Entering Saturday's final day of qualifying, Chuck Etchells knew he would have to improve on the 5.004-second elapsed time he recorded on Friday in order to make the field for Sunday's final eliminations of the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.
Entering Saturday's final day of qualifying, Chuck Etchells knew he would have to improve on the 5.004-second elapsed time he recorded on Friday in order to make the field for Sunday's final eliminations of the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. However, even though Etchells posted a 4.968-second elapsed time in the first time trial, he remained in the very vulnerable 16th position. Faced with the possibility of not qualifying, Etchells responded with his best run of the weekend, a solid 4.919-second, 308.28 mph effort on his fourth and final attempt.
Ironically, as the Winston Drag Racing Series' Funny Car division was in the process of setting a new standard for the quickest field in history, despite the improvement Etchells still found himself in the final qualifying position, and in danger of being bumped out. It was not until several cars later that the Sunoco/Matco Camaro pilot was assured of competing on Sunday.
"It's tough to go up when you are on the bump and know there are at least four cars fully capable of knocking you out. I fully expected to be out of the show by the time we ran, but we weren't. The car left well and was running strong, blasting through the clutch before half-track. When the clutch went one-to one, it tired to make a serious move, which I attribute to this 2001 Camaro body. It tried to drive out of the groove and I wasn't going to let that happen.
"The computer shows I made five hard corrections trying to keep it in the groove. The bottom line is that I overcorrected and when you do that, you don't get out of it, so it was pretty violent the rest of the run. To be honest, without the new body, it would have certainly smoked the tires, running that way and that hard.
"I knew it was on a low '.90 run, but when I got to the top end, they told me I was on the bump. I had to wait for two very good cars to run, and when they didn't make it, we sat there and smiled.
"The Funny Car category right now is unbelievable. All you have to do is look at the cars that didn't qualify here today - Frank Pedregon, (Al) Hoffman, and the WWF car. Those are quality programs that have been running all year. The fact that we were able to come out after the trials and tribulations we've endured and qualify for this race is a testament to Terry Manzer, Larry Meyer, Chris Forton and the rest of the Sunoco/Matco Camaro crew. To be in this position after all we've gone through is something to be proud of.
"I'm really happy for Sunoco, Matco, Mighty, Chevrolet and all our sponsors. Sunoco, who came in and saved our team, and the other who hung with us during this trying period. We're glad to be able to show them we have some ability and potential.
"I know our car has more in it, and I believe we're perfectly capable of going out tomorrow and running an '.86 or '.87. Force, quite frankly, has made one killer run this weekend, and in this last session, he ran slower than we did. If we go out and run to our potential, he will have to make a great run to beat us. That is what we have to do."
After posting a quick time on his first attempt, Jim Epler used his remaining qualifying runs to try new combinations as part of the team's on-going search for speed. This left his opening 4.892-second, 309.70 mph pass as his quickest, and slotted the Toys R Us/Matco Tools Camaro 13th for Sunday's final eliminations.
"Our plan for today, quite honestly, was to do a little testing, since we felt fairly secure of being in the show. In order to really be competitive, we know we need to run a tenth better as we can, so we took advantage of our situation today. We were fortunate to have made that good run early which allowed us to do that. I think we learned a lot that will help us once we put the 2001 Camaro body on next week.
"The big thing was to get Chuck in, and I'm really glad we were able to do that, because with these fields as tight as they are, if you qualify, you have a realistic shot of winning the race. Tomorrow should be a real driver's race. I think we'll go back and put a tune-up in the Toys R Us/Matco Camaro that will go down the track, and hopefully run an '.85 or '.86. If we do our job, we should be okay."