ETCHELLS DERAILED IN READING READING, Pennsylvania, September 21, 1998 - The blink of an eye is a physical act which is also equated with an infinitesimal amount of time, spawning such phrases as "gone in the blink of an eye" or "blink ...
ETCHELLS DERAILED IN READING
READING, Pennsylvania, September 21, 1998 - The blink of an eye is a physical act which is also equated with an infinitesimal amount of time, spawning such phrases as "gone in the blink of an eye" or "blink and you'll miss it". At this past weekend's Pioneer Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania, Chuck Etchells found out first-hand just how accurate those statements can be in the world of NHRA Winston Drag Racing. By posting a 4.997-second elapsed time with a top speed of 303.03 miles-per-hour in the first round to defeat Randy Anderson, the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 pilot also earned lane choice for his second round meeting with Whit Bazemore. Although Etchells 5.013-second pass was able to outrun his opponent by two hundredths of a second, it was not enough to overcome Bazemore's starting-line advantage, thus ending Etchells' hopes for his third national event title of the season. The reason for Etchells delayed launch was quite simple.
"I'm not sure if it was the nitro fumes, or a bead of perspiration, but for some reason I blinked at precisely the wrong moment," explained Etchells. "As soon as my eye closed, I heard Whit's motor, and I knew I was I in trouble. It's a shame, because the numbers showed we had a car that definitely capable of winning the event."
Etchells' strong runs on Sunday were a testament to the talent and determination of his veteran team. Throughout qualifying, co-crew chiefs Tim and Kim Richards worked to discover the right combination to tame the Maple Grove surface, which had undergone a significant change since the NHRA's last visit a year ago. Although the newly-extended 500-foot concrete launch pad promised plenty of speed-producing "bite", it was the condition of the strip after that point which concerned the tuners in every division. With an extremely coarse consistency, the asphalt would offer a reduced surface area for the massive racing slicks to grab hold of. Therefore, the key to making a fast run would be to ensure a smooth transition between the different pavements, avoiding the dreaded, speed-robbing loss of traction evidenced by massive tire smoke.
After an initial 5.08-second pass in Friday's first time trial established a baseline, the Etchells crew was among many in the Funny Car ranks who struggled to improve. First, Etchells blew the tires off almost immediately in the cool temperatures of the night session. His next attempt on Saturday morning was slowed by a mechanical problem that started as a dropped cylinder and ended by putting four holes in the engine block. With limited time before the last round, the team scrambled to replace the powerplant, knowing the data from this pass would be important in setting the car up for Sunday's eliminations. The result was a two-hundredths of a second improvement, good for the seventh spot on the ladder and lane choice for Etchells' first round match-up with Randy Anderson.
"The good news is that all the pieces are there for a successful run to the finish," stated Etchells. "Our Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 has been one of the fastest cars at the last two races and we didn't take advantage of it. We've got our work cut out for us, but this team is determined to put it all together, and Topeka in two weeks is the place to start!"
In Sunday's final, Dean Skuza gained his first win of the season by defeating John Force. The next stop on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing schedule is the Parts America Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka in Topeka, Kansas, October 1-4.
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 9/21/98): 1. J. Force - 1285, 2. R. Capps - 1196, 3. Chuck Etchells - 1097, 4. Cruz Pedregon - 1036, 5. T. Pedregon - 983, 6. W. Bazemore - 968, 7. T. Wilkerson - 956, 8. D. Skuza - 878, 9. D. Worsham - 748, 10. A. Hofmann - 720.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 9/21/98): 1. J. Force - 175, 2. W. Bazemore - 165, 3. D. Skuza - 155, 4. T. Wilkerson - 145, 5. R. Capps - 140, 6. C. Pedregon - 135, 7. Chuck Etchells - 130, 8. D. Worsham - 125, 9. A. Hofmann - 120, 10. R. Anderson - 115.