Gainesville Funny Car notebook (FUNNY CAR)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK --In shape: Whit Bazemore's serious motorcycle accident provided another benefit besides rekindling his desire to ...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK

--In shape: Whit Bazemore's serious motorcycle accident provided another benefit besides rekindling his desire to race.

Bazemore pushes his body through three to four hours of rehabilitation each day, including weight lifting and stretching, to strengthen his injured legs.

The workouts have become so much a part of his routine that he plans to continue them after his legs heal.

"It's not that much fun," Bazemore said. "But what it does mentally really helps me. Before it was hard to set aside three to four hours per day to work out. But when you have to do it, it becomes a priority."

--The dominator: Defending NHRA Winston champion John Force has won 15 of 21 national events since February 1996 in the Castrol GTX Pontiac Firebird, a winning percentage of .714.

Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., won the first two events this season.

"They're good, awfully good, but they're not gods," Funny Car competitor Whit Bazemore said. "They've got a little more technology, experience and smarts."

--Turning left?: John Force has conquered the NHRA Funny Car world with six NHRA Winston championships this decade, so it's understandable if he needs new challenges.

Force's team is building a Top Fuel car that may debut this season. Force also is interested in becoming the first drag racer to participate in the International Race of Champions series.

Top drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar and sports-car racing compete every year in IROC. Drivers race in identically-prepared Pontiac Firebirds in four oval-track events.

"I've talked to the IROC folks about it," Force told the Dallas Morning News. "I've been through the Buck Baker driving school, and I'm going to go to this new Penske track in California and do a bit of playing around."

Force, 1996 DRIVER OF THE YEAR, was a visitor in the garage area at Daytona International Speedway during Speed Week and the Daytona 500.

--Mutual admiration: Rookie Gary Scelzi has made winning look easy while capturing the first two races of his Top Fuel career in the Team Winston Dragster owned and tuned by Alan Johnson.

That fact hasn't been lost on his teammate, Whit Bazemore, who is winless since starting his Funny Car career in 1989.

"That has got to be me soon because I want it," Bazemore said. "You've got to pay your dues. Alan Johnson and those guys have paid their dues more than anyone else. It comes as no surprise that they won."

Johnson's younger brother, Blaine Johnson, suffered fatal injuries in a qualifying accident last August at the U.S. Nationals while leading the NHRA Winston point standings.

Scelzi and Bazemore have known each other a few years, and they formed an immediate bond when they met. At that time, Bazemore struggled with limited budgets but still managed to compete in nearly every NHRA national event. Scelzi was a winning driver in the Federal-Mogul Dragster and Funny Car categories.

"He said that I was his hero because I was doing it out here without much money," Bazemore said. "And I said, 'No, you're my hero because you win races.'"

--Back on top: Kenji Okazaki qualified No. 1 in the Mooneyes Dodge Avenger at the ATSCO Nationals last month, his first top spot since the Mac Tools Gatornationals in March 1994 at Gainesville, Fla.

Okazaki, from Tokyo, still seeks his first career victory.

--Troubled times: Cruz Pedregon failed to qualify for the first time in his Funny Car career, which started in 1992. Pedregon, from Camarillo, Calif., had qualified for 93 consecutive NHRA national events.

Pedregon, 1992 NHRA Winston champion, lost in the first round of the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals in the McDonald's Pontiac Firebird owned by former NFL coach Joe Gibbs.

--Performance prediction: Track-record performance is possible from the Funny Cars at this event if the weather cooperates, Whit Bazemore said.

"They can easily run in the four-second range at 308, 309, 310 mph," Bazemore said. "Gainesville is an awesome track. The surface is great."

--Schedule: Winston pro qualifying starts at 11 a.m. March 7 and continues at 3 p.m. that day. Qualifying ends with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. March 8. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. March 9. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 8 a.m. March 6.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the Mac Tools Gatornationals. Call NHRA Ticket Information at (800) 884-6472 for ticket information.

--On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 90 minutes of live, final-round competition from the Mac Tools Gatornationals at 4:30 p.m. (EST) March 9. TNN also will show one hour of live, first-round racing during its "NHRA Today" show at 11 a.m. (EST) March 9.

--On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies. -30-

Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Cruz Pedregon