Phoenix: Mechanical woes fell Epler, Etchells

Once qualifying was completed and the elimination ladders filled in for Sunday's final eliminations of the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, all the talk in the Etchells Racing pit area centered on the first-round match-up between Chuck...

Once qualifying was completed and the elimination ladders filled in for Sunday's final eliminations of the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, all the talk in the Etchells Racing pit area centered on the first-round match-up between Chuck Etchells and teammate Jim Epler. Despite the guarantee of having one of their team vehicles in the second round, each driver was anxious to grab the intramural bragging rights. As a Phoenix resident, Epler was particularly hopeful of having a strong showing in front of his hometown fans.

Unfortunately, he never got the chance, for as he put his Racing Champions/Matco Tools Camaro through its pre-run burnout, an oil leak was detected, forcing the crew to shut off the engine and hand the auto match to team owner Etchells.

"We're not quite sure what happened, but it's embarrassing to get shut off after the burnout and not even get the chance to make a run. The only fortunate thing is that we were racing Chuck, and even though he smoked the tires, he was able to advance and have another opportunity to win for the team.

"We have to keep working. We're a new team, and we have the next few weeks to really practice as one. We're going to run out here tomorrow so this Racing Champions/Matco team will be up to speed by Gainesville (the next event on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing schedule).

Chuck Etchells' Kendall/Matco Camaro team continued to struggle with finding traction. With a strong sun shining on the Firebird International Raceway surface, teams throughout the pit area scrambling to find the proper set-up due to conditions completely opposite those experienced in qualifying. The Etchells crew's challenge for the second round was two-fold. Not only were they facing defending Funny Car champion John Force, but they would have to do so without the benefit of lane choice. Etchells did his part, gaining a slight edge on his rival at the start. However, in a scene reminiscent of his run in the first round, smoke began to billow from Etchells' rear tires, allowing Force to gain the victory.

"Quite frankly, we were lucky to have made It to the second round. If Jim hadn't broken, I'm sure he would have beaten us. So, it's not a rewarding feeling to have made it to the second round. We have to find consistency. We had some mechanical glitches caused by having a few new guys on the crew that plagued us in qualifying. That set us back a little bit, but more importantly, it put some question marks on some of the decisions that (crew chief) Terry Manzer made, which you can't have. In order to tune these things, you have to know exactly what you're tuning.

"We are going to have to focus a lot harder on going from A to B. If we had done that today, we would be in the semi-finals. We didn't have the car today to beat a (Ron) Capps or (Bruce) Sarver, but we certainly had the car to take out John Force in that round. He ran a 5.05 with dropped cylinders and heads burning up from half-track on, and we're sitting there at the starting line smoking the tires. You can't win races doing that."

-ER-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , John Force , Chuck Etchells