Columbus: Etchells and Epler step up, place 9th and 14th

After battling oppressive heat and the threat of rain during Friday's opening qualifying sessions at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals, competitors and fans alike were pleased to arrive at National Trail Raceway on Saturday under clear skies and ...

After battling oppressive heat and the threat of rain during Friday's opening qualifying sessions at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals, competitors and fans alike were pleased to arrive at National Trail Raceway on Saturday under clear skies and seasonable temperatures. However, the challenge of taming the tricky racing surface remained as crew chiefs searched for answers.

After suffering a blower explosion on Saturday night, the Etchells Racing team worked furiously to repair their car in time for Saturday's morning session. Finishing the work while waiting their turn in the staging lanes, the team then watched as Chuck Etchells recorded a solid 5.035-second elapsed time. Although pleased with the effort, the team felt they would have to improve their performance in order to guarantee participation in Sunday's final eliminations. Responding to the challenge, the Sunoco/Matco Camaro posted the third quickest pass of the session at 4.974 seconds with a top speed of 299.73 mph, gaining Etchells the ninth position.

"The simple difference between yesterday and today is that we had the car prepared properly. We had a bad explosion last night due to a body mounting problem, where a strut came down and shorted out the magneto. We believe it's same failure that caused our starting line problem in Chicago two weeks ago. We figured it out it last night when we found a visible mark. So in reality, it hasn't been as much of a tune-up problem as it's been a parts problem, as well as getting our crew guys up to speed.

"I was really happy for the entire crew, and especially the senior guys (crew chief) Terry Manzer, (technology director) Larry Meyer, (car chiefs) Chris Forton and Kevin Butterfield. We had a car that could be tuned on and it responded exactly the way we thought it would. For example this morning, Terry told me it would run a low 5.0, because that's what we needed and that's exactly what it did. This afternoon, he told me it would run a 4.95 because he didn't want to take a gamble. It ran 4.97, which would have been a '.95 if it hadn't nicked a piston around one thousand feet.

"I feel pretty optimistic going into tomorrow because it's got more in it early for sure, and I think we can get that. If we can make it live on eight cylinders from a thousand feet on, it should run a '.91 or '92. That's what we'll need to do, because Johnny Gray has a strong car with Wayne Dupuy over there. We know they're going to throw everything they have at us, so we have to be prepared to make the best run that we feel we're capable of."

Jim Epler also came into the last session in a seemingly precarious position, as he had not improved on the 5.05 he had recorded on Friday night. Running early in the order, Epler solidified his spot for Sunday by improving to a 5.023-second elapsed time with a top speed of 300.93 mph, good enough to place the Racing Champions/Matco Tools Camaro 14th setting up yet another first round encounter with No. 3 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr.

"Forutnately, our last run was in the good lane and the Racing Champions/Matco Camaro went straight down the track, although it was a little slow to half track. But the lock-up was nice and smooth and it went right down there, so I think that is going to give us a good hot weather tune-up. We'll probably need to take four or five hundredths off there to the 330-foot mark, and then we'll be right in there.

"The main goal, however, is to get both cars in, and right now we've learned enough that we know what each one wants, which will help the additional down force these cars give us really pay off. Factoring in Chuck's and my driving experience, it may all come into play tomorrow."

- Jon G. Knapp

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , Chuck Etchells , Johnny Gray