Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler entered the fourth and final Funny Car qualifying session of the NHRA Mac Tools Gatornationals in an unenviable position. Not only were they not among the top sixteen required to qualify, but they had yet to make...
Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler entered the fourth and final Funny Car qualifying session of the NHRA Mac Tools Gatornationals in an unenviable position. Not only were they not among the top sixteen required to qualify, but they had yet to make it down the track under power. Running first, Jim Epler quickly addressed any concerns by logging a solid 4.929-second, 312.13 mph pass, which eventually placed the Motley Crue/Matco Tools Camaro Z28 11th for Sunday's final eliminations, setting the stage for a first-round encounter with No. 6 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr..
Chuck Etchells' situation took much longer to resolve. Running immediately after his teammate, Etchells also had his best run of weekend with an elapsed time of 4.960 seconds and a top speed of 307.58 mph. This placed the Kendall Oil/Matco Tools Camaro in the precarious sixteenth position, with four cars remaining that could prematurely end his weekend. However, rain showers interrupted the on-track action for ninety minutes, forcing the Putnam, CT native to wait and see if he would be a participant. Fortunately, each competitor had difficulties of their own, securing Etchells' place in the quickest field in Funny Car history. In one of the more interesting pairings of the day, Etchells will face off against long-time rival John Force in the first round on Sunday.
"Believe it or not, I wasn't even nervous about it," detailed Etchells. "Because we ran so bad this weekend I didn't really feel we even deserved to be in the show. The ESPN crew was over talking to me earlier and asked if I was doing a rain dance. I told them I really wasn't, because you still have to have an air of sportsmanship about you. I really wanted everyone to have a chance to run. I feel better right now that everyone had a shot at it and didn't get in than if it had been called by rain. If that had happened I would have felt bad for Scotty (Cannon), Bob (Gilbertson), Dale Jr. (Creasy) and John (Lawson), because I would have felt as if I stole it from them.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed by our performance this weekend, and our overall lack of consistency. We just have to get better at it, and do so quickly. I am really excited, however, about running John (Force) in the first round tomorrow. I think both lanes are pretty equal, so he won't have a big advantage there. I've been saying a lot of things about his third car, and how I couldn't wait to face him, and now we have our shot. It may sound crazy to say it, but there's no one I'd rather face in the first round than John Force."
Jim Epler was also pleased by the afternoon's developments.
"We're just looking for a baseline with the Motley Crue/Matco Tools Camaro," explained Epler. "It's been a little over center on the tune-up. Both Chuck's and my cars revved up to 8,600 (rpm) at the hit, which is unheard of in a Funny Car - they're just making so much power. Terry backed it down a ton for tonight's run, thinking that was what it would take, and it was a little sluggish leaving, but it really hauled from mid-track on. It may have looked straight, but it was somewhat of a challenge to drive, because the front end was still up in the middle of the track, which made it hard to keep it in the groove. But it ran a good speed and gave us a solid baseline.
"I'm an eternal optimist. I look at what happened in qualifying, with the rain that came right after we ran, which gave the guys who could bump out Chuck plenty of time to think about changing their cars around. In that regard, I think the weather might have helped us. Everything happens for a reason, and tomorrow just may be our day."