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Wed, 17 Oct 2001, 02:40 PM

Etchells Racing to Suspend Operations Following Dallas Race
Courtesy of Jon Knapp

PUTNAM, Conn. -- Team owner Chuck Etchells today announced that the Etchells Racing team would suspend operations following this weekend's O'Reilly Fall Nationals in Dallas, Texas. Although the Etchells team had fielded two Camaro Z28 Funny Cars for most of the 2001 Winston Drag Racing season, their participation at this final event will be limited to a single entry, driven by Jim Epler and carrying the colors of leading automotive parts and repair provider NAPA Auto Parts. For a racer best known for his no-nonsense approach to the sport, it all came down to simple economics.

"We have certain sponsor revenue issues hounding us at the moment, which has affected our ability to run the team," stated Etchells. "Throughout the year, our suppliers have been very good to us, carrying us and allowing us to keep going. However, when the primary sponsorship package we had been working on for next year fell through, there was no reason to go further in debt.

"This weekend's race in Dallas completes our commitment to Racing Champions. In addition, I spoke with Sunoco after Reading to explain our situation, and they have graciously allowed us to forego competing in the last three events.

I want to thank them and all our sponsors for their cooperation and understanding.

"We also wanted to do the right thing for our crew. They have stood by us under some very difficult circumstances, and this will give them as much time as possible to look for other opportunities and continue their careers. Our next step will be to liquidate our hardware and pay our bills."

Today's announcement brings to a halt one of the longest-running and more successful organizations in the NHRA. In its twenty-two year existence, Etchells Racing has competed in 267 races with three drivers (Etchells, Epler and Whit Bazemore) scoring 15 national event wins in 35 final round appearances, as well as capturing 20 No. 1 qualifying positions. The crew chiefs who have tuned the Etchells "fuel coupe" during that time reads like a "Who's Who" of drag racing, including Paul Smith, Maynard Yingst, Tim Richards, Terry Manzer and Roland Leong, as well as top technical advisors Larry Meyer and Dave Hutchens. Its consistent performance is marked by an eight-year run of Top Five finishes in the Winston Funny Car Points standings from 1992-1999, a feat matched only by John Force. Although Etchells' 1990 IHRA World Championship is a high point, undoubtedly the team's biggest moment came on October 1, 1993, when Etchells made NHRA history by recording the first four-second run in a Funny Car with his 4.987-second pass in Topeka, Kansas. However, as Etchells is quick to point out, the final chapter has yet to be written on his racing legacy.

"We're going to continue to pursue sponsorship opportunities," explained Etchells. "Our ability to handle a top-level program for any potential marketing partner is backed by over twenty-two years experience in the racing business. I realize that the country's economic perspective has changed, especially in light of the tragedies of September 11. However, the sport of NHRA Drag Racing has shown tremendous growth during the 2001 season, and I believe that when you add in the tremendous ESPN television package, it is the best buy in all of motorsports. My desire to return to the sport I love and compete at a top level is as strong as ever.

"But there's more to racing than the business aspect, and it's the day-to-day personal relationships that I will miss the most. Over the years, I've been fortunate to work with some of the most talented individuals in racing, and I've formed some great friendships that will last a lifetime.

"There are so many people that I would like to thank, and although time and space prohibits me from doing so individually, there is one person I would like to acknowledge, Chris Forton. Chris has been with us for many years and has been the absolute cornerstone of our team.

"Most of all, however, I would like to thank the fans. After all, they are the reason we get to pursue our dreams. Win or lose, they stood by us, and we appreciate their support. It's been a great ride and hopefully, it's not over."

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