ETCHELLS STORMS TO HIS THIRD 1998 FINAL IN MADISON MADISON, Illinois, June 28, 1998 - The true test of a racing team's championship mettle is how it responds to adversity. At this weekend's Sears Craftsman Nationals in Madison, Illinois, Chuck...
ETCHELLS STORMS TO HIS THIRD 1998 FINAL IN MADISON
MADISON, Illinois, June 28, 1998 - The true test of a racing team's championship mettle is how it responds to adversity. At this weekend's Sears Craftsman Nationals in Madison, Illinois, Chuck Etchells posted the quickest elapsed time in the first session on Friday afternoon. After that, however they struggled with the oppressive heat and deteriorating track conditions through the next three rounds. As a result, Etchells' team entered Sunday's final eliminations without the benefit of valuable track information normally gathered during qualifying. Calling on their years of experience, the Tim and Kim Richards-led crew worked late into Saturday night, studying their notes, the track and their racecar. Their efforts were rewarded as the Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 powered into the final round against Frank Pedregon, where only a dropped cylinder prevented them from capturing their third win of the season.
"In the final, the car did not respond very well to the initial hit of throttle, and dropped a cylinder shortly thereafter," explained Etchells. "That pulled the car out of the groove, and I didn't think it could make the finish line at that pace without pedaling it. I got off the power for quite a while with the wheels cut all the way to the right, waiting for it to straighten up. When I hit the throttle, it shot back over, and I might have been able to get back by Frank, since he had lost the blower belt, but we burned a piston."
Etchells' path to his final round encounter was not as simple as it seems. By qualifying tenth, the Putnam, CT native gave lane choice to his first round opponent, Dean Skuza, which seemed like a major disadvantage following Saturday's qualifying sessions. However the NHRA noticed the marked disparity between the lanes, and spent Saturday evening scraping the Gateway International Raceway surface of extra rubber in an attempt to ensure a level playing field for all competitors on Sunday. Etchells took full advantage, using the quickest pass of final eliminations (5.105 seconds at 287.63 miles-per-hour) to eliminate Skuza, and regain control of lane choice for his second-round meeting with No. 2 qualifier Cruz Pedregon. Perhaps sensing his fate, the middle Pedregon brother tried to play games at the starting line, waiting until the very last moment to stage against Etchells. Undaunted, Etchells simply drilled Cruz on the tree, using an impressive .485 reaction time to leave with over a tenth of a second advantage over his rival, and held on for the holeshot win. He completed his ascension to his third final of the season with a wire-to-wire win over Camaro Z28 "teammate" Whit Bazemore. His 5.131 second elapsed time would also earn Etchells lane choice for his match against the eldest Pedregon. This stellar performance drew Etchells within four points of the lead in the Winston championship chase heading into the second half of the season.
"Last night, if you had asked me about going to the final, I would have told you I doubted it," stated Etchells. "I think when the NHRA went out last night and scraped the track, they helped even up the lanes a bit, which is why the fans were able to see such good racing today. I think they should look at doing that when they get here on Wednesday before the race, because it hurt qualifying. But we're thrilled with our performance here today. Naturally, we wanted to win, but we made three great runs and my Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's/Superwinch Racing team gave me an outstanding car. We opened up some distance on the guys right behind us, and, more importantly, we closed in on the leader. Going into the West Coast swing we're just a few qualifying positions away from John (Force), which hasn't happened to him in a long time. It's exciting, our Camaro Z28 is running great, so we'll take two weeks off (from actual racing, that is) and go to Denver!"
The NHRA will now take two weekends off before embarking on their annual West Coast Swing with the running of the Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, CO, July 16-19.
Funny Car Points Standings (as of 6/28/98): 1.J. Force - 815, 2. Chuck Etchells - 811, 3. R. Capps - 722, 4. Cruz Pedregon - 705 5. T. Wilkerson - 647, 6. F. Pedregon - 619, 7. T. Pedregon - 605, 8. W. Bazemore - 577, 9. D. Skuza - 501, 10. A. Hofmann - 448.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 6/14/98): 1. J. Force - 2430, 2. R. Capps - 2260, 3. Chuck Etchells - 2165, 3. T .Pedregon - 2160, 5. C. Pedregon - 2065, 6. D. Skuza - 2000, 7. A. Hofmann - 1935, 8. W. Bazemore - 1820, 9. T. Wilkerson - 1795 10. R. Anderson - 1730.