ENNIS, Texas (Oct. 8, 2003) - Whit Bazemore had a bit of a reprieve last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway when his rival for his first NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship Tony Pedregon went out in the first round of eliminations.
ENNIS, Texas (Oct. 8, 2003) - Whit Bazemore had a bit of a reprieve last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway when his rival for his first NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship Tony Pedregon went out in the first round of eliminations. After Bazemore, who drives the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus, failed to qualify for the first time since Memphis in September 2002, it looked like his championship chances were dashed. Instead, he finds himself very much in the game and is just 94 points behind Pedregon as he heads to the Texas Motorplex for the 21st round of 23, the O'Reilly Fall Nationals.
"We definitely got lucky there at Reading on Sunday when our closest competitors (including John Force, third in points) had trouble in the first round, which kind of shows you how hard it is sometimes," he said.
"We have three races left, starting with Dallas this weekend. We have got to try to win each one of them. It's critical that we have three good weekends and we don't have any more bad luck or ill fortune, if we want to win the championship.
"It's definitely doable; it's within sight. We can do it," he added. "But we certainly can't have a misstep. And the only m.o. at this point is to go out there and be aggressive. We have nothing to lose. We definitely need to win one or two out of the next three to cement the deal. That's what we've got to do."
Bazemore has never won at the Texas Motorplex, yet he holds track records here in both E.T. (4.753) and top speed (325.37 mph), established in 2001 when he was low qualifier. But this is a new season for the two-time U.S. Nationals champion from Indianapolis. "You can't judge the future by looking at the past unless you're trading stocks," he said. "It doesn't apply to drag racing. Our Matco Tools Dodge and our team are working really well right now, our car is running well right now. We're strong and we're in a good position."
Following his win in Memphis, Bazemore moved into the points lead for the first time in his NHRA career, then suffered setbacks at the next two races, which dropped him back to second. "We had some unexpected things happen the last two races. In Chicago we were just a little too aggressive," he said about his first-round exit.
Only two qualifying sessions were held at the Reading event, three weeks apart. "The problem in Reading was we just missed it on that one run on Saturday at the re-scheduled event," he continued. "It was really just one run to qualify at that race, because Friday qualifying was three weeks prior to that, under totally different conditions. It's hard to come back three weeks later. Anything we did that Friday night was irrelevant.
"We're just going to go to Dallas in a very aggressive frame of mind and be ready to win the race."
Vying for one's first professional championship in a season-long heated battle can be agonizing, but it has its rewards. "It is the closest we've ever been by far," said Bazemore, who was second in the championship in 2001, and has finished in the top five five times and 10 times in the top 10 since 1992.
"Other times people said we were close," he remarked. "I never felt we were because we were within 130 points or so. It's been good this year. It's exciting. This is what you work for. You work your entire career to be in this position, so it's rewarding in a sense to be here fighting and contending for the NHRA POWERade championship. This is what it's all about for me.
"I'm very happy. We've had a great year. We won three races. There are three more left. Hopefully we can add those three to the tally."