GREMLINS STALL ETCHELLS' DRIVE IN DALLAS ENNIS, TX, May 3, 1998 - In World War II, fighter pilots would often complain of invisible creatures that would attack their planes. These mythical varmints that caused innumerable headaches were ...
GREMLINS STALL ETCHELLS' DRIVE IN DALLAS
ENNIS, TX, May 3, 1998 - In World War II, fighter pilots would often complain of invisible creatures that would attack their planes. These mythical varmints that caused innumerable headaches were labeled "gremlins". At this weekend's Castrol Nationals at the Texas Motorplex, Chuck Etchells' Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch racing team must have felt there was an infestation in their pits, as they battled a series of unusual problems during qualifying. As a result, Etchells' best effort found him outside the top sixteen at the conclusion of time trials on Saturday. Afterwards, Chuck Etchells had his own theory on why three potentially four-second runs were spoiled by separate maladies, effectively ending their hopes for victory.
"I told the team, one of you guys or gals did something really rotten this week to tick off the man upstairs," said Etchells. "Because the only way this could happen was if the big guy was mad at one of us! I've raced 19 years in Funny Car, and I've never seen anything like what we went through here before."
Etchells crew had arrived in Texas on a high note. Just five days before, they had captured their second win of the season, which had vaulted them into the points lead for the first time in Etchells' career. In addition, the team had historically done well at the Texas Motorplex, including winning the fall event in 1995. A successful weekend seemed almost assured. But, almost as a portend of things to come, Etchells' car dropped a cylinder immediately after launching on its first qualifying run. This forced an early shut-off and produced a 5.228 second elapsed time with a top speed of 288.46 miles per hour, placing him 11th in the provisional standings. In the nighttime time trial, Etchells' fuel coupe launched hard and fast, and was running straight down the lane (the computer would later show it was on a 4.93 or 4 pace), when it suddenly slowed. In a freak occurrence, the blower belt had come off in one piece. Puzzled, but determined to improve, they checked their racecar from nose to tail, virtually rebuilding it. Suspecting supercharger problems, the crew worked to change the car's set-up to compensate. Saturday morning, Etchells was again on a good run when the tires shook abruptly. In the second strange situation of the weekend, a brand-new blower belt snapped before Etchells could even attempt to back pedal. Again, this should not have happened, as the motor did not rev high enough. Without improvement, they now found themselves in the precarious 16th and final qualifying position, with one round remaining. Not missing a beat, the team left nothing to chance, changing everything on the car except the chassis, body, and of course, the driver. Realizing improvement would be mandatory to guarantee qualification, a softer set-up was installed, with a smooth full-power pass the goal. Running first, Etchells shot ahead, his Camaro devouring the pavement. It seemed he would complete the run and move up, but for the third and final time, acceleration ceased almost instantaneously at half-track, the result of a split supercharger burst panel, which had occurred with no warning, and for no apparent reason. Etchells was now forced to watch and wait as others made their attempts. In a final cruel twist, Al Hofmann, the very last to make a run, was the only competitor able to gain a spot in the field, doing so at Etchells' expense.
"Naturally, we're upset, but this Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro team is too good to let this keep us down," stated Etchells. "We just had some crazy things happen here. I don't think you can ever be a true champion or winner unless you can take a setback like this, look it in the eye and move on. It's early in the season. We have a great race car and team, I'm driving better than I ever have, and we have the support of some great sponsors. We've been running well all season - in fact, before today we had advanced at least one round at every race. We worked really hard to get here, and hate to give some back, but we'll dig deeper and head to Englishtown ready to beat the best."
The NHRA now takes a well-deserved weekend off before heading east for the Mopar Parts Nationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey May 14 -17.
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 5/3/98): 1.J. Force - 553, 2. R. Capps - 499 3. Chuck Etchells - 497, 4. C. Pedregon - 494, 5. T. Wilkerson - 440, 6. T. Pedregon - 436, 7. R. Anderson - 348, 8. A. Hofmann - 341, 9. D. Skuza - 311, 10. W. Bazemore - 286.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 5/3/98): 1. J. Force - 1985, 2. T .Pedregon - 1820, 3. R. Capps - 1795, 4. Chuck Etchells - 1755, 5. A. Hofmann - 1685, 6. D. Skuza - 1650, 7. W. Bazemore - 1545, 8. C. Pedregon - 1540, 9. R. Anderson - 1535, 10. G. Densham - 1455.