ETCHELLS GRABS POINT LEAD, BUT EXITS EARLY IN SONOMA SONOMA, California, July 27, 1998 - Week in and week out on the NHRA's Winston Drag Racing circuit, teams battle to best the opposition and earn the title of "Top Eliminator" in their category.
ETCHELLS GRABS POINT LEAD, BUT EXITS EARLY IN SONOMA
SONOMA, California, July 27, 1998 - Week in and week out on the NHRA's Winston Drag Racing circuit, teams battle to best the opposition and earn the title of "Top Eliminator" in their category. In addition to compiling national event wins, competitors have their sights set on the ultimate prize, the Winston Championship. This past weekend found the world's fastest quarter-milers at Sears Point Raceway, just north of San Francisco. A multi-purpose racing facility, the Sonoma speedplant is known for having one of the trickiest surfaces on the schedule. From the first qualifying session through the final round of eliminations, traction was at a premium, with neither lane offering consistent results. Chuck Etchells and the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 racing team battled throughout the event to develop the consistency necessary to challenge for the victory. In qualifying, Etchells' crew seemed to have found the right combination by posting the first 300 mile-per-hour top speed in Funny Car enroute to the fifth position for Sunday's final eliminations of the Autolite Nationals. However, the team's hopes for their third win of the season were cut short when Etchells' mount veered directly towards the centerline from the very start of his first-round encounter with Tony Pedregon, forcing him to lift off the throttle. Etchells fate was then sealed when his racecar developed mechanical problems, precluding any chance of chasing John Force's stablemate down.
"To say the least, today's run was very disappointing," said Etchells. "For some reason, it left initially okay, but it suddenly drove itself to the right, and felt like it was weak, almost wallowing on the tires. I had to pedal it just to keep away from the centerline. After that, it dropped a cylinder, and actually threw one of the electronic distributors right out the car. That meant we only had one magneto and one distributor on it for the rest of the run, and no opportunity to run Tony down. I knew something was wrong, but I wasn't exactly sure what it was."
By not advancing to the second round, Etchells' season-long streak of first-round successes, unparalleled in any of the three major professional categories, came to an end. However, the Etchells crew was able to leave California with something they had not brought with them - the Winston Championship points lead. At the completion of qualifying on Saturday, Etchells' fifth place standing earned the Putnam, Connecticut native four points, while previous leader John Force's ninth place effort gained only two. This allowed Etchells to pass Force and reclaim the top spot for the second time this season by the narrowest of margins, a single point. He was able to maintain the lead on Sunday when Force also bowed out in the opening stanza, and Ron Capps, the only other person capable of catching Etchells at this event, fell in the second round. This marks the first time in the 90's that someone other than Force has been in the lead at this point in the season. However, Etchells downplayed the significance of the event. With nine events remaining and pack of equally hungry rivals on his bumper, the team's work had only just begun.
"Quite frankly, we're fortunate to be leaving here in the lead," stated Etchells. "Even going out in the second round in Denver and the first round here, we were still able to gain a whopping five points on John (Force) and pull ahead in the points race. But in that same time, Ron (Capps) Tony and Cruz (Pedregon) have made a big move, and any of them could take over the point in Seattle. I see this as a wake-up call for our whole team. We're going to have to do a lot better next weekend, or we won't be leaving there with the points lead. But I have a lot of faith in this Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 team. They have responded to every challenge so far this season, and I have every confidence that we will come out strong in Seattle!"
In Sunday's final, Cruz Pedregon powered past Whit Bazemore for his third win of the season. The NHRA now moves to Seattle, Washington for the completion the three-race West Coast Swing at the Prolong Nationals at Seattle International Raceway, July 23-26.
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 7/27/98): 1. Chuck Etchells - 902, 2.J. Force - 901, , 3. R. Capps - 875, 4. Cruz Pedregon - 851, 5. T. Wilkerson - 779, 6. T. Pedregon - 769, 7. W. Bazemore - 752, 8. F. Pedregon - 589 9. D. Skuza - 585, 10. A. Hofmann - 573.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 7/27/98): 1. J. Force - 2845, 2. R. Capps - 2725, 3. Chuck Etchells - 2585, 4. T .Pedregon - 2485, 5. C. Pedregon - 2475, 6. W. Bazemore - 2355, 7. D. Skuza - 2355, 8. A. Hofmann - 2290, 9. T. Wilkerson - 2280, 10. G. Densham - 2065.