MORRISON, Colorado, July 20, 1998 - No matter what the final outcome is in this year's chase for the NHRA Winston Championship, there is not one person who can say the Chuck Etchells Racing team has not given its all. In a season full of ...
MORRISON, Colorado, July 20, 1998 - No matter what the final outcome is in this year's chase for the NHRA Winston Championship, there is not one person who can say the Chuck Etchells Racing team has not given its all. In a season full of highlights, perhaps no one moment could better define this team's drive and determination more than Etchells' second round performance at this weekend's Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals. Having already extended his string of first round successes with an easy victory over Don Sosenko, the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro pilot was matched against one of the Funny Car division's "young guns", Tony Pedregon. Etchells' chances for a second Bandimere Speedway victory faded quickly, however, as his white, black and red mount blazed the tires right at the start. But even as Pedregon started to pull away, he experienced troubles of his own, dropping cylinders. For his part, Etchells refused to give up the fight, backpedaling furiously in an attempt to regain control and chase his opponent down. It was only when his car took a sudden and dramatic turn directly towards the wall that Etchells had to reluctantly cede the round win to his opponent. In fact, it was only his years of experience and considerable skills that allowed him to only sideswipe the concrete instead of hitting it head on.
"We were in trouble from the first hit of the throttle," explained Etchells. "I never had any indication it was going to light the tires. It never shook or rattled - it just blew the tires off. I got off and on the gas right away, but it spun them again. At that point, I got out of it for quite a while longer, because it was going sideways, and I wanted to get it straightened up. I looked out the window and saw Tony wasn't going anywhere, so I thought I could still catch him. I gave it a little hit, but at my last attempt, it headed straight towards the wall, and that was it."
Within moments after the completion of the run, the Etchells crew's attention shifted from winning the event to repairing their racecar. Unlike the majority of the NHRA schedule, the Colorado event represented the opening stanza of three consecutive racing weekends. With only a few days before the start of the next event in California, time was of the essence, and the team wasted little in attacking the task at hand. Immediately after returning to their pit area, the car was stripped down to its base components for a thorough examination.
"Right now our main concern is seeing how badly hurt our Camaro is," stated Etchells. Obviously, we have some bodywork to do, including replacing some of the spaghetti framework underneath. It's too bad, because we had done a lot of aerodynamic work on this body since the last race. We're also checking the chassis now to see what the extent of the damage is. For example, we know we have to rebuild the tree behind the driver's seat where the body attaches, because it's bent. We have a good back-up car and body, but we really don't want to change, because we've run this one, and we know its performance characteristics well."
Even before Sunday's final eliminations, however, qualifying had produced its own share of drama. First, track officials had to overcome a massive power outage in order to stage Friday's sessions. Meanwhile, teams struggled in the intense heat to harness their horsepower on the tricky Bandimere surface. Just as he staged for his first attempt, Etchells' run was thwarted by a malfunction in the starting line "Christmas Tree", forcing the team to push back and wait ten minutes. Even so, Etchells posted the fifth best time. But the team was not finished. Etchells' attempts were the most consistent in the class, and in the last session on Saturday afternoon he posted the quickest time of the day, which gained him the second position for Sunday. More importantly, this pulled Etchells within a single point of the lead for the championship heading into Sunday's final eliminations, and his second round encounter with the youngest Pedregon.
"In our run against Tony, we were being aggressive trying to ensure we kept lane choice for the semis, but the track would just not hold it," said Etchells. "It's frustrating, because this might have been one case where lane choice was a disadvantage. The competitors in the less-preferred lane knew conditions would be bad and probably used a more conservative set-up, which worked in their favor, because both lanes were equally bad. But we're in the middle of a championship battle, and we're going to go for it. It's unfortunate, because we could have made a move on John (Force), and opened up some distance on Tony, Ron (Capps), Cruz (Pedgregon) and Whit (Bazemore). However, we qualified well and are leaving here just one point behind. Besides, every time they've been thrown a curve this season, my team has come back stronger and more determined. I'll tell you one thing - it may not be pretty, but this Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 will be ready to fly next week in Sonoma!"
In Sunday's final, Tony Pedregon used a hole-shot to just edge Ron Capps at the line for his second win of the season. The NHRA now heads to California for the second leg of the three-race West Coast Swing for the Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, CA, July 23-26.
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 7/20/98): 1.J. Force - 869, 2. Chuck Etchells - 868, 3. R. Capps - 817, 4. Cruz Pedregon - 736, 5. . T. Pedregon - 717, 6. T. Wilkerson - 703, 7. W. Bazemore - 655, 8. . F. Pedregon - 589 9. D. Skuza - 532, 10. A. Hofmann - 500.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 7/13/98): 1. J. Force - 2585, 2. R. Capps - 2405, 3. Chuck Etchells - 2280, 3. T .Pedregon - 2265, 5. C. Pedregon - 2230, 6. D. Skuza - 2130, 7. A. Hofmann - 2045, 8. W. Bazemore - 2015, 9. T. Wilkerson - 1970, 10. G. Densham - 1825.