A great driver and an even better friend are how members of the drag racing community remember former NHRA Funny Car driver Chuck Etchells.
Etchells died on July 6, 2016.
Over the years, John Force and Whit Bazemore have been rivals, who were all too often on the opposite end of the spectrum in drag racing issue. Days after losing a mutual friend, they were clearly on the same page.
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"This is a sad moment for me," said Force, who enjoyed a unique relationship with Etchells. "I was close to him and his family. I lost a good friend when I lost him.
"He was a good driver who wouldn’t run from a fight; he’d stand up tall to anyone."
Bazemore agreed when he said Etchells was the kind of friend you always wanted to have around.
"He was first and foremost a good friend," added Bazemore. "As a friend, he was very cool, easy going and always told it like it was. He was a fun-loving guy, who could be a party animal. He never seemed to stress about much."
Force said in a sort; the two were cut from the same cloth.
"I can still look back to the day when we were two independent drivers trying to make it, he was Future Force, and I was Brute Force," Force recalled. "We were chasing that dream. He was a great businessman, and a great driver; fought me for the title many years."
When Etchells died, there are those who believe one of Funny Car’s greatest drivers passed as well.
Bazemore drove for Etchells during the 1999 and 2000 seasons and, before taking over the wheel, understood clearly the magnitude of driver he was replacing.
"I think he was very underrated as a driver," Bazemore said. "I absolutely believe no one could pedal a car better than him in the 1990s."
While Bazemore praises Force for his ability to get a car down the track under power, regardless of the conditions, he believes Etchells took the art of pedaling a car to a new level. Pedaling a car in drag racing lingo is the process of feathering a throttle during times of traction loss.
Bazemore said he believed he was a hotshot driver back in the mid-1990s until Etchells put him in his place, but not in a negative way.
"I thought I was a badass driver back in the 1990s," Bazemore admitted. "When you look at the graph, from the point you got off of the throttle and back on it, I was about two-tenths of a second. I thought that was as good as it could get. My guys thought I was good. I thought I was good, and we had egos as big as the Empire State building."
"One day I was bragging to Etchells, and he looked at me with that mischievous grin.
"Two-tenths? You suck," Etchells conveyed.
Etchells revealed he was .15.
"Here he was, overweight, and drank like a fish and smoked about what seemed like 20 packs of cigarettes a day," Bazemore said. "Here I am in very good physical shape, and I think, no way he could do this on a tenth-and-a-half. We looked at his computer graph, and sure enough, he was right."
"That was a wake-up call, and it pushed me to get better."
This kind of talent and Etchell’s personal demeanor is what led Kendall Motor Oil to sponsor Etchells.
Bill Corwin, Motorsports Director for Kendall when they sponsored Etchells, said he was as fierce of a competitor as there was in drag racing.
"He was a good guy," Corwin said. "He was as tough of a competitor as you would find. He was a guy who smiled all the time because he was happy, and he generated respect because of the person he was.
"There’s no doubt the man could drive. I watched him drive the car on fire, and in situations where people would lift. He knew where the edge of the envelope was and lived there most of the time. He had the mindset that no matter what the car was doing lifting wasn’t an option."
And even if Etchells had to lift, as Bazemore and Force will agree, it was no big deal for him. He’d just come back and try to do better next time.
Etchells was as cool as the other side of the pillow.
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus