CHUCK ETCHELLS POWERS TO VICTORY IN PHOENIX CHANDLER, Ariz., February 22, 1998 - Chuck Etchells, 43, of Putnam, Connecticut, today claimed the 11th NHRA national event victory of his career by capturing the Funny Car crown at the ATSCO Nationals...
CHUCK ETCHELLS POWERS TO VICTORY IN PHOENIX
CHANDLER, Ariz., February 22, 1998 - Chuck Etchells, 43, of Putnam, Connecticut, today claimed the 11th NHRA national event victory of his career by capturing the Funny Car crown at the ATSCO Nationals in Phoenix, Arizona. Etchells' win came in dramatic fashion, as he overcame a major mechanical failure and set track records in both elapsed time and top speed in defeating Chevrolet teammate Ron Capps in the final round. The triumph was the first for the 1998 Camaro Z28 body style, and was especially gratifying for Etchells and his Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch team because of how early it came in the 1998 Winston Drag Racing season.
"This win is really great for this team, because we've never done well at the start of the season," said Etchells. "In fact, we're probably one of the slowest starters to finish in the Top Five every year. It's very encouraging to leave here second in the points and with a victory under our belt."
From the onset of the weekend, Etchells' team was ready. They had worked feverishly since Pomona to prepare their second Camaro body, and were able to lighten the entire car by an impressive thirty-five pounds, through such methods as replacing existing parts with others made of lighter magnesium. (For example, this procedure saved nine pounds in the wheelie bars alone.) This reduction would then allow the crew chiefs to transfer the weight to a location more favorable to performance, a crucial factor when loading the car. Additional fuel in the tank could translate into more power. With the competition in the Funny Car ranks getting tighter, any advantage could be critical.
However, Etchells and his crew would be forced to wait an extra day to see the fruits of their efforts, as rain washed away the first day of qualifying. This cancellation left competitors with only two chances to qualify for final eliminations, and drastically altered their planning. With such limited opportunities, crew chiefs would have to put in a set-up conservative enough to ensure a full-power pass, but with sufficient aggression to assure participation on Sunday. In a preview of things to come, Etchells posted two of the three fastest Funny Car runs, and his 5.064 elapsed time, which was run in the less-preferred left lane, garnered the second qualifying position, and a first-round match-up with number fifteen qualifier Mitch McDowell.
"We're very satisfied with our performance today," stated Etchells after qualifying concluded. "With only two runs, there was no room for error, and the General (Co-crew chief Tim Richards) put in a great set-up. Looking at tomorrow, this Funny Car division is getting tougher and tougher. There are no easy opponents in any round. The quickest car is going to win, and we're going to work hard to make sure it's us!"
Sunday dawned with the best weather of the weekend, with clear blue skies and warmer temperatures. In the first round, Etchells' 5.130/304.87 pass easily eclipsed McDowell. However, when his next opponent, Whit Bazemore, posted a 5.059-second elapsed time in his first round victory, Etchells found himself relegated to the left lane for the second round. Any concerns over disparate lanes quickly dissipated, as Etchells gained the advantage from the start, and never looked back, storming to an impressive 4.982-second elapsed time at 299.40 miles-per-hour. This win did not come without a price, however, as the engine virtually destroyed itself during the run.
"We were in serious trouble about 900 feet down the track," explained Etchells afterward. "I felt it burn a piston, and it stopped its hard acceleration. I looked out the window and didn't see Whit, but you know that car is capable of big speeds, so I decided to keep going and stayed in it. It made it to about 1200 feet, and then all of a sudden it laid over, and there was oil everywhere, including all over the windshield - it was basically a white-out in there. But, once again, I still didn't see him, and the last thing I could see was that I was straight in the lane, so I decided to keep on going - after all, we're here to win. I don't know how it didn't catch on fire or blow the body off of it - it had lifters down and out of the engine, the valve cover was gone, and we had four holes in the motor - a pretty big mess!"
It is at times like these when an experienced crew shines, and Etchells' team, led by co-crew chiefs Tim and Kim Richards, proved up to the task. There were no extra words or wasted motions. Taking every one of the ninety minutes allotted between rounds, they worked feverishly to replace the entire engine assembly and restore their Camaro to full health, including removing the oil from the inside of the carbon-fiber body. Pulling into to the lanes with no time to spare, Etchells staged against upset-minded Randy Anderson. The team's prowess was again confirmed when Etchells not only defeated Anderson, who lost traction during his run, but his 5.008/310.55 run earned him lane choice for the final against Capps. A similar scenario unfolded in the championship round. Capps gained a slight advantage at the start, but quickly lost traction, forcing him to backpedal. But it would not be enough, as Etchells powered his car down the middle of the lane, smashing existing Firebird International Raceway elapsed time and top speed records with his 4.944 second, 312.82 miles-per-hour run en route to his first win as a member of the Bow Tie Brigade.
"Ron (Capps) is an excellent driver, and they have a great car over there, and I felt he would have a little better reaction time. I prayed the General would step up the horsepower, and he did. The records we set in the final show you what type of team we have. The General and his wife Kim and the entire crew did a heck of a job getting that car back together after the second round. This is where the additional sponsorship helps-we've never had the level of support we have this year. Kendall Oil, Superwinch, Snap-On Tools and Mighty Auto Parts have been with us a long time, but now with Chevrolet, MaMa Rosa's Pizza and Auto VentShade coming on board, it's allowed us to put good parts in the car as we need them. If we can keep feeding it the parts, we could give these guys some trouble out here!"
The NHRA now moves on to the Sunshine State for the running of the Mac Tools Gatornationals March 5-8.