ETCHELLS RIDES A ROLLERCOASTER IN MEMPHIS MILLINGTON, Tennessee, October 11, 1998 - Chuck Etchells had a weekend of highs and lows at this year's Pennzoil Nationals in Memphis, Tennessee. In the first time trial on Friday afternoon, Etchells...
ETCHELLS RIDES A ROLLERCOASTER IN MEMPHIS
MILLINGTON, Tennessee, October 11, 1998 - Chuck Etchells had a weekend of highs and lows at this year's Pennzoil Nationals in Memphis, Tennessee. In the first time trial on Friday afternoon, Etchells laid down an impressive 4.980-second pass which placed the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Funny Car atop the provisional qualifying standings. Immediately afterward, Chuck Etchells Racing announced that primary sponsor Kendall would be remaining in that capacity for the 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season.
"Everyone at Chuck Etchells Racing is glad to welcome back Kendall Oil as our primary sponsor for the '99 season," stated Etchells. "We're looking forward to having them ride with us as we wrap up this season in strong fashion, and chase the Winston championship again in 1999."
However, in the next two attempts the team struggled to improve on their initial effort. In the cool, fast conditions of Friday evening, a lack of sufficient power caused an early shutoff, while severe tire shake cut short Etchells' Saturday morning run. With their position in the field guaranteed, and needing valuable information to prepare for Sunday's eliminations, crew chiefs Tim and Kim Richards opted for a more conservative, baseline run, and the resultant straight-arrow 5.03-second pass was precisely what they were looking for. The final tabulation placed Etchells eighth on the eliminations ladder, with a tough first round opponent in number nine qualifier Tim Wilkerson.
"We'll have our work cut out for us tomorrow," said Etchells at the conclusion of qualifying. "Throughout this season, Tim Wilkerson has been one of the three quickest cars in Funny Car. But this team has never been one to back down from a challenge. I'm sure the General (Tim Richards) and the rest of the team will have our Camaro Z28 ready to fly in time for the first round!"
Etchells words would prove to be prophetic. Sunday dawned with perfect weather for racing - clear blue skies and temperatures cool enough to ensure a fast track. The team went through their normal race morning preparations and pulled into the staging lanes. As the last pair to compete in the first round of Funny Car eliminations, they were able to study other teams attempts to tame the track, and adjust their mount accordingly. The results speak for themselves - a 4.939-second elapsed time, 309.06 miles-per-hour, and, most important, the round win. This performance also earned Etchells lane choice for his second round encounter with top qualifier Cruz Pedregon. But routine between-round maintenance suddenly turned into a fire drill as during final assembly the timing pulley was discovered to be cracked, necessitating a complete engine change. For the third time that weekend, the Etchells team performed the task in record time. Although Pedregon gained a marginal advantage at the start, Etchells had pulled ahead by the 60-foot mark and seemed ready to claim the victory. But suddenly telltale, wisps from the exhaust pipes showed all was not well in the Etchells powerplant. Even so, the cars stayed glued together as they screamed down the quarter mile. Just past the thousand foot mark, however, the engine gave out, allowing Etchells' rival to edge him at the line.
"We had dropped a cylinder in the 4.93 run, but picked it back up after about a second" proclaimed Etchells. "In the run against Cruz, it dropped the same cylinder about a second and a half into the run, and it didn't get it back. Even with that I was wheel-to wheel with him, so I thought I could drive by him, because it had plenty left. But the motor up burned up at 1000 feet and he took off. We still have some positives to leave here with. In the first round, we posted the quickest elapsed time of eliminations. My crew did a heck of a job just to get us to the line in time to even race Cruz. We'll take that and head back to Topeka, where the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 is qualified second, and see what we can do there!"
Sunday's final saw veteran campaigner Al Hofmann post his first national event win in over a year when he defeated a tire-smoking Cruz Pedregon. The NHRA now returns to Topeka for the completion of the rain-delayed Parts America Nationals with a one-round test and tune session on Friday October 16, and final eliminations on Saturday, October 17.