ETCHELLS MAKES THINGS INTERESTING AT THE FRAM NATIONALS COMMERCE, Georgia, April 21, 1998 - For the first three days of this year's Fram Nationals, Mother Nature took center stage. With forecasts calling for severe weather on Friday and ...
ETCHELLS MAKES THINGS INTERESTING AT THE FRAM NATIONALS
COMMERCE, Georgia, April 21, 1998 - For the first three days of this year's Fram Nationals, Mother Nature took center stage. With forecasts calling for severe weather on Friday and Saturday, the NHRA's best felt lucky to complete all four qualifying sessions with nothing more than an occasional delay. However, this good fortune came to an end on Sunday when final eliminations were postponed by heavy downpours. When Monday's clear blue skies replaced the weekend's gray clouds and drizzle, the attention was finally returned to the action on the Atlanta Dragway.
With all traction-enhancing rubber washed away by the rain, teams struggled to tame the completely "green" racing surface. After qualifying 12th, the Chuck Etchells crew combined their experience in tuning the car with Etchells' considerable driving skills to power the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Funny Car to victories over Dean Skuza and Gary Densham in the first two rounds. His next opponent would be current points leader and top qualifier Cruz Pedregon. In a day filled with unusual occurrences, this match-up had its share. When Pedregon's crew attempted to start their car, there was a loud explosion which sent both teams scrambling. After a quick inspection revealed no damage, both Funny Cars were fired up and set to run. Etchells launched first and grabbed an impressive lead of over five-hundredths of a second. Seemingly on his way to his second final round of the season, Etchells' fuel coupe suddenly showed signs of tire smoke and slowed due to the resulting dropped cylinder. Even so, he was able to keep his adversary at bay until just before the line, when Pedregon was able to eke out the narrow victory. But Etchells' ride was not yet over. As he deployed his parachutes, his Funny Car caught fire and spun near the end of the track, fortunately avoiding contact with the wall. As the NHRA's Safety Safari came to his aid, Etchells scrambled to safety through the escape hatch, avoiding injury.
"That was unfortunate - Cruz just got us by one hundredth of a second. We had him all the way. I got five hundredths at the start, and our Camaro was on another strong run - the computer says it was on pace to run 5 flat. But it started to spin the tires at half-track, and I felt it drop a cylinder. I didn't even see Cruz until after 900 feet, when he was just there beside me. I knew it was chewing itself up, but I stayed in it. I should have shut it off, but where you're that close you have to keep going. At the end of the run, I wasn't happy we'd been beat, but thought everything was fine. But I went to throw the parachutes out when "woof!' it was on fire. Normally, when it throws a rod out, there's a vibration so you know it, but there was none, so I was in shock. I hit the fire bottles, got it stopped, got out and that was the end of that. We found out that it had pressurized the motor, burned a couple of pistons, and blew the oil pan out, so all the oil from the pan came inside the car. We delaminated the body with the fire, which is not hard to fix, but we'll use our backup next week. Even so, we made it the semi-finals again, and kept ourselves in the hunt all weekend. We'll take that and look to build on it next week in Richmond. It's a tough, slippery surface like Atlanta, but this Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch team will be ready for it!"
In the final, Cruz Pedregon defeated John Force to gain his second national event win of the season. The NHRA circuit will now move quickly to Virginia Motorsports Park for this weekend's Pennzoil Nationals April 23-26.
Note: ESPN2 will broadcast an hour of highlights from the Fram Nationals this Thursday, April 23 at 11 p.m. with a repeat airing on Friday, April 24 from 3-4 p.m. (EDT). Please check your local listings.
Funny Car Points Standings (As of 4/21/98): 1. C. Pedregon - 420, 2. J. Force - 378, 3. Chuck Etchells - 372, 4. R. Capps -350, 5. T. Pedregon - 310, 6. T. Wilkerson - 287, 7. R. Anderson - 263, 8. D. Skuza - 247 9. A. Hofmann - 235, 8. D. Skuza - 213, 10. G. Densham - 203.
Big Bud Shootout Standings (As of 4/21/98): 1. J. Force - 1645, 2. Chuck Etchells - 1610, 3. T. Pedregon - 1565 4. R. Capps - 1510, 5. A. Hofmann - 1445, 6. D. Skuza - 1425, 7. W. Bazemore - 1320, 8. R. Anderson - 1305 9. G. Densham - 1215, 10. D. Worsham -1060.