Phoenix: Etchells, Epler final qualifying

Following the conclusion of qualifying for the Checkers Schuck's Kragen Nationals, the Etchells Racing Team found themselves in an unusual situation. On one hand the team was pleased to have both cars in the show, with Etchells' 4.854 second,...

Following the conclusion of qualifying for the Checkers Schuck's Kragen Nationals, the Etchells Racing Team found themselves in an unusual situation. On one hand the team was pleased to have both cars in the show, with Etchells' 4.854 second, 305.08 mph effort earning the Kendall Oil/Matco Tools Camaro the 7th position, while Jim Epler's 4.895-second, 300.33 mph pass placing the Chevrolet/Racing Champions/Matco Tools Camaro 10th. Although this set the stage for a first round match-up of the Etchells teammates, both drivers were quite philosophical about having to face each other so early in final eliminations.

Having secured their spot during the Friday afternoon time trial, the team worked on finding a consistent tune-up on Saturday. After battling to find traction in the morning session, both Epler and Etchells had unusual problems on their final attempt, with Chuck Etchells have to deal with a situation not of his doing.

"There was a major tree malfunction on our last run," detailed Etchells. "Frank Pedregon and I pre-staged almost together. He hadn't staged yet, I put mine on the high stage and started to slowly creep in. I saw his second bulb come on (indicating he had staged), and I could swear a flash of my second bulb, but it disappeared immediately. I heard him take off, so I looked over and saw a green light on his side, but nothing on mine. I continued to roll forward, and didn't see a red light, so I figured I had to be staged, and I left. Unfortunately, I was still creeping which upset the car, because you have to be stopped. Afterwards, I found out some wires had come unplugged (on the starting line system). We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I did speak with the NHRA about getting another run allotted to us. However, Graham Light (Senior Vice-President of Racing Operations) explained that in the hour-and-a-half it would take us to service the car, the conditions would change dramatically, and if I went out and ran the low elapsed time, there would be fourteen other competitors who would be very upset, which he couldn't say was fair, although he also couldn't justify what happened to us. He also pointed out that we smoked the tires, as a couple of good cars before and after us had done, so he said the run would stand as is. I understand that totally, and probably would not have even made the argument if we weren't running Jim in the first round.

"The up side of this situation is either the Kendall/Matco Camaro or the Racing Champions/Matco Camaro is going to the second round tomorrow. With our teams still not quite up to speed on servicing these two cars, it could make for a better day for our overall program. At this point in time, that's what's important. We're going to go out there and work hard and hope that one car get to the final round.

"But we will be racing tomorrow. There's not going to be anyone jamming on the brakes or shutting off or playing any games. The fans will see a real race."

Fully aware of the possibility of facing Etchells in the first round, Jim Epler entered the final session determined to improve his position. However, his efforts were thwarted when he, too, suffered an atypical problem. Even so, Epler preferred to focus on the positive aspects of the weekend's event.

"The worst part of this situation is that Chuck did not get a real opportunity to advance due to a timing light malfunction. The good news, however, is that one of the Etchells Racing Camaros will be going to the second round tomorrow, which is important for our sponsors. What's also important is that, despite what happened today, we're comfortable with our tune-ups. In that last round, for example, my car would have run a mid .80 if the fuel shut-offs had not vibrated shut, and Chuck's was on a similar pass except for being thrown off by the timing malfunction.

"What we really have to look at is the second round, when it looks like we could be facing Force. Therefore, one of our cars is going to try and really step up. That's the advantage of two cars - if it works, we'll be in better shape for the second round. If we were racing somebody else, we'd have to concentrate on just beating them. Force ran 4.82 in qualifying, and we believe we'll have to get pretty close to that to beat him. Fortunately, at least one of us will get the opportunity to do so."

-ERT-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Jim Epler , Chuck Etchells