(Photo: Jamie Squire /Allsport)

Veteran NHRA Funny Car driver Chuck Etchells passes away at 61

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The drag racing world is mourning former NHRA Funny Car driver Chuck Etchells, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 61.

Details of Etchells’ death and funeral arrangements have not been revealed.

A longtime resident of Putnam, Connecticut, Etchells scored 15 wins in his NHRA Funny Car career: 13 as a driver and two additional wins as a team owner, according to a report by NHRA.com.

Although he never won a NHRA Funny Car championship in his career, Etchells was a prolific and successful drag racer, including being the first driver in Funny Car history to break the four-second barrier in 1993 when he ran 4.987 second elapsed time at Topeka, Kansas.

That year proved to be the most successful of Etchells’ career, as he finished second-place in the season championship to John Force.

Etchells retired from driving after 1998 and hired Whit Bazemore to replace him behind the wheel. Bazemore left the team after 2000 and Etchells came out of retirement in 2001, running about two-thirds of the season before retiring for a second and final time.

According to the NHRA story, Etchells’ survivors include wife Shelley and daughter Erica.

From a personal standpoint, I covered Etchells during much of his NHRA tenure. He was one of the most accommodating drivers there was, and had a great sense of humor.

Rest in peace, Chuck.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.