ETCHELLS TURNS UP THE WICK AT THE GATORNATIONALS Gainesville, Fla., March 15, 1998 - One of the most frequently discussed topics at any drag race is the weather. More than any other variable, the climate controls the performance level of the...
ETCHELLS TURNS UP THE WICK AT THE GATORNATIONALS
Gainesville, Fla., March 15, 1998 - One of the most frequently discussed topics at any drag race is the weather. More than any other variable, the climate controls the performance level of the world's fastest quarter-milers. At this weekend's resumption of the rain-delayed Mac Tools Gatornationals, clear blue skies and cool temperatures provided the very best conditions, setting up a weekend of outstanding racing and record-breaking performances. Chuck Etchells continued his string of strong performances by qualifying fourth, and in Saturday's final eliminations advanced to the semi-finals on the strength of his career-best elapsed time of 4.892 seconds. Even though it ranked among the best in Funny Car history, Etchells would not have the luxury of lane choice, as his opponent, Cruz Pedregon, who earlier had eclipsed the national elapsed time record, had posted a time six-thousandths of a second quicker in his second-round win. Relegated to the less-favored right lane, the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 lost traction soon after it launched, allowing Pedregon to drive by for the win.
"We were a bit too aggressive on that last run, and that lane couldn't hold it," explained Etchells afterward. "But it wasn't a very good time to be timid. First, we knew Cruz would run another 4.88, because he'd been doing it all weekend. Second, we can't deny we had an eye on the E.T. record ourselves. After all, if we had been able to run a 4.872 or better, we could have picked his pocket for the MBNA record money!"
The week's delay between the first and second day of qualifying seemed to have little effect on the Etchells team. Displaying the consistency that has been their hallmark this season, Etchells recorded his third consecutive four-second pass in Friday morning's session. Although they were slowed by a mechanical problem in the afternoon, their position was set for eliminations, with a meeting with Frank Pedregon set for the first round. On paper, Etchells 4.945 second elapsed time would seem to indicate an easy victory over his rival's 5.303, but the race was much closer. A sudden flash of light at the starting line startled Etchells, and slowed his reaction time to the point that Frank Pedregon had a full tenth of a second head start. Fortunately, Etchells' Camaro Z28 Funny Car responded to the challenge, running the oldest of the Pedregon brothers down, and powered by for the win. In the second round, Etchells' picture-perfect run easily outdistanced Randy Anderson, who smoked the tires soon after the start. The stage was set for a semi-final battle of two of the quickest Funny Cars in NHRA history.
"We had an excellent weekend, and are proud of our performance," said Etchells. "You can't be disappointed when it takes a record run to beat you. Twenty-two cars showed up here, and we were one of four to make it to the semifinals. This Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Racing team has come out strong. We were one of the fastest cars in Pomona, we won at Phoenix, and reached the semis here. As long as we avoid the first round defeats and DNQs, we can stay in the hunt, and every member of this team is fully committed to doing just that!"
In the final round, Cruz Pedregon capped off his record-breaking weekend by besting John Force in a backpedaling duel for his first win of the season. The NHRA tour now heads west to Houston, Texas for next weekend's Pennzoil Nationals March 19-22.