Chuck Etchells Gainesville Preview

Putnam, Connecticut, March 11, 1999 - Throughout their careers, competitors in the NHRA's Winston Drag Racing Series develop an affinity for certain stops along the 22-race circuit. This attraction can be based on several factors. For example,...

Putnam, Connecticut, March 11, 1999 - Throughout their careers, competitors in the NHRA's Winston Drag Racing Series develop an affinity for certain stops along the 22-race circuit. This attraction can be based on several factors. For example, the facility may be located close to the racer's home or shop, and is possibly the launching site of his or her racing pursuits. In other cases, the team and/or driver may have a history of success at a particular venue. Whatever the reason, participants look forward to returning to these chosen tracks and the value of this appeal to a driver's mindset cannot be overlooked. At this weekend's Mac Tools Gatornationals, the Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Racing team hopes to benefit from such an association as driver Whit Bazemore considers Gainesville Raceway among his favorites.

"Gainesville holds many special memories for me," explained Bazemore. "Growing up in Atlanta, we would visit my grandmother in Orlando, and when I was 10 or 11, I remember my parents made a point of stopping by Gainesville Raceway on the way home so I could see the track. In addition, the Gatornationals were the second NHRA event I ever went to. This was also the first place I drove a real racecar, when I did Frank Hawley's school in 1985. Finally, I qualified for my first NHRA race and captured my first elimination round victory here in 1989. Now I'd like to complete the cycle by claiming my first win in the Kendall Camaro here this weekend!"

But the entire Chuck Etchells Racing team knows that success at this weekend's event will depend on much more than simply liking the track. Gainesville Raceway is acknowledged as one of the true speedplants on the NHRA schedule, and every year is witness to some of the quickest and fastest runs of the season in all professional categories. However this potential for big numbers does not necessarily guarantee results, as crew chiefs will again have to probe the edge of that fine line between maximum, speed-producing traction and frustrating tire smoke. With the bar in the Funny Car ranks constantly being raised, Bazemore realizes that keeping pace is crucial.

"Even though we've only had a couple of events, you can see a trend developing," said Bazemore. "From their strong start, it seems that (John) Force's team has a car that is a little ahead of everyone else right now. We're the next ones in line, sitting third in the points, based on two good races. But we have yet to have an outstanding run, so looking at the big picture, we're right where we need to be. This Chuck Etchells team is starting to come together, and we're continually looking for ways to improve our Camaro and close the gap on Force. You may see some evidence of those efforts here this weekend, and if things work they way we believe they will, we should fly."

As always, pre-race preparation is the vital first step. The Etchells crew took advantage of the three weeks between the last event in Phoenix and this race to return to their Lansing, Michigan shop for the first time since January. This allowed them to restock their supplies and make full use of the facilities there to work on their racecar. Besides normal maintenance, modifications were performed based on data accumulated during the first two events. A key added benefit was that the team members could spend valuable nights at home. But all too quickly it was time to reload and head south.

"Every driver and crew out here wants to win the Gatornationals because it is one of our marquee races" stated Bazemore. "Gainesville Raceway is a great facility, we have large, enthusiastic crowds throughout the weekend, and the action on the track is fast and furious. Winning here would be special. But this is an important race for the Kendall crew besides going for the victory. We've established some positive momentum in the first two races that needs to be continued here, and I'm confident we'll do just that. This team is committed to succeed, and we've just starting to hit our stride."

BAZEMORE BANTER: This will be Whit's tenth appearance at the Gatornationals, where he looks to improve upon his semi-final finish from 1995....Bazemore is looking for his first win as driver of the Kendall Camaro.....The Mac Tools Gatornationals will be the first time that Bazemore has competed in an NHRA national event at Gainesville driving a Camaro Z28-bodied Funny Car.

Fast Facts

WHAT: 30th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, the third event on the 22-race 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series Schedule.

WHEN: March 18-21, 1999

WHERE: Gainesville International Raceway, Gainesville, Florida

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions start with two sessions on Friday, March 19 at 12 noon & 4:00 p.m., and conclude on Saturday, March 20 with two rounds at 12 noon and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 21.

TV: ESPN2 will provide an hour of qualifying highlights on Friday, March 19 from 5 - 6 p.m., with two hours of final round coverage from 6-8 p.m. on Sunday, March 21. (All times Eastern) As always, please check your local listings

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Series NHRA
Drivers Chuck Etchells