CHUCK ETCHELLS CLOSES THE 1998 SEASON WITH A WIN AT THE WINSTON FINALS
Pomona, California, November 16, 1998 - Chuck Etchells closed the 1998 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season on a high note by claiming the Funny Car title at this past weekend's Winston Finals in Pomona, California. It was the third victory of the season for the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 pilot, second in this event and thirteenth of his storied career. After defeating Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson and 1998 Funny Car champion John Force in the earlier rounds, Etchells was paired in the final stanza against Dale Pulde, who had recorded the quickest pass of eliminations. The two cars left the starting line hard, with Pulde gaining a slight advantage. However, both drivers soon found themselves struggling for control, as their 6,000 horsepower mounts tried to spin their tires on the cool racing surface. Displaying the skills for which he is so well known, Etchells' perfectly executed back-pedal proved to be the difference, as his "fuel coupe" recovered and blazed to a 5.110-second elapsed time with a top speed of 308.21 miles-per hour, which was more than enough to secure the win.
"It was a great day for our team," exclaimed Etchells. "Any win is good, but winning the Winston Finals is special. Today was a little better than when I beat Freddie Neely in '92 because we had lights. In the final round against Pulde, I really wasn't surprised when it tried to spin the tires, because it had acted the same way under similar conditions on Friday night. I was ready for it and fortunately was able to catch it right away. I would guess I've done that about a thousand times. After that it really started to carry the mail. At half-track, I looked over and didn't see him, and I knew there was no way he was going to catch us."
But this win was not an easy one for the Etchells crew. With their fourth position in the season's points standings secure, the team had used the initial two qualifying runs as tests of a new five-disc clutch system which they hope to use in 1999. However, when their best effort of 6.36 seconds left them in a precarious position on the eliminations ladder, the call was made to revert back to the original four disc set-up for the last two time trials. This decision was quickly justified when Etchells' 5.025-second, 301.70 miles-per-hour effort on Saturday morning placed them seventh for Sunday, and gave them lane choice against fellow Chevrolet chauffeur Ron Capps.
Arriving at the track on a sunny Sunday morning, Chuck Etchells' team knew they had their work cut out for them. A quick glance at the elimination ladder showed perennial "top guns" Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson and John Force in their path. But, showing the pride and determination they had displayed all season, they quietly went about their work, fine-tuning their "flopper" to give their driver the best opportunity for victory. Although Etchells' solid 5.022-second run would give them an easy win over a tire-smoking Capps, there was little time to celebrate, as a between-round inspection revealed the need to replace the massive 500 cubic inch powerplant. This was a scene that would be repeated throughout the day, as following each run, Etchells crew swarmed over their car and installed a fresh "bullet" within the scant ninety minutes allowed by the NHRA. Each time, the challenge was met, with the work performed and the car towed to the line in time. Etchells did his part as well, using his driving talents to score the round wins. The culmination was a stellar 4.956-second, 307.06 miles-per-hour pass which ended Force's season in the semifinals, and put Etchells (following yet another motor swap) into his fourth final of the season against Pulde.
"Winning the way we did is a real testament to this whole team," explained Etchells. "Looking at our ladder, we feel as though we've run four final rounds today, beating opponents like Ron (Capps), Tim (Wilkerson) and of course, John (Force). On top of that, my whole team, led by Tim and Kim Richards worked extra hard for this one, because we had to change three engines in three rounds. We finally had some luck on our side as well. We nearly burned the car to the ground in the run against Wilkerson, when it threw the rods out at about 500-600 feet and I drove it on through. Fortunately, we survived that scare and were able to keep on trucking.
It's an outstanding way to wrap up the year, but most of all, it's a great reward for our sponsors. From Kendall Oil, Superwinch, Mighty Auto Parts and Snap-On Tools who've been with us a long time, to AutoVentshade, who came on board this year, we're thrilled to take them to the winner's circle. We're also glad to end on a winning note with MaMa Rosa's Pizza, who probably won't be back in 1999. Finally, this was our first year with Chevrolet, and I haven't won three races since 1992, so our Camaro Z28 really got the job done. This win will make the winter a lot easier, and a lot shorter. We'll celebrate tonight, but start working on next year tomorrow."
Chuck Etchells 1998 Season Highlights:
* Won three races in a season (Phoenix, Richmond & Pomona), matching his career best, set in 1992. * Recorded 35 elimination round wins, breaking his personal mark of 31 from 1993. * Appeared in four final rounds (Phoenix, Richmond, Madison & Pomona). * Finished 4th in the final Winston season's points standings, extending his streak of Top Five finishes to seven, a feat matched only by John Force. * Led the Winston points standings for the first time in his career following the Richmond event, and took the lead again after the Denver race. * Twice established a new personal best elapsed time, most recently with a 4.848-second run at the Revell Nationals in Dallas, Texas in October. * Recorded his 200th career elimination round victory at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus, Ohio in June.
Funny Car Points Standings: 1. J. Force - 1663, 2. R. Capps - 1528, 3. Cruz Pedregon - 1445, 4. Chuck Etchells - 1430, 5. W. Bazemore - 1281, 6. T. Pedregon - 1256, 7. T. Wilkerson - 1143, 8. D. Skuza - 1117, 9. A. Hofmann - 1044, 10. D. Worsham - 905.
Big Bud Shootout Points: 1. C. Pedregon - 1,000, 2. J. Force - 935, 3. W. Bazemore - 875, 4. R. Capps - 840, 5. Chuck Etchells - 815, 6. T. Pedregon - 785, 7. T. Wilkerson - 735, 8. A. Hofmann - 640.