Heading into Saturday's final eliminations of the Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals, Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler knew the key to success laid in mastering the tricky Pomona Raceway surface, which had seen both tire-smoking and...
Heading into Saturday's final eliminations of the Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals, Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler knew the key to success laid in mastering the tricky Pomona Raceway surface, which had seen both tire-smoking and record-setting performances during the first two days of the event. Although parts of the track had been repaved, the starting line "launch pad", a notoriously difficult area in which to gain traction and the first crucial first step in any successful run, remained untouched, challenging competitors in all the professional classes.
Although Etchells had struggled with an early loss of traction during the two evening qualifying sessions, it was the Sunoco/Matco Tools Camaro's strong performance in the heat of the afternoon time trials that bolstered his confidence going into his first round match-up with Scotty Cannon. His assignment was made tougher, however, by having to cede lane choice to his rival for the encounter after qualifying 15th. Although the two left the line at virtually the same moment, Etchells' race car lost traction almost immediately, and despite the veteran pilot's attempts to regain control, it would not be enough to chase down his opponent.
"Smoking the tires at the hit is the most frustrating way to lose a drag race. I tried to get it to recover, but it wouldn't. The fact that Cannon only ran a 5.14 just makes it worse. We had two good runs under similar conditions in qualifying, and either one of those would have been more than enough to get us out of the first round. We know there is a problem with our race car, because it is just not responding to the adjustments we make to it. We are going to spend the next few days going over this chassis from nose to tail, checking everything to see where the problem lies. Whatever it is, we'll fix it and have the Sunoco/Matco Camaro ready for Denver."
Epler, meanwhile, was coming off one of his most consistent qualifying efforts of the season, making three solid passes to gain the 10th position on Saturday's eliminations ladder. Facing No. 7 qualifier Bruce Sarver also without the benefit of lane choice, Epler gained the advantage by nearly three hundredths of a second at the start. Unfortunately, Epler suffered the same fate as his team owner, with his run coming to a premature end in a cloud of tire smoke.
"What is frustrating about today's results is that the Rug Doctor/Matco Camaro had never smoked the tires throughout qualifying, especially off the starting line, where it was always very safe. We've analyzed the data and really don't know why it did that (smoking the tires). We have to work on finding a set-up, because there were other cars that made it down that lane without a problem.
"This was Roland's first race, and he's ready to change the way we've been doing things. We need to find consistency, and Roland is famous for having a car that goes down the racetrack every time. If we had that kind of car today, we would have had at least a shot at winning. We'll be debuting a new, lighter body at a track where Terry and this team won a year ago, so we're looking to get things turned around in Denver."