With his new 2001 Camaro scheduled to debut next weekend in Chicago, Jim Epler had hoped to give his multi-colored Toys R Us/Matco Tools Funny Car a winning sendoff at this weekend's Advance Auto Parts Nationals. The first round went as planned...
With his new 2001 Camaro scheduled to debut next weekend in Chicago, Jim Epler had hoped to give his multi-colored Toys R Us/Matco Tools Funny Car a winning sendoff at this weekend's Advance Auto Parts Nationals. The first round went as planned with Epler used a slight starting line and performance advantage to upset No. 4 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr.. However, facing Tim Wilkerson in the second round, Epler's hopes for victory quickly evaporated, as his race car lost traction almost immediately, with his rival driving on for the win.
"Obviously, smoking the tires at the hit was not what we wanted to do. We've looked at the video and the computer and we still don't know what happened. We tried to make it run a little better in the first part of the track because we had given up a lot to TJ there in the first round. We figured if we could knock a few hundredths off we could get a good shot at Timmy (Wilkerson), who ran great.
"Even so, it was great to get the Toys R Us/Matco Camaro to the second round and get it on TV. We appreciate their being on board the last couple races, as well as the ongoing support from Matco Tools and Chevrolet.
"I think we're turning this thing around. We may stay here and test tomorrow, but we really won't be up to speed until after Chicago when we both have our 2001 Camaro bodies. It's a tough go in Funny Car this year, and every round is important. Fortunately, we're making headway."
Chuck Etchells, meanwhile, was looking to make history at Heartland Park Topeka for the second time in his career by handing defending race winner and Funny Car champion John Force his first ever opening round defeat at Heartland Park Topeka. However, much like his teammate, Etchells' Sunoco/Matco Tools Camaro suffered a mechanical malfunction, which slowed his racecar and allowed Force to keep his streak alive.
"After seeing Jim's run, I thought we would be able to run a '.90. At the hit of the throttle it wasn't very aggressive, but I still thought we'd be all right. A few hundred feet later I still hadn't seen John, but it suddenly started to slow down. I saw John go by, and I knew something was wrong because the motor was coming up and it didn't feel like it was smoking the tires. I didn't pedal it, and after looking at the car in the pits, I'm glad I didn't because we had a malfunction in the clutch.
"The throw-out bearing never moved away, so it basically wore the clutch as much as it could in that position, and then the drive train uncoupled, so if I had gotten back after it, it would have blown up. It's something I've never had happen before, and to have on of these timers or flow valves malfunction is pretty strange. Just bad luck on our part.
"But I will leave Topeka a lot more optimistic than I was getting here. To qualify both cars here in the position we're in is still an accomplishment. We're still trying to overcome everyone else' head start. We're learning on every run and making these cars better and better. Jim made it to the second round, so I'm happy we'll get Geoffrey (the Toys R Us giraffe mascot featured on Epler's car) some TV time. We're looking forward to Chicago and getting more runs on this 2001 Sunoco/Matco Camaro."