ETCHELLS "FORCES" HIS WAY TO THE SEMI-FINALS AT ROCKINGHAM ROCKINGHAM, North Carolina, April 6, 1998 - There is an old saying that states "To be the best, you have to beat the best." This past weekend at Rockingham Dragway, Chuck Etchells and...
ETCHELLS "FORCES" HIS WAY TO THE SEMI-FINALS AT ROCKINGHAM
ROCKINGHAM, North Carolina, April 6, 1998 - There is an old saying that states "To be the best, you have to beat the best." This past weekend at Rockingham Dragway, Chuck Etchells and his Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Racing Team put this theory to the test. In the first round, Etchells upset John Force and snapped his string of consecutive Winston Invitational wins at three. This set the stage for a second-round meeting with the hottest Funny Car pilot over the last few weeks, national elapsed time record holder Cruz Pedregon, who had reset the track record in claiming the top qualifying spot. Staging in the less-preferred right lane, Etchells knew it would take a perfect run to advance to the final. When the lights on the tree turned green, Etchells' Chevy shot ahead, seeming on its way to victory. However, problems arose that slowed his march, allowing Pedregon to edge by for the win.
"That's tough. We had him dead to rights," stated Etchells afterwards. "I was able to get a hundredth on him at the start, and it launched hard. It was on a great run, not spinning the tires at all, when it suddenly dropped a cylinder on the 2-4-6-8 side at about 300 feet. My guess is we had too much fuel volume. I saw Cruz go by through my side window and open up about a two-car length lead. I stayed in it, when suddenly the cylinder kicked back in around a thousand feet, and my Camaro took off like a shot. I was able to cut it down to a car length, but just ran out of room."
Already tightened by the eight-car limit for Sunday's eliminations, qualifying for this year's event took on added pressure when rain cancelled the first qualifying round on Friday. This meant each run would be invaluable, not only for setting a fast time, but extracting valuable track information. The first session in the cool nighttime air on Friday night had many struggling to find traction. Although Etchells' Tim Richards-tuned mount was able to power down the lane, a problem with the magnetos slowed them to a 5.35 elapsed time, good enough for a provisional, but precarious, third spot. Etchells maintained this position by improving to a 4.97 with his effort on Saturday morning. When the narrow groove in the right lane did not hold his attempt at the top spot in the afternoon, Etchells found himself fifth, and facing John Force in the first round on Sunday.
Sunday's weather was unlike the previous two days, featuring blue skies and warmer temperatures. With the advantage of lane choice, Force selected the left side. Etchells' assignment proved even tougher when his opponent gained a slight advantage at the start. However, Etchells full-power pass was able to easily defeat the defending Funny Car champion, whose car had lost traction at mid-track. The team had little time to celebrate their victory, as they had to prepare for their confrontation with Pedregon in less than ninety minutes.
"Whenever you're able to defeat John Force, you've accomplished something," said Etchells. "Naturally, we were here to win, but it was another solid weekend for the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch team. Besides, we're happy that we were able to participate in this event and thank Winston for all they've done for us - I can't emphasize that enough."
In the final, Cruz Pedregon defeated a tire-smoking Ron Capps to gain his first Winston Invitational victory. The NHRA tour now pauses for the Easter holiday before heading to Atlanta Dragway for the Fram Nationals April 16-19.
Funny Car Points Standings (As of 4/5/98): 1. C. Pedregon - 302, 2. Chuck Etchells - 300, 3. R. Capps -298 4. J. Force - 281, 5. T. Pedregon - 277, 6. R. Anderson - 229, 7. A. Hofmann - 225, 8. D. Skuza - 213, 9. T. Wilkerson - 211, 10. W. Bazemore - 150.
Big Bud Shootout Standings (As of 4/5/98): 1. Chuck Etchells - 1505, 2. J. Force - 1480, 3. A. Hofmann - 1445 4. T. Pedregon - 1435, 5. R. Capps - 1395, 6. D. Skuza - 1285, 7. W. Bazemore - 1195, 8. R. Anderson - 1170 9. G. Densham - 1070, 10. D. Worsham -960. # # #