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Topeka '93: How Chuck Etchells picked John Force's pocket for a $25,000 payday

With a $25,000 reward on the line from Castrol GTX for the first four-second Funny Car run, supremely confident Castrol-backed John Force announced that he'd contribute half of the money, thinking he'd be first. He was wrong. Watch how this all plays out.
24 Apr 2020
Posted by NHRA.com staff
Nitro Time Machine


Etchells races to Funny Car's first four

Reprinted from the Oct. 15, 1993 issue of National DRAGSTER

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Chuck Etchells' Kendall GT-1 Dodge Daytona was in the first pair of Funny Cars that opened qualifying for the fifth annual Sears Craftsman Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

Little did anyone know that Etchells' charge of 5.13 at 296.73 mph, then a best speed, appeared despite a cylinder dropping for two seconds. That less than perfect but still great run would be the appetizer for the most important Funny Car elapsed time of the last 18 years.

Etchells, in the sixth pair of Friday's second session, this time was driving a car hitting on all eight cylinders. At 4:49 p.m., Etchells reacted to the yellow light with a .549 and charged to the 60-foot mark with a .923. At 330 feet, Etchells stopped the timers with a 2.336, and at the eighth-mile registered a 3.370 at a best-of-all-time 246.17 mph. A 4.236 appeared at the 1,000-foot mark, and a heartbeat later, a barrier-busting 4.987 at 294.31 mph lit up the pit-lane scoreboard.

Etchells, crew chief Tim Richards, and crew were paraded in front of the fans, and the cheering lasted a good five minutes. Remarkably, Etchells was rather subdued when he explained how the run came about.

"At [the Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway], Tim and I decided that we were going to stand on this thing from now on," he said. "John Force already had won the Winston title, so we were going to try for that four. We had run a 5.06, 292.20 at Maple Grove and felt that coming into this race we could do it. I ran a 5.04 blowing a blower at 1,200 feet at [the Mopar Parts Nationals] in July, so we've had the power for some time. What we needed were the conditions.

"As soon as we arrived here, I got the feeling that we had a shot at it. As soon as we got out of the truck, we could tell that the air was good, and our first run told us that the track was smooth and in excellent shape. The other thing that built our confidence was that dropped cylinder on the 296 run. If it hit on all eight, it had to run better.

"Inside, I felt that if Force didn't step up dramatically, we could get it. We stepped the motor up a little from the 5.13 and went after it."

Force played a role in the four-second run, though not in the way that he had hoped. Just before the historic second session, Castrol GTX Motorsports Manager John Howell announced that his company would present $25,000 to the four-second barrier breaker.

Force, ever the player, got caught up in the excitement of the moment and announced to the crowd that he'd pay half of that $25,000.

Force's Olds was scheduled to run four pair ahead of Etchells in that session. Given that he had run a slippery and slaloming 5.08 to top Friday's first session, Force looked like he might collect on his own bet.

It didn't turn out that way. A left front-brake caliper broke during the burnout, and crew chief Austin Coil shut him off.

"The caliper was locking up the wheel," said Coil. "John could feel the shudder when he used the brakes after the burnout. When he released the brakes, the car wouldn't roll."

Force's disappointment was doubled 10 minutes later when Etchells rang up his 4.98.

"Well," he said, "I picked a great time to shoot my big mouth off. Etchells and his crew are good guys, and they did it fair and square. Our team has had a lot of things go our way this year, so I guess it was someone else's turn to have their moment."