The pressure was on competitors during Friday's first day of qualifying at the Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals. With rain threatening to curtail the day's events, and with additional rain forecast for Saturday, every attempt was crucial.
The pressure was on competitors during Friday's first day of qualifying at the Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals. With rain threatening to curtail the day's events, and with additional rain forecast for Saturday, every attempt was crucial. Although the precipitation held off on enough for Friday's action to be completed, disappointing opening results left Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler outside the top sixteen and hoping for another opportunity on Saturday.
Epler was twice the victim of misfortune. Making his first attempt in with his new 2001 Camaro body, Epler appeared to be on a good pass in the opening session, with the Racing Champions/Ertl/Matco Tools Camaro's early incremental figures pointing towards a run in the low 4.8-second range. However, before he reached the finish line, one of his parachutes deployed prematurely, slowing him to a 5.178-second elapsed time. In the evening session, Epler was once again slowed by a mechanical failure, as a header pipe broke and dragged on the ground, holding the Phoenix resident to a 5.113 second, 269.56 mph run.
"We were very happy with the first run, the Racing Champions/Ertl/Matco Tools Camaro went right down the track. That was my first run in with the 2001 body, and it was really stable. We know that would have been a low 4.80 run. Tonight, it went out and shook and I pedaled it. It was getting down there and should have run a low 4.90, but a header fell off. It's just bad luck. We can get our mechanical problems sorted out, but the weather is our big concern right now. We have to hope to get lucky with that tomorrow."
After posting a 5.030-second elapsed time on his first run, Etchells entered Friday's evening session looking for improvement. However, his second attempt ended in dramatic fashion when a malfunction in the engine in his Sunoco/Matco Tools Camaro caused it to erupt, resulting in a brief fire and an aborted run.
"On the first run, it dropped a cylinder two hundred feet out and picked it up a half-track when the clutch came to the motor. I shut if off a little early, because I was afraid it could be hurt. On tonight's run, it dropped two cylinders right away and was running bad. But I didn't see Tony (Pedregon) driving away, I couldn't give up since we knew we're supposed to get bad weather tomorrow. I stayed in it when I shouldn't have and blew it up. It had a small fire, but the fire bottles knocked it right down
"It could have been a heck of a lot worse, so even though we're discouraged and disgusted, we're also thankful, because when a rod breaks the piston is up there floating around with the intake valves, and I was driving it so it was under power, so it could have had a major blower explosion and destroyed our new Sunoco/Matco Camaro body, but fortunately that didn't happen. In addition, the oil in the catch pan under the engine could have kept the fire going, which could have caused a larger fire, but that didn't happen, so it's bad, but it could be worse. Now, we'll just keep our fingers crossed that there won't be any rain tomorrow."