi Berra is credited with inventing the phrase "it's not over 'til it's over", Chuck Etchells semi-final run at this past weekend's Pontiac Excitement Nationals could be labeled as the drag racing personification of those words. After defeating Whit Bazemore and Tony Pedregon in the first two rounds at National Trail Raceway, Etchells was paired against Tony's older brother Frank in the semis. With the luxury of lane choice, Etchells selected the right side, where the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 pilot had gained his earlier victories. From the flash of the green lights on the starting line "Christmas Tree", it appeared Etchells was on his way to his third final round of the season, as he welded his opponent to the line by more than eight hundredths of a second. As if this was not enough, Etchells stretched his lead to over a tenth of a second by the 330-foot mark. But suddenly, just as victory seemed assured, Etchells mount slowed dramatically, the victim of faulty clutch discs. Even as Etchells fought to get to the line first, his opponent was able to catch up and steal the victory.
"It's very frustrating to lose in that fashion," stated a disappointed Etchells. "We made two good passes to reach the semi-finals, and then grabbed eight hundredths off the tree on Frank (Pedregon). We were on a great run - looking at our computer, at the 330 clock the numbers said 2.33 seconds, which is about a 4.94 pace. That boosted our advantage to over a tenth. But it started to go away about half-track, when it started to sling out the clutch. I tried to be optimistic, hoping that it was trying to smoke the tires, so I pedaled it. But then I realized it was the clutch coming out of it. Since I still hadn't seen Frank, I kept trying to get it to hook up, praying that it would make it to the line. But it did the inevitable, and exploded about $20,000 worth of engine parts. We've had some problems with consistency on these clutch discs, and today it really cost us."
But Etchells' weekend would be memorable for more than just his semi-final appearance. In qualifying, the team posted their best Friday night effort of the season, a 5.021-second, 306.85 miles-per-hour run that would earn them the fourth spot for the third time this season. This set the stage for Etchells to make some personal history in his first-round meeting with Whit Bazemore. By using a starting line advantage to offset a quicker run, Etchells not only defeated Bazemore on a hole-shot, but he gained the 200th elimination round victory of his career, dating back to 1988, when Etchells defeated Ed McCulloch in the first round at Phoenix International Raceway. Etchells quickly added win number 201 in the second round, when he drove away from Tony Pedregon with the quickest elapsed time of the round. But the victory did not come without cost, as the Etchells crew scrambled to replace the powerplant, which had damaged the crankshaft during the run. But as they have all season, the Tim Richards led squad responded, and brought their car to the staging lanes at the very last minute for their encounter with the oldest of the Pedregon brothers.
"Looking at what happened, we honestly felt it was our race to win," stated Etchells. "We're very confident that if the clutch hadn't failed, we could have gotten lane choice for the final, and possibly come out of here less than a round behind John (Force). When the door is open that wide, you want to walk through it. But there are a lot of positive aspects to our performance here this weekend. We reached another semi-final round, which allowed us to keep up with John, and gain some points on our closest pursuers. In addition, our Camaro Z28 had another strong showing. This will just make even us more determined heading to St. Louis."
In Sunday's final, Frank Pedregon was able to drive past a tire-smoking Dean Skuza to earn his first national event victory. The NHRA next goes to the Midwest for the Sears Craftsman Nationals at the Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Illinois June 25-28
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 6/14/98): 1.J. Force - 779, 2. Chuck Etchells - 719, 3. C. Pedregon - 648, 4. R. Capps - 647, 5. T. Wilkerson - 589, 6. T. Pedregon - 573, 7. W. Bazemore - 506, 8. F. Pedregon - 476, 9. D. Skuza - 468, 10. R. Anderson - 420.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 6/14/98): 1. J. Force - 2430, 2. R. Capps - 2260, 3. Chuck Etchells - 2165, 3. T .Pedregon - 2160, 5. C. Pedregon - 2065, 6. D. Skuza - 2000, 7. A. Hofmann - 1935, 8. W. Bazemore - 1820, 9. T. Wilkerson - 1795 10. R. Anderson - 1730.