MECHANICAL BUGS BITE ETCHELLS IN INDY CLERMONT, Indiana, September 7, 1998 - A successful Nitro Funny Car run is the result of the perfect alignment of many variables. Prior to the attempt, the crew must adjust their race car to best match the...
MECHANICAL BUGS BITE ETCHELLS IN INDY
CLERMONT, Indiana, September 7, 1998 - A successful Nitro Funny Car run is the result of the perfect alignment of many variables. Prior to the attempt, the crew must adjust their race car to best match the conditions, from the temperature and humidity to the texture of the track surface. Once their preparations are complete, it is up to the driver to make sure his pass is error-free, from a quick reaction time to keeping the car in the racing groove, where maximum traction and highest speeds are obtained. Compounding this assignment is that although elapsed times may be identical, no two runs are ever the same. At Monday's final eliminations of the U.S. Nationals, Chuck Etchells and the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Racing team illustrated both ends of the drag racing spectrum. In the first round, Etchells used an impressive 4.968-second, 309.70 miles-per-hour pass to defeat Gary Densham, and gain lane choice for his second round encounter with Randy Anderson. Although Etchells was again able to gain the upper hand at the start by over four hundredths of a second, his chances for victory were cut short by a mechanical mistake which slowed his car, and allowed his opponent to drive on for the win.
"This one hurts," stated an obviously disappointed Etchells afterwards. "I have a great crew, but we had a miscue today at the starting line that ended up costing us a chance at the win. We have a throttle stop on our engine that we use during the burnout. Right after I back up, the crew raises the body, and a crewmember changes the position of a pin on the linkage that allows us to run wide open. Unfortunately, in the second round the pin was put in the wrong hole and restricted us to only running at half throttle. I knew as soon as I launched that we were done."
Etchells had experienced a similar rollercoaster ride during qualifying and the Big Bud Shootout all-star race. Throughout the first two sessions, teams fought weather that varied from cool to hot and humid, and a tricky Indianapolis Raceway Park track. Sitting on a best elapsed time of 5.12 seconds, good enough for a provisional seventh, the Etchells crew knew the afternoon session on Saturday would be important. Not only could they improve their position on the final elimination ladder, but the information gathered could be crucial to preparing for their first round match-up against Dean Skuza in Sunday's Shootout. Unfortunately, a stuck injector forced Etchells to shut off during his burnout, handicapping their efforts. With little data, the team used their best estimates for the run against Skuza. The significance of the lost run was magnified and Etchells' hopes for a big payday disappeared when he lost traction almost immediately, and Skuza continued on. To their credit, the Etchells team persevered. They were rewarded in the last time trial of the weekend, when Etchells posted the third quickest pass of the round, and claimed the fourth spot and set up the match-up with Densham for Monday.
"Although the final results were not what we were looking for, there are some positives from this weekend that we can build on," explained Etchells. "For example, that 4.96 we ran in the first round was our best since Richmond, and there was more left in it. All we needed to do was replace the sparkplugs and rod bearings and put it back in the staging lanes. It's no exaggeration to say that we had a car capable of winning the race. Our job now is just to make sure we take it all the way in Reading!"
In Sunday's final, John Force captured his second win of the season, and regained the points lead by edging surprise finalist Randy Anderson. After a weekend off, the NHRA heads to Indianapolis, Indiana for the Pioneer Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, September 17-20.
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 8/25/98): 1. J. Force - 1187, 2. R. Capps - 1162, 3. Chuck Etchells - 1044, 4. Cruz Pedregon - 982, 5. T. Wilkerson - 921, 6. T. Pedregon - 911, 7. W. Bazemore - 891, 8. D. Skuza - 762, 9. D. Worsham - 695, 10. A. Hofmann - 688.
Big Bud Shootout Points: Will start accumulating at the Pioneer Keystone Nationals in Reading, PA.