Columbus: Etchells and Epler have drastically different Fridays

Mother Nature threw a curve at the competitors during the first day of qualifying for the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. After battling intense heat and high humidity in the first session, a storm front moved in during the...

Mother Nature threw a curve at the competitors during the first day of qualifying for the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. After battling intense heat and high humidity in the first session, a storm front moved in during the evening session, and although rain eventually cut the proceedings short, those who were able to run encountered lower temperatures and much better conditions.

Jim Epler took advantage of the opportunity to post an elapsed time of 5.052-seconds with a top speed of 299.20 mph, which placed the Racing Champions/Matco Tools Camaro 11th at the qualifying midpoint.

"We're a little disappointed it didn't run better, but our main concern was to go from A to B. Obviously the track got a lot better tonight. It was fairly soft until half-track and made it past the transition where so many people had a problem in the afternoon. It then locked up the clutch and ran really hard from there to the finish line, when it lost the blower belt in the lights. The new Camaro body saved us, however, because the track was marginal. I'm not sure the old body would have been able to run that hard with the clutch locked up and make it to the finish line.

"Considering the conditions, we're happy to make a full run, which will give us some much needed information. We would have obviously liked to run better, and to do that we have to get our tune-up figured out, so we know how to run under different conditions. "

Chuck Etchells was not as fortunate on his attempt. Running immediately after their teammate, the Sunoco/Matco Tools Camaro seemed on its way to a solid run. However, just after half-track, Etchells' run was slowed by a dramatic blower explosion, resulting in a 5.479-second, 192.66 mph pass which left Etchells looking to gain entry in Sunday's final eliminations during one his remaining two attempts on Saturday. A post-run analysis revealed the problem had been caused by a most unusual circumstance.

"The Sunoco/Matco Camaro was on a decent run, somewhere in the 5.0-second range, which would have been a little quicker than Jim's car. It was running nice and smooth with no tire spin when without warning it blew the blower off.

"We had had a problem at the last race with one of the body struts rubbing on the magnetos. As a result, we spent the last few days cutting out the struts and installing new ones. Even so, we think the down force of this new body was so great that one of the new struts bent and shorted out one of the mags. Everything else on the computer looks perfect and there is no other sign of a mechanical failure, so that's what it appears to be.

"It's an extremely tough situation. We're trying to rebuild our parts inventory and in the last three runs we've taken two brand-new superchargers and destroyed them, as well as two manifolds. The parts suppliers' job is tough enough trying to keep up with everyone out here without our having a problem like tonights. We're trying so hard to get ahead and then we shoot ourselves in the foot and go right back to the beginning. We're not about to give up, but it certainly is frustrating."

-Etchells Racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , Chuck Etchells