Racer Nathan Etzler carries on family tradition of two decades


The Etzler family of Mount Airy has been in drag racing for more than two decades. Alan was the first to race. He was joined by his son, Woody. Now his youngest son, Nathan, is carrying on the tradition.

"My dad and older brother were in it; that's how I got started," said Nathan. "My father stopped about five years ago and my brother retired last year, but I kept going."

Nathan Etzler has been around racing ever since his father started. He was at the local tracks every week with his father or brother helping out wherever he could.

When he wasn't at the drag races, he was racing go-karts at the kart track adjacent to 75-80 Dragway. Nathan raced karts for four years, winning the track championship. But he wanted to race cars like the rest of his family. As soon as he was 16, he left kart racing.

Nathan's first car was a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda. Etzler raced every week, and it wasn't long before he was going past the first round, into the second round and into the quarterfinals and semifinals.

In 1981, three years after he started racing, Etzler purchased a 1971 Barracuda, which he raced until five years ago, when he teamed with his brother Woody and began racing a 1980 Plymouth Arrow.

The Arrow was fast -- it ran the quarter-mile in 9.19 seconds or 147 mph -- but not fast enough for Etzler. Last year, he purchased a new dragster with Les Fellows.

"I guess it was my need for speed that I brought one," said Etzler. "I always liked how they looked. I knew if I was going to go faster I would have to get something new. So I got a dragster."

Etzler took the 446-cubic inch motor out of his Arrow and installed it in his new dragster, built by Fabrications Chassis of Gaithersburg. There was a big difference between the two cars, but he didn't have trouble adapting.

"It is just like a bullet," said Etzler. "There is a lot of difference in the car from the Arrow. This car, all you have to do is just point it. It has just one move and that is forward."

"The ride is unbelievable for going that fast. It just doesn't feel that fast," he added. "It is kinda different, too. With the motor behind you, the faster you go, the quieter it gets. It's really weird."

Etzler will be installing a new motor in the dragster in a few weeks. It will be a 500-cubic inch big-block Chrysler. He is looking to get the car into the 7.5-second range. The motor produces 875 horsepower, a lot of power for a 1,300-pound dragster.

Etzler is racing on the Super Comp circuit for cars that race the quarter-mile in 8.9 seconds at 152 mph.

"It is a tough circuit," said Etzler. "It's a lot more competition. Whoever figures out the weather is normally the winner."

Many times it comes down to who predicts the weather the best. Etzler, like all the drivers on the circuit, has a weather station that provides him with temperature, barometric pressure, what level the good air is and more. That information is fed into the computer that adjusts the carburetor on the car.

When Etzler is not super comp racing, he is bracket racing at 75-80. Since his brother retired from racing last year, his wife Lisa has become his crew chief and partner.

The 32-year-old works during the week as a mechanic in Gaithersburg.

This weekend, Etzler will be at Numidia Raceway in Bloomsburg, Pa. His best meet this year was when he went four rounds at U.S. 13 Dragway in Delmar, Del. When asked about his best year, he says that it has yet to come.

Weekend results

In drag racing results last weekend at 75-80 Dragway, Steve Hoff of Sykesville won Class II, with Steve Dustin of Westminster runner-up. Corey Hess of Taneytown went five rounds. In Class I competition, Ray Lewis of Woodbine was runner-up, Sev Tingle and Nathan Etzler, both of Mount Airy, went five rounds, and Jim Peddicord of Westminster went three rounds.

On Saturday night, Steve Cavey of Westminster won Class II. Corey Hess turned in another good night, going six rounds. Westminster's Jeff Davis and George Hoff went four rounds, as did Chris Hruska of Mount Airy. Marion Ford of Hampstead and Malcolm Ford of Westminster split the money in the final of motorcycle competition, and Jarrod Spicer of Woodbine won the Jr. Dragster division.

In oval track racing, Cris Eash of Woodbine placed sixth at Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa., in the super sprint feature. Jesse Wentz placed third and Eash was sixth at Lincoln Speedway in their super sprint feature. On Sunday, Eash finished fifth at Selinsgrove Speedway. Kenny Angell of Taneytown was 10th in the thundercar feature at Lincoln.

At Winchester Speedway, Charlie Schaffer of Hampstead placed second and Gary Stuhler of Westminster was sixth in the late model feature.

Westminster's Brad McClelland and Steve Owings traveled to Challenger Speedway in Jackson, Pa., for a special two-day micro-sprint program. McClelland was second and Owings fourth on Saturday, and Owings was third after winning his qualifying heat and McClelland fourth on Sunday.

On the World of Outlaw tour, Jeff Shepard of Finksburg placed seventh at the Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway. On Friday, Shepard received serious facial injuries in a sprint car crash at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. He was treated for fractures to his nose, jaw and right cheekbone. There was no damage to his eye. Shepard appeared unhurt as he climbed from his car after a violent flip. He was taken to the hospital for treatment of an apparent nose injury, and the extent of his other injuries was diagnosed.

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