FUNNY CAR POINTS LEADER BAZEMORE HEADING BACK TO EARTH BAYTOWN, Texas (April 5, 2005) - Last seen, Whit Bazemore was floating somewhere in the clouds after winning his first national event of the season two weeks ago in Gainesville, Fla., a week...
FUNNY CAR POINTS LEADER BAZEMORE HEADING BACK TO EARTH
BAYTOWN, Texas (April 5, 2005) - Last seen, Whit Bazemore was floating somewhere in the clouds after winning his first national event of the season two weeks ago in Gainesville, Fla., a week and a day after the birth of his and wife Michelle's first child, son Dashiell Aidan.
While the euphoria remains, Bazemore is en route back to Earth to defend his Funny Car points lead at this weekend's O'Reilly Spring Nationals driving the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus R/T for Don Schumacher Racing. He earned the lead in Florida after capturing his 18th career Funny Car victory while exceeding 300 career round wins - which now number 303.
He led the POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings for the first time in 2003, following his Memphis win, then led them again in 2004 after a runner-up finish at Route 66 Raceway in the first event of two at that venue. His lead in 2005, however, after only three races, is the earliest in the season he's been at the head of the class.
But the man who has two runner-up season finishes in 16 years in the Funny Car category and is seeking his first Funny Car crown, concedes it's too early in a very long season to be counting the money.
The Indianapolis resident and two-time U.S. Nationals champion has never won at Houston Raceway. He was runner-up in 1998 and qualified No. 1 in 2002. Bazemore had never won the Gatornationals in Gainesville, either, until two weeks ago, so he hopes there's a trend happening here.
"We feel really good having won the Gatornationals," he says. "So we're going to Houston on a high and ready to do more of the same.
"We've won a lot of rounds this year (seven of nine to be exact)," says Bazemore, "at a time when our Matco Tools Dodge hasn't necessarily been the quickest car, which is fine. But we're always trying to increase the performance of the car and that's what we've worked on since Gainesville.
"I think Lee (Beard, crew chief) and the Matco Tools guys did a great job in Gainesville and in testing on Monday when my teammate Ron Capps drove my car. Lee is very confident that we're going to run even better, and that makes me even more confident.
"Being in the points lead at this point of the season is certainly rewarding," he adds, "but, in order to win the championship you have to get into the points lead and then you have to keep it. So obviously we're going to do everything we can do to keep it. But, at the same time it's somewhat precarious as we saw the previous person in the lead (Phil Burkart) not qualify in Gainesville. So you still have to work every race and work hard to get what you earn."
Atmospheric and weather conditions at Houston Raceway have historically been an advantage to the Fuel teams, but each season track preparation and off-season wear and tear provide a challenge to the teams. "Whatever it is we've got a team that can adapt, much like we did in Gainesville," says Bazemore, who leads the 13-time Funny Car champion John Force by nine points. "The idea is to put the Matco Tools Dodge up and down the race track four solid times in qualifying and get a good tune-up for race day."