The combination of cool fall temperatures and a fast racing surface posed a formidable challenge to competitors seeking to gain entry into Sunday's final eliminations of the NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Illinois. In Funny Car it seemed a career-best...
The combination of cool fall temperatures and a fast racing surface posed a formidable challenge to competitors seeking to gain entry into Sunday's final eliminations of the NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Illinois. In Funny Car it seemed a career-best elapsed time would be required to guarantee a position in the top sixteen. Despite the favorable conditions, teammates Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler struggled to get a handle on the racetrack on Friday. This left Etchells in the unenviable position of having to earn a spot in the top sixteen while Epler, 11th at the qualifying midpoint, looked to maintain his standing.
Etchells bounced back with his first attempt on Saturday morning, posting a solid 4.925-second elapsed time with a top speed of 306.95 mph. Although this placed in the Sunoco/Matco Tools Camaro in the field, its position was far from secure, and it was not until the completion of qualifying that the Putnam, CT native was assured the 16th and final place in eliminations. This set the stage for an interesting first-round encounter, as Etchells will face No. 1 qualifier Whit Bazemore, who was Etchells' hired driver the last two years.
"Sitting there during the last session, I actually wanted to get bumped out, because I wanted to see Jim get solidly in the show, and I was confident we would be able to run well enough to get ourselves back in. On our first run today when we went '.92, it spun the tires at the hit and went over by the wall and out of the groove for a long time. If that had been a good solid A to B run, it probably would have been in the mid 4.80s.
"Tonight we went up there trying to compensate for the conditions and make a comfortable 4.80, which I'm disappointed we didn't do. Right now, there are quite a few cars ripping up the track with low 4.80 runs, and that's where we need to be.
"I think the Sunoco/Matco Camaro is the best it's been since Phoenix. We had been unable to get it to run well early, so Terry (crew chief Manzer) did a lot of work on the clutch program over the last six races, and now it will sixty foot with the best of them. We now have to get by that 1 - 1.3 second spot where we've been having problems in order to get it to run with the top cars.
"I know we're facing Whit, who been running really well. He definitely has the best car on the grounds at the moment, but I'm not intimidated. I've done this for many years, and I know that if we make the right decisions and have a good car tomorrow, we could win this race."
Unfortunately, the high-speed solutions eluded Epler's crew throughout the four timed sessions. As a result, his best effort of 5.018 seconds and 286.80 mph found his Bass Pro Shops/Matco Tools Camaro outside the top sixteen at the conclusion of qualifying, prematurely ending his weekend.
"Naturally, I'm disappointed by missing the race. After making it to the semi-finals here in June, we came in with high expectations, and wanted to have a good showing for everyone at Bass Pro Shops. Unfortunately, we never got a firm handle on the tune-up. From our first run on Friday, we were fighting tire shake, and simply ran out of chances. We'll try to put this performance out of our mind and look to bounce back strong in Reading. But before we do that, we're going to stay here and root for Chuck tomorrow. He's going to be carrying the colors for both teams, including a big Bass Pro Shops decal on the back quarter-panel, so we hope he gives it great ride."