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Chevy Funny Car Drivers Lead NHRA Points

16 March 1998

GAINESVILLE, FLA: Ron Capps and Chuck Etchells continue to dominate the Funny Car point standings following the third event of the 1998 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway -- an event that saw six national records being set by four drivers in three pro categories.

Capps, driver of the Copenhagen Camaro Z28 Funny Car owned by Don Prudhomme, advanced to the second round of eliminations after defeating Gary Densham (4.979/305.81). He then faced eventual event winner Cruz Pedregon in the quarter-finals. Capps, No. 8 qualifier, shot off the line with a .463 reaction time to Pedregon's .561. Capps' Camaro Z28 looked like a winner, but at 900 feet the engine quit and Pedregon crossed the finish line ahead with an e.t. of 4.886/315.01 mph. Despite the engine stall, Capps, winner of the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., made it to the end of the quarter-mile in 5.064 seconds at a speed of 257.14 mph.

"We knew we were going to have a tough run," said Capps, of Carlsbad, Calif. "National records are being set and everyone's been fast all weekend. It left great, we were on a great run. I never saw Cruz. Then it quit."

Etchells, driving the Kendall/Ma Ma Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro Z28, advanced to the semi-finals after defeating Frank Pedregon (4.945/311.85) and Randy Anderson (4.892/303.64). The No. 4 qualifier, of Putnam, Conn., ran consistent 4-second laps in this event until he met Cruz Pedregon in the semi-finals. Etchells smoked the tires as Pedregon cruised to the win with an e.t. of 4.885/304.98 mph. Etchells coasted across the finish line in 12.595 seconds, at a speed of 78.96 mph.

"We went out and made the run of our life when we went 4.89 in the second round," said Etchells, winner of the season's second event, the ATSCO Nationals in Phoenix. "And we lost lane choice to Cruz who ran 4.88. We ended up a little too aggressive and the right lane didn't hold it. You can't get upset with someone who sets a world record to beat us." Pedregon, with low e.t. of 4.873, was one of the four drivers who went home with national records this weekend. Capps continues to lead the Winston Championship points with 262, as second-place Etchells edges closer, with 246 points.

In Pro Stock, Kurt Johnson, in the ACDelco Camaro Z28, made his first 200-mph run this weekend, becoming only the third Pro Stock driver in NHRA history to do so. He joins his father Warren Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the 200-mph club with his 200.13-mph run in first round of eliminations. "That was the same number that dad ran when he ran his first 200 mph in Virginia last year," said Kurt. "That was the highlight of my day, I guess you'd say."

Johnson was No. 1 through three qualifying rounds, then dropped to second in the final round after Jeg Coughlin claimed the pole. Kurt made it into the semi-finals, where he lost on a holeshot advantage to Jim Yates (6.943/199.91 for Johnson, 6.946/198.19 for Yates). Warren Johnson went on to defeat Yates in the final.

Kurt continues to maintain his status as the quickest and fastest Pro Stock Camaro driver in NHRA history, with his 6.900-second qualifying pass. Kurt moves into fifth in championship points, trailing leader Warren Johnson by 161 points (325-164). Team Chevrolet driver Larry Dixon, in Don Prudhomme's Miller Lite Top Fuel Dragster, charged his way into the finals with two 4.5-second passes (4.598 in the first round against Mike Smith, and a 4.571-second pass in the second round against Jim Head), and a 4.894 against Bruce Sarver in the semi-finals. A serious engine explosion in the second round brought together both of Prudhomme's teams to help put the race car back together. In the final against Kenny Bernstein, No. 7 qualifier Dixon experienced another engine explosion, losing to Bernstein with a 4.734/288.73 pass to Bernstein's 4.604/318.47. Dixon, winner in Pomona, is second in points, trailing Jim Head, 244-239.

Team Chevrolet Fast Facts Following the Gatornationals:

* Chuck Etchells leads in Big Bud Shootout points in Funny Car (1365 to Al Hofmann's 1315). Ron Capps is fifth (1240).

* Kurt Johnson is second in NHRA Pro Stock Challenge points (2540 to leader Jim Yates' 2750). Larry Morgan, driver of the Raybestos Pro Stock Camaro Z28, is eighth (1510).

* Larry Dixon is seventh in Big Bud Shootout points in Top Fuel (385 to leader Cory McClenathan's 475).

* Dixon's crew chief Dale Armstrong was named Sears Crafatsman Craeaw Chie of the Race.

* Larry Morgan failed to qualify at the Gatornationals, and Cristen Powell, No. 16 qualifier in the Team Reebok Top Fuel Dragster, was eliminated in first round by Gary Scelzi.

Next up on NHRA's 22-event schedule is the Southwest Nationals at Houston (Texas) Raceway Park this weekend, March 19-22.