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Thu, 14 Sep 2000, 10:10 AM

Chuck Etchells Tabs Tommy Johnson Jr. to Drive Kendall/Matco Camaro
Courtesy of Jon Knapp

In a move reminiscent of his days behind the wheel, team owner Chuck Etchells wasted little time in finding a new driver for his Funny Car. Less than twenty-four hours after confirming that Whit Bazemore would not be returning to the Etchells Racing team in 2001, Chuck Etchells today announced that he had hired rising star Tommy Johnson Jr. to take over the controls of the Kendall Motor Oil/Matco Tools Camaro Z28.

"As of this morning at 8:15 a.m., Tommy Johnson Jr. and I came to an agreement in which Tommy will be the new driver of the Kendall/Matco Camaro starting in 2001," stated Etchells. "Anytime you have a personnel situation come up, there is an opportunity to go forwards or backwards, and it puts a big question mark on the entire organization. With this announcement, I think you can erase any questions about the Etchells Racing team.

"In bringing Tommy Johnson Jr. on board, we have someone who is a winner, is very popular with the fans and the media, and will certainly do a great job for the sponsors. It has everyone involved very excited, including myself and (crew chief) Terry Manzer, as well as our sponsors, who are very happy to have someone of Tommy's ability and reputation on the team."

Following a seven-year Top Fuel career that saw him claim national event wins in Memphis and Seattle. Tommy Johnson Jr. moved into the Funny Car ranks midway through 1999 season. Despite his late start, Johnson quickly established himself as one of the top drivers in the division, scoring wins in Reading and Memphis en route to his first Top 10 finish in the Winston Funny Car points standings. After participating on a limited basis during the last two years, he looks forward to the challenge of a full season in the Etchells entry.

"It is going to be a pleasure to be a part of the Etchells Racing team. Throughout the year, I had been approached by several other organizations, but Chuck Etchells was the first to step up and make me a solid offer. I'm excited about starting the year with a team of this caliber, and I'm really looking forward to competing on a full-time basis in the Kendall/Matco Camaro instead of joining teams in the middle of the season as I've done the last two years.

"A big factor in my decision was that Terry Manzer would be staying on board as crew chief. I think we'll be able to work together to assemble a really competitive team and make a serious run at the championship next season."

Etchells also intimated that this would not be the last announcement to come from the team.

"We do have some other personnel issues that are currently being addressed, and have some additional announcements forthcoming. I believe the end result will be that the Kendall/Matco team is going to come out stronger than ever in 2001. Throughout the years, it has been my primary focus as a team owner to continually build our program, and I find it very rewarding to see some of the most talented people within our industry coming over to join this team. It's going to be a very exciting winter for everyone on the team as we get ready to pursue the championship."

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