Atlanta: Whit Bazemore pedaling toward the top

COMMERCE, Ga. - When the term "pedaling" is used in drag racing, it is usually not a good thing and is something a competitor would rather avoid. It refers to what a driver has to do in order to get his car down the track after losing traction and...

COMMERCE, Ga. - When the term "pedaling" is used in drag racing, it is usually not a good thing and is something a competitor would rather avoid. It refers to what a driver has to do in order to get his car down the track after losing traction and spinning the tires on the racing surface. The act is a desperate attempt at having the car's tires regain their 'bite' on the track and speed towards the finish line, hopefully ahead of their opposition.

For Funny Car driver Whit Bazemore, pedaling is where it's at.

Nothing is more relieving than pedaling his mountain bike around the various landscapes across the country.

Bazemore, his bike, and his 6,000 horsepower Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird will head south for the 22nd annual Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, May 2-5. The $1.8 million race is the seventh of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

After being a heavy preseason favorite to deny perennial champion John Force his 10th straight Funny Car championship, Bazemore started off the 2002 season very differently than anticipated. Following his first round loss at Las Vegas, his third such defeat in four races, Bazemore grabbed his mountain bike in hopes of clearing his head and regaining the form his team displayed last year.

"I love to ride and climb," said the 39-year-old Bazemore. "When things aren't going right in racing, it's good to go after and accomplish another goal. It does make me feel better. Riding frees my mind and keeps me fit. I love it, it's a great escape."

The Indianapolis resident followed his 36-mile bike trek with a No. 1 qualifying position and a semifinal finish at Houston, his first top spot of 2002 and the farthest he has advanced this season.

Bazemore was the headliner the final half of 2001. He finished a career-best second in the standings, snagging nine No. 1 qualifying positions in the final 12 events, going to seven final rounds in those 12 races and winning three of them, and he established the national record for both time and speed. However, with Force jumping out to such an enormous lead in the beginning of the year, Bazemore could only make up so many points in the second half of the season. He does not want to put himself in the same situation again.

"There's plenty of racing coming up and we tend to do our best when we have back-to-back races," said Bazemore. "We need to stay focused and recover our momentum, performance, and consistency that we had during the second half of last year."

It's not that Bazemore has had a completely dismal display on the quarter-mile. In the first four events before Houston, he qualified either second or third on three occasions. However, things appear to be moving upward as Bazemore qualified in the No. 1 position at Houston where he advanced to the semifinals. Two weeks later in Bristol, Tenn., Bazemore continued his solid performance capturing his first victory of 2002 and 11th of his career.

"Winning a few rounds in Texas got us back on track," said Bazemore. "It's not that we've been bad this season, we've just had too many inconsistencies with our performance, along with a few bad breaks. We have had good performance all year for the most part. We have just been inconsistent and that is what we are working on."

Force jumped out to an early lead in the standings last season, and is once again off to a quick start in hopes of distancing himself from the competition. If Bazemore can have a repeat performance of last year's strong showing, there could very well be a new champ crowned at the end of the year. But a change in performance will have to happen soon.

"We're still in the fight," said Bazemore. "We've been knocked down, but not out. We're on the mend and ready to rebound. We're ready to land a few punches."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore