ETCHELLS' MIDNIGHT RUN TAKES HIM TO THE SEMI-FINALS IN TOPEKA Topeka, Kansas, October 18, 1998 - More than anything else, this year's running of the Parts America Nationals will be remembered for its weather. The torrential rain and...
ETCHELLS' MIDNIGHT RUN TAKES HIM TO THE SEMI-FINALS IN TOPEKA
Topeka, Kansas, October 18, 1998 - More than anything else, this year's running of the Parts America Nationals will be remembered for its weather. The torrential rain and bone-chilling cold that had forced the postponement of final eliminations until this past weekend seemed to return with the racers as they pulled into Heartland Park Topeka. Although Friday's test and tune session was not affected, the world's fastest quarter-milers were again forced to sit and watch the skies on Saturday as thunder, lightning and heavy downpours prevented any on-track action. Finally, after a delay of nearly seven hours and a commendable job by the NHRA's Safety Safari, competition resumed, with the event being completed in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Right from the start, Chuck Etchells gave notice that his Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 would be a factor. In the first round, Etchells backed up his qualifying effort with an impressive 4.970-second elapsed time, which proved to be the second quickest pass of eliminations, and defeated number 15 qualifier Jack Wyatt. In the second round Jim Epler handed Etchells the victory with a red-light start. Even with the win in hand, Etchells tried to match his previous run for he realized that lane choice would be critical in the semi-finals. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so when his "fuel coupe" lost traction almost immediately after launching.
This set the stage for his encounter with Ron Capps, with the winner advancing to the final round. But as the hour approached midnight, a couple of strange circumstances set in. First, during their warm-up, Capps' team experienced a problem and found themselves scrambling to make it to the starting line on time. Then, inexplicably, the NHRA decided to reverse the running order of the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions for the semi-finals, with Top Fuel running first. (Just as unusual was that they were subsequently returned to normal sequence for the final round.) Finally, the cars lined up at 11:45 p.m.. In an extremely close drag race, Etchells' mount was clearly the quicker of the two, posting a 5.013-second elapsed time with a top speed of 306.95 miles-per-hour. This made Etchells the only Funny Car participant to run well in the right lane and post two passes over the 300 m.p.h. mark in eliminations. However, it was not enough, as Capps' starting line advantage allowed him to overcome a slower run and edge Etchells by a scant one thousandth of a second.
"I can't wait to see that one on a replay," stated Etchells. "From 100 feet out to about half track, I was able to see him (Capps) out of the corner of my eye. After that, I didn't see him at all. When I went through the lights I figured I'd won, when I suddenly saw his win light go on, and I was shocked. I've never been in a race decided by one thousandth of a second. It must have been pretty exciting to watch."
Etchells' performance allowed him to gain some ground on points leader John Force, who was eliminated in the second round. But even though Etchells realizes it will take a supreme effort to overtake his rival, he remains determined, and, confident in the ability of his race team, focused on the task ahead.
"Our Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28 is running really strong right now," said Etchells. "It's driving right where I want it, and the whole team's confidence is on the rise. We may only have three races, but we're still in it, and we are going to keep giving it our best until the final round in Pomona. We made to the semis here, so we'll take that and build on it in Dallas next week. We need to win now, and we're going to."
The final round saw Capps edge a resurgent Al Hofmann to claim the title. The NHRA heads straight to Dallas and the Texas Motorplex for next weekend's Revell Nationals on October 22-25.
Funny Car Points Standings: 1. J. Force - 1395, 2. R. Capps - 1348, 3. Chuck Etchells - 1227, 4. Cruz Pedregon - 1212, 5. T. Pedregon - 1113, 6. W. Bazemore - 1076, 7. T. Wilkerson - 1022, 8. D. Skuza - 983, 9. A. Hofmann - 925, 10. D. Worsham - 812.
Big Bud Shootout Points (as of 10/11/98): 1. J. Force - 340, 2. C. Pedregon - 310, 3. W. Bazemore - 305, 4. R. Capps - 295, 5. D. Skuza - 290, 6. T. Wilkerson - 265, 7. Chuck Etchells - 255, 8. T. Pedregon - 250, 9. A. Hofmann - 250, 10. D. Worsham - 240.