Phoenix: Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals notes and quotes

* ETCHELLS RETURNS TO DRIVER'S SEAT AFTER TWO-YEAR RETIREMENT: Funny Car driver and owner Chuck Etchells completed the 1998 season with a win at the season-ending Winston Finals. Etchells then hired Whit Bazemore to pilot his Kendall Oil Chevrolet...

* ETCHELLS RETURNS TO DRIVER'S SEAT AFTER TWO-YEAR RETIREMENT: Funny Car driver and owner Chuck Etchells completed the 1998 season with a win at the season-ending Winston Finals. Etchells then hired Whit Bazemore to pilot his Kendall Oil Chevrolet Camaro so he could concentrate on the business aspect of his race team and thus solidify his future.

At the completion of 2000, Bazemore left the Etchells camp to driver the new Funny Car fielded by Schumacher Racing. Etchells was hoping to have Tommy Johnson Jr. as his driver, but Johnson signed a three-year contract to drive the second car for Don Prudhomme.

"We had a one-year handshake agreement with Tommy Johnson Jr., which we fully expected to honor," said Etchells. "Although I am disappointed by this turn of events, I wish him well. Except, of course, when he faces the Kendall Camaro."

In addition to competing full-time on the 24-race circuit, Etchells hired Funny Car veteran Jim Epler to drive a second car for Etchells Racing. Epler finished a career-best fifth in the Winston standings last year.

"We've been looking to add a second car for a long time," said Etchells. "But we were only going to do it if everything was right. When the opportunity arose to combine a driver of Jim Epler's caliber with the support of companies like Racing Champions and Matco Tools, I jumped at it. One point I would like to stress is that we are adding a second car, not a second team. Our plan is for everyone to work together, with the goal of having to Etchells Racing Funny Cars battling for the Winston championship."

* KRISHER ADDS SECOND CAR AFTER IMPRESSIVE 2000 CAMPAIGN: Ron Krisher blasted onto the Pro Stock scene in 2000 with two victories in four final rounds, finishing the season fourth in the Winston standings. In 2001, Krisher hopes to build on his momentum and has added a second Chevy Cavalier to his stable, which will be driven by his crew chief, Mike Edwards.

"Mike is going to have a car but will remain my crew chief," said Krisher. "We had a good year together and we want to continue what we've built within the program. We're going to be a two-car team. He's going to be bringing my bus with a trailer behind it with his car, and I'll carry the rest of the stuff in mine. So we're not going to all be in one pit, but both cars are together and Mike is still my crew chief.

"It will definitely help us. It'll give us two looks at the racetrack versus one. We'll get a lot more information from running both cars, and running the new models, we'll need a lot of information...I never go into a season looking for a championship, but I do walk in with the optimism that we can do it. There's a big difference."

* RUSSELL WINS IN TOP FUEL DEBUT: When five-time NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion Joe Amato retired at the conclusion of the 2000 season, Federal-Mogul dragster driver Darrell Russell didn't realize the impact Amato's retirement would have on his life.

On a recommendation from Team Winston dragster driver Gary Scelzi, Amato hired Russell to drive his 6,000 horsepower dragster. Amato recalls that Scelzi explained that Russell was the kind of driver that could go out and win his first race, he was that good. Russell didn't disappoint, he went out and drove the Amato Racing dragster to the winner's circle at the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals. The victory made Russell the third professional driver to win his NHRA debut, joining Scelzi (1997, Top Fuel) and K.C. Spurlock (1990, Funny Car).

"This is an incredible accomplishment," said Russell after the win. "For this to happen to me, I'm just beside myself. It truly is a dream come true. You always want to win when you come to a race. It's there in the back of your mind, but with a new driver and a new crew chief, I knew we were going to have to take baby steps. The changes (crew chief) Jimmy Walsh made to the car made us better every lap. He did an outstanding job."

"This is almost as much fun as driving," said Amato. "Anytime you can debut a new driver and new crew chief and get the points lead that's pretty good stuff. This is a great start for this team. It's way beyond my expectations."

* DEL WORSHAM RECOGNIZES FUNNY CAR COMPETITION: Beginning in 2001, there were six Funny Car teams running two cars, making the category as competitive as ever.

The reasoning behind the formation of two-car teams is simple: stop John Force. The 10-time NHRA Winston champion has won the last eight series titles in a row.

Del Worsham has been teamed with Frank Pedregon since the beginning of 2000 in identical Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebirds. He realizes the competition that exists in the Funny Car category.

"It's going to be a huge war all year," said Worsham. "The biggest battle is going to be qualifying. After that, if you're good enough to get in the field you'll be good enough to win. We plan on being top half qualifiers all year, the rest of the class ought to get used to that. And I expect to win races. Both (he and Pedregon) of these cars are good enough to win races and compete with anyone. I really don't think this is solely John Force's class anymore., there are just too many good cars. He's still got to be the favorite to win the championship, but he's going to have his hands full."

* OILDOWN PENALTY RULE MODIFIED FOR 2001: The NHRA Competition Dept. has issued revisions to the NHRA Oildown Policy for the 2001 season. The new penalty structure for those Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who oil the racing surface during NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series competition this season includes the following:

- All teams are allowed three oildowns during the season without fine or points penalty.

- Oildown violations 4-6 will carry the same penalty as the 2000 season ($500 per occurrence during qualifying and $1,000/10 points during eliminations).

- Teams with 7 or more violations during the season will incur an increase in fines per occurrence ($1,000 per occurrence during qualifying and $2,000/10 points during eliminations).

-NHRA-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Jim Epler , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Ron Krisher , Chuck Etchells , Don Prudhomme , Mike Edwards , Tommy Johnson Jr.