Putnam, Connecticut, May 27, 1999 - It is a simple fact that your average human being does not strap him- or herself into a 6,000-horsepower, nitromethane-burning land rocket on a regular basis, much less list racing one as their primary...
Putnam, Connecticut, May 27, 1999 - It is a simple fact that your average human being does not strap him- or herself into a 6,000-horsepower, nitromethane-burning land rocket on a regular basis, much less list racing one as their primary occupation. Therefore, it stands to reason that the mindset of an NHRA Funny Car driver would have to be slightly different from that of a typical American worker. With only twenty-two chances to win, and every participant chasing the Winston championship, the pressure to perform is immense, as exemplified by the major personnel changes seen in top-level teams over the last few weeks.
Whit Bazemore is well aware of this pressure, and his experience over the last year since capturing the inaugural Fram Route 66 Nationals is a prime example of the highs and lows these fuel coupe pilots must endure. After losing his primary sponsor, Bazemore was frustrated in his efforts to find a replacement, and found himself staring at the possibility of becoming an unwilling spectator. However, his fortunes changed in late December when he was hired by veteran Chuck Etchells to drive one of the top cars in the division, the Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro Z28. Thus armed the 36-year-old Indianapolis resident returns to Dale Coyne's outstanding facility to defend his title brandishing the emotions for which he is best known.
"I believe it takes a lot of intensity and a big commitment to be successful in this sport," stated Bazemore. "The unfortunate part is that oftentimes that concentration is misread as arrogance by not only your competitors, but the fans. On occasion I've come under fire for being too intense, but I've got to argue the point that I don't think there is such a thing. You have to do whatever it takes to make yourself successful. I've had to work hard at my driving and at making the opportunities to be able to race. I know I would not have gotten where I have without being intense."
But make no mistake, Bazemore is not the only spirited member of the Chuck Etchells Racing team. Although perhaps not as demonstrative in their emotions as their driver, the entire organization, from team owner Etchells through the Tim and Kim Richards-led crew, is fiercely competitive. This season has been a challenge for all, from adjusting to a new driver to adapting to major changes in their car's mechanical set-up. Despite their early season accomplishments, including being the top qualifier in Gainesville and a final round appearance in Atlanta, no one is prepared to proclaim success, for they know they can do better. Bazemore agrees, and is confident those results are forthcoming.
"One of the things that attracted me to this team was its overwhelming desire to succeed and the effort they make, which meshes well with my own feelings," explained Bazemore. "I think we have good team chemistry, and I can learn a lot from them. We've struggled some with the car, and there have been times when everyone's patience has been tested to a certain degree. It's not that we're having a bad year, it's just that we're not as competitive with the top team as we'd like to be.
But this Kendall Camaro team is strong, and we believe in each other's capabilities. We know we have to support each other. The car is totally different from the way they ran it last year, and it's been an on-going process to improve its performance. I know it's only a matter of time before Tim (crew chief Richards) and the team work through it and get a handle on it. We're getting better, and that's the key."
This weekend Bazemore returns to the site of his most recent victory. During last year's inaugural event at Route 66 Raceway, teams fought to maintain traction on the "green" racing surface, so labeled for its lack of accumulated rubber. Though conditions should be improved after a year's usage, the challenge to extract performance remains. Crew chiefs must adjust their powerful charges to match the conditions, while drivers must make sure to keep control at all times, their fuel coupe straight and in the groove, its massive slicks stuck to the track. The pressure is on, for every participant knows their competition will be waiting to pounce on any misstep.
"Obviously, I like the track, because I won the inaugural race there last year," said Bazemore. "But being defending champion is fairly irrelevant to this year's event because I'm here with a different team. Dale Coyne has built a tremendous facility, and we love going there. With a full year on it, the racing surface should be better. This Kendall Camaro team is having a good year, but we want to make it a great one, which means winning races. There would be no better place to get our first victory than in Chicago. That would make it back-to-back Fram Route 66 Nationals titles for me. Now that would be intense!"
BAZEMORE BANTER: This will be Whit's 1st appearance at Route 66 Raceway in a Camaro, and he looks to defend his title from a year ago....Bazemore is looking for his first win as driver of the Kendall Camaro.....Bazemore qualified 6th at this event a year ago.
WHAT: 2nd annual Fram Route 66 Nationals, the ninth event on the 22-race 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series Schedule.
WHEN: June 3-6, 1999
WHERE: Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, Illinois
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions start with two sessions on Friday, June 4 at 4:00 & 8:00 p.m., and conclude on Saturday, June 5 with two rounds at 12:15 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 6.
TV: ESPN2 will air two-hours of same-day final-round coverage from 7-9 p.m. on Sunday, June 6. In addition, ESPN2 will have two hours of qualifying highlights from 7:30 - 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 5 (All times are Eastern). As always, please check your local listings.