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NHRA: Etchells Has Winning in Georgia on His Mind

12 April 1998

Putnam, Conn. - After a short break, the competitors in the NHRA's professional divisions renew their pursuit of invaluable Winston championship points with the running of next weekend's Fram Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. A quick look at the standings in the Funny Car ranks reveals an absolute dogfight, with the top five combatants separated by only twenty-five points, which translates into slightly more than one round of eliminations. Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro pilot Chuck Etchells, currently placed second and only two points out the top spot, knows that it is too early in the season to be overly concerned about the points totals, but realizes every opportunity must be fully taken advantage of. In addition, this weekend's event offers the Etchells team extra motivation for doing well.

"One of the neat things about the Fram Nationals is that it is the "home" track for two of our sponsors, Mighty Auto Parts and Auto Ventshade," explained Etchells. "This gives our team something extra to focus on. We know that if we hit a home run in their backyard and win the event, it would a source of pride for the entire company and its employees. Short of winning the championship, it's probably the best way to reward them for their support."

As always, the road to the winner's circle will be full of obstacles. Naturally, Etchells' fellow Funny Car competitors will be focusing their attention on not only stopping him, but achieving victory themselves. If this were not enough, the Atlanta Dragway facility provides a challenge all its own. The performance characteristics changed when the track was repaved several years ago, forcing teams to develop a completely new set of notes on how to adjust their race cars to the conditions. The new surface proved to be very coarse, not the fine grain found at other facilities. This meant a decrease in surface area for the massive Goodyear slicks to attach to, allowing less power to be transmitted to the track. Two other variables to be considered are time and temperature. Like a fine wine, the surface should have improved with age, with on-track competition smoothing the grain. Additionally, should the temperatures rise, the track will become slick, and less receptive to high-speed, high-power passes. It adds up to the fine line between speed and lost traction being even narrower, putting an extra burden on the team's braintrust as they prepare their car for competition.

"This race always proves exciting for the fans, and I see two possible scenarios," stated Etchells. "First, it could be a crew chiefs' race, where they fight to hit the right buttons to get the car down the track. But, if they're slightly off, you could see a lot of tire smoking, which means it will be a driver's race and a test of backpedaling skills. Either way, I think our Kendall Oil/MaMa Rosa's Pizza/Superwinch Camaro is pretty well armed to come out on top!"

ETCHELLS EXCERPTS: Etchells currently stands second in the Winston points standings, and is only two behind current leader Cruz Pedregon.....Chuck is looking improve upon his semifinal finish at this event in 1993.

Fast Facts

WHAT: 18th Annual Fram Nationals, the fifth of 22 events on the 1998 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series schedule.

WHEN: April 16-19, 1998

WHERE: Atlanta Dragway, Commerce, GA

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions start on Friday, April 17 at 2:00 p.m., with another session at 6:00 p.m., and conclude on Saturday, April 18 with two rounds at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 19.

TV: ESPN2 will provide two hours of same-day coverage of qualifying on April 18 starting at 10 p.m. (EST), and two hours of final eliminations highlights starting at 8 p.m. on Sunday, April 19. Please check local listings.