With the combination of favorable weather conditions and a fast racing surface, the first day of qualifying for the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals found the teams in the Funny Car division scrambling to post a quick time. At the qualifying ...
With the combination of favorable weather conditions and a fast racing surface, the first day of qualifying for the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals found the teams in the Funny Car division scrambling to post a quick time. At the qualifying midpoint, the top sixteen qualifiers had come close to once again eclipsing the mark for the quickest field in history.
For their part, Chuck Etchells & Jim Epler looked to start their weekend in solid fashion. Epler seemed to accomplish his goal, with runs of 4.892 and 4.921 seconds, which placed the Toys R Us/Matco Tools Camaro 12th heading into Saturday's final two sessions. Although pleased with this solid start, Epler was far from comfortable with his position, and was already looking for ways to improve.
"On tonight's run we improved our time to both the 60 and 330 foot marks, which is good, but after that it shook the tires worse than it ever had without smoking the tires. In a way, that's encouraging, because we're getting a handle on the clutch to the point that it's smoother now to where it can be a little more forgiving.
"But on both runs we seem to be having some handling problems, which pulled me to the right and forced me to shut off early. We'll need to solve that. However, I think this Toys R Us/Matco Camaro team has really turned the corner on the performance. We should have good conditions tomorrow, so there's no reason we can't expect to run a mid 4.80 in the first run and follow that up with a low 4.80 in the last session.
"We'll need to pick it up to solidify our spot on Sunday. As I said after my first pass, I believe 4.89 could end up being the bump, so we'll have to step it up tomorrow."
Team owner Etchells' day was far more stressful, despite recording a 5.004-second pass on his first attempt, good enough for 16th on Friday night. However, on his first attempt, a false start added extra time to his pass, while in the evening session, Etchells was forced to left early when his Sunoco/Matco Tools Camaro drifted perilously close to the centerline.
"Our problems on the first run were due to driver error. I was hung out for quite a while by Jerry (Toliver) during the staging procedure, and I got a little jumpy. Unfortunately, that run probably would have been somewhere in the low 4.90's, as the computer showed my two-stepping added about seven hundredths.
"Tonight's pass was just a shame we don't have more runs with this 2001 Camaro body. It was on a low to mid 4.80 run with the front end in the air. That was probably only the second good run we made with this body and it was just light in the front. I knew at about one hundred feet that it was drifting to the right, and I had the wheels cut all the way to the left. I was really worried going by the 330 mark, thinking I would hit one with the header. I stayed in it as long as I could, hoping it would either spin the tires when it got out of the groove and set the front end down, or just do it on its own. But at half track there was no avoiding it, so I decided to abort the run.
"This team need a break. We want to put on a good show for Sunoco, Matco, Mighty and General Motors. The upside is that we seem to have dealt with the mechanical issues we've been fighting. To make these cars run fast consistently, you need to wear a lot of clutch, and we haven't been able to do that the last three races. Now it's wearing just where it's supposed to be. Maybe the glass is not half full instead of half empty and we can start going forward tomorrow."