Chuck Etchells Gatornationals Preview

GAINESVILLE WIN HIGH ON ETCHELLS' WISH LIST Putnam, Conn., March 2, 1998 - Throughout their careers, racecar drivers compete at a multitude of racetracks. During this time, they will develop an affinity for certain facilities. It could be a...

GAINESVILLE WIN HIGH ON ETCHELLS' WISH LIST

Putnam, Conn., March 2, 1998 - Throughout their careers, racecar drivers compete at a multitude of racetracks. During this time, they will develop an affinity for certain facilities. It could be a place where they historically have run well, or one with tremendous tradition in the sport. Many times, it is their "home" track, where they broke in to drag racing, or one in close proximity to their race shop. In any case, though the particular quarter-miles may differ, the goal is the same - to one day see their name inscribed on the winner's trophy at their special track. For Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Chevrolet pilot Chuck Etchells, Gainesville Raceway, site of this weekend's Mac Tools Gatornationals is on his short list of "must-win" events.

"I have told the General (Co-crew chief Tim Richards) and Kim that there are two races I absolutely want to win," stated Etchells. "The first is the U.S. Nationals, which is the biggest race in our sport. The other is the Gatornationals. Not only is this a very prestigious event, but Gainesville is where it all started for me. To win here would be very special."

Chuck Etchells' attachment to the Florida quarter-mile goes back to 1983, when he would leave the Northeast winters behind to travel south for the Gatornationals, where he would watch such legendary figures as Raymond Beadle and Don Prudhomme compete. In fact, it was in Gainesville that Chuck Etchells would see the first 260 mile-per-hour run in NHRA history, accomplished by Joe Amato in a Top Fuel dragster tuned, ironically, by Etchells' future crew chief, Tim Richards.

"Gainesville Raceway was a major learning experience," explained Etchells. "When I first came down here, we would be in the campgrounds with all the other drag-racing addicts and "snowbirds" from up north. I met a lot of people in the sport that I still deal with today. These were the first national events I went to, and I was hooked."

As the years passed, Etchells made the transition from spectator to top-notch competitor, reaching the finals at this race in 1996. This year, he looks to improve on that showing, and arrives on a high note, having captured his 11th career victory at the ATSCO Nationals just two weeks ago. With the confidence of that win behind him, the Putnam, Connecticut native looks to "double-up" and take home that most exclusive of Florida souvenirs - the winner's trophy. But, tradition and sentiment aside, this track will test every team in the field. As on of the top facilities on the NHRA tour, Gainesville Raceway features sea-level elevation and a fast racing surface, with the potential of setting records on every run. To succeed, nothing less than the total package, combining performance, skill and racing luck will suffice.

"Every year, the Gatornationals are a spectacular event, and this year promises to be no different," said Etchells. "Every team will be challenged, and I think you'll see some records fall. As for us, I'm very fortunate to have a great team, a super Camaro Z28 racecar, and sponsors like Kendall Oil, MaMa Rosa's Pizza, Superwinch and Chevrolet behind me. Their support allows us to work hard and get the kind of performance we need. We are ready to go back-to-back!"

ETCHELLS EXCERPTS: Chuck Etchells will be visited by thirty youths from the Seminole County's Sheriff's Department's "Beat the Heat" community action program on Saturday....Etchells looks to notch back-to-back victories after winning the ATSCO Nationals two weeks ago....Etchells looks to improve upon his best performance at Gainesville Raceway, which was a runner-up finish in 1996.....Etchells' 315.56 mile-per-hour run from last year remains the fastest speed ever posted by a Funny Car....

Fast Facts

WHAT: 29th Annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, the third of 22 races comprising the 1998 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

WHEN: March 5-8, 1998

WHERE: Gainesville Raceway, Gainesville, FL

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions start on Friday, March 6 at 11 a.m., with another session at 3:00 p.m., and conclude on Saturday, March 7 with two rounds at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 8.

TV: TNN will have live coverage of the final round of eliminations on Sunday, March 8 from 5:00 - 6:30 p.m. (Eastern). In addition, there will be live coverage of the first round of eliminations on the "NHRA Today" show from noon - 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato , Chuck Etchells , Don Prudhomme , Tim Richards