ETCHELLS BATTLES IT OUT IN BRAINERD BRAINERD, Minnesota, August 23, 1998 - At this weekend's Visionaire NorthStar Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, Chuck Etchells and his Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Racing team...
ETCHELLS BATTLES IT OUT IN BRAINERD
BRAINERD, Minnesota, August 23, 1998 - At this weekend's Visionaire NorthStar Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, Chuck Etchells and his Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Racing team had their hands full from the moment they arrived at the racetrack. Battling their racecar and conditions throughout qualifying, they entered the first round of Sunday's final eliminations with little on-track information and without the benefit of lane choice. In addition, they would be facing one of the top teams in the division in John Force's stablemate, Tony Pedregon. Etchells responded by using the best reaction time of the round to leave on his opponent and drive on for the win. He was then paired against number 3 qualifier Del Worsham. Once again, Etchells was able to gain the upper hand at the starting line. But both cars lost traction almost immediately, disappearing in clouds of tire smoke. Etchells tried valiantly to regain control, working the throttle and brakes furiously as he tried to cross the finish line first. However, just as it seemed he would accomplish his goal, his racecar pointed towards the outside wall, forcing Etchells to lift and allowing Worsham to edge by.
"In the first round against Tony (Pedregon), we did exactly what we set out to do," explained Etchells. "With the limited qualifying information we had, we couldn't be too aggressive on our set-up. The way we saw it, he would have to run an .0 to beat us, and obviously he didn't. We tried to step it up against Del (Worsham), but it went right into smoking the tires without any warning. Most times it will shake or rattle but this time there was nothing. Usually when it goes that way by the time you catch it you can't recover. It was out of the groove early, but with the front end up, there was little I could do. I tried backpedaling, but it tried to cross the centerline. I then stayed out of it for a long time to make sure it would go straight, but when I hit the throttle, it headed for the wall, so I lifted immediately. If I had been able to give it another hit, we might have been able to get him, but I just couldn't, because it would have wrecked the car."
Each day of qualifying had presented its own set of challenges. As the team warmed up the car prior to the first session on Friday, they detected a problem in the braking system, necessitating a quick replacement of the master cylinder and calipers. However, the problem remained as Etchells' pass was hampered by the brakes dragging, which not only slowed his run, but made the car hard to reverse. Etchells' crew then swarmed the car between rounds, swapping parts taken off the back-up car, and temporarily rerouting the brake lines from the front wheels to the back in an attempt to make it ready for the evening session. The arrangement seemed to work during a quick warm-up, so they sped to the lanes, just making it in time for the run. However, once Etchells put on his complete firesuit and was strapped in, he found he was unable to get the necessary motion from the brake lever to properly control the car. Reluctantly, he climbed from the seat, forfeiting the second time trial. After working late into the night to correct the problem, the team watched the skies on Saturday, hoping the torrential rain would stop long enough for their driver to make another attempt in order to improve their standing for Sunday and gain valuable information. Late Saturday afternoon, they got their wish, and although their time improved substantially, they only gained only one position on the eliminations ladder, setting the stage for the race against the youngest Pedregon.
"Qualifying absolutely killed us," stated Etchells. "Without that information, we were limited in our raceday adjustments. Besides, the car is not acting the way it used to. Before, it would smoke or shake and you could catch it. Right now, it's not really driveable. The run against Del really showed it, because I rarely get beat in a tire-smoking or pedaling contest with a 6.40 elapsed time. But if it doesn't go where you steer it, and it smokes the tires and goes out of control, I don't care who's in the car, you're done. So we're going from here directly to Indianapolis to test. We're going to make as many runs as we can and get this straightened out. We're heading into our two biggest events, namely the U.S. Nationals and the Big Bud Shootout, and I guarantee that this Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 will be a force to contend with from here on out!"
In Sunday's final, Ron Capps gained his fourth win of the season by besting Dean Skuza. The NHRA now moves on to Indianapolis, Indiana for the biggest race of the season, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, September 2-7.
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 8/25/98): 1. R. Capps - 1105, 2. J. Force - 1074, 3. Chuck Etchells - 989, 4. Cruz Pedregon - 946, 5. T. Pedregon - 879, 6. T. Wilkerson - 843, 7. W. Bazemore - 837, 8. D. Skuza - 730, 9. A. Hofmann - 678, 10. D. Worsham - 624.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 8/25/98): 1. J. Force - 3165, 2. R. Capps - 3020, 3. Chuck Etchells - 2840, 4. C .Pedregon - 2815, 5. C. Pedregon - 2775, 6. D. Skuza - 2600, 7. W. Bazemore - 2595, 8. A. Hofmann