The NHRA Winston drag racing schedule had 18 events for the 1993 season. The year prior saw Don Garlits retire, rookie Cruz Pedregon win the Funny Car title (first for a rookie) and Kenny Bernstein break the 300 mph record barrier. '93 would produce more records.
NHRA was officially recognized by the FIA World Motorsports Council with the FIA Drag Racing Commission being formed in 1993. Doug Herbert would start the '93 season running the second 300 mph run at the WinterNationals. John Andretti, an IndyCar driver, piloted a Top Fueler owned by a baseball player (Jack Clark). Then in a twist, Bernstein had three cars qualify for the Indy 500. But what maybe was the biggest event and weekend in Funny Car history happened late in the season at Heartland Park, Topeka, Kansas.
The Sears Craftsman Nationals in Topeka was held in early October and the Funny Car championship had already been clinched by John Force. So the better teams were left with little to run for except meet wins and records. The race for the E.T. record and who would become the first 4 second Funny Car was expected to happen at any time. But the 300 mph record looked like it was still a ways away - but not on this weekend. Due in part to great track and weather conditions, both record barriers would be broken.
Chuck Etchells and his new crew chief Tim Richards had decided to go for the record. The car had gone 5.04 a few months prior so they knew it was capable. Note: In March of '93, Etchells' crew chief, Maynard Yingst, suffered a brain aneurysm in the pits and died at the age of 43. He was replaced by Richards.
Along with Etchells, John Force also had a car proficient enough to grab the 4 second record first - he had run a 5.01 that past spring. After a 296 mph and 5.13 in first round qualifying for Etchells, the second session saw Force come out first but have problems with his run. Etchells' Kendall GT-1 sponsored Dodge then ran an amazing half-track speed of 246 mph, finally clipping the finish line at 294 mph and an E.T. record for the ages, 4.987 elapsed time. But there was another Funny Car that would break an even more historic barrier that weekend.
Jim Epler and his Rug Doctor Oldsmobile were a competitive team with Mike Kloeber as crew chief. '92 had been a part-time venture for Epler because of finances but the Rug Doctor sponsorship allowed a full-time effort in '93. The team had track speed records earlier in the year at Denver and Indianapolis.
At Topeka, the four-second barrier is what everyone was paying attention to because the best speed to that point was 295 mph (held by Freddie Neely). But in qualifying on Friday, Epler caught a lot of notice when he put a surprising 299 mph on the board. Then in the first round of eliminations on Sunday, he ran a pedestrian 5.16 E.T. but at an astonishing 300.40 mph to break the 300 barrier.
But in the second round, Epler would blow his Funny Car up in a loss to Al Hofmann. Etchells would go on to win the event with a final round win over John Force. Etchells just missed the 300 mark with a 299.50 mph in that final round victory.
It was truly an historic weekend in Topeka, with two of the biggest marks in Funny Car going down. Said Epler of his feat, even with a blown up race car: "No one likes to blow one of these cars up, especially a guy like me with a limited budget. Running that 300-mph pass is something that will last a lifetime. If the price [for that] was this car, so be it."
Sources - NHRA, National Dragster, NHRA Drag Racing '93
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus blogged about every type of racing for several years.