Bazemore out in first round in close match against Cruz Pedregon; gains points on Tony Pedregon INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 7, 2003) - The disappointment in the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus pits was palpable. It was like a dusty black cloud was...
Bazemore out in first round in close match against Cruz Pedregon; gains points on Tony Pedregon
INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 7, 2003) - The disappointment in the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus pits was palpable. It was like a dusty black cloud was hanging over the driver, crew chief and crew. If you didn't have to be there, it was probably best to run out for an ice cream sundae rather than taste the bitter sweetness of a loss in the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car compound.
It wasn't just any loss. These NHRA Funny Car drivers lose all the time. Well, maybe not all the time. But this was the U.S. Nationals, the biggest race in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, and No. 3 qualifier Whit Bazemore was aching to leave this place with the points lead in the Funny Car championship. Not to mention a third U.S. Nationals victory. It coulda happened. It wasn't that it necessarily shoulda happened, but it certainly coulda and maybe woulda if Bazemore just had one thousandth of a second in his pocket.
Bazemore faced Cruz Pedregon in the first round, against whom he's won all four times they've met this season. Perhaps crew chief Lee Beard and Bazemore underestimated the mystical strength of the Pedregon brotherhood. After his brother Tony, who is in a battle royal with Bazemore for the Funny Car championship, was eliminated in the first round by Dean Skuza, Bazemore was in a perfect position to gain additional points on his way to a possible third U.S. Nationals win and the lead in the standings.
It just seems that when anyone named Pedregon is in the next lane to Bazemore, the adrenaline rushes harder, the prize is bigger, and the competitiveness level is raised...in both lanes.
Bazemore launched at the lights with a .69 reaction time to Pedregon's virtually identical .61. They were side by side in one of the more exciting races of the season until the finish line. Barely an eyelash separated the noses across the stripe, but it was Pedregon who turned on the win light, snatching the victory from Bazemore by a margin of .0075 of a second.
It was a close holeshot win - a 4.886-second elapsed time to Baze's 4.887. Bazemore's speed of 316.67 mph was not typical of one of his standard 320-plus runs. Cruz's was even slower at 313.88.
By outqualifying Tony Pedregon, Bazemore gained four points on his rival for the championship and now trails by just 57. 'What might have been' is shelved for the time being. There are six races left and claiming his first Funny Car championship is still very real for Baze.
"It shows you how close this racing is when one thousandth of a second can make a difference between winning and losing," said a dejected Bazemore.
"I was focused and ready to go; we just lost a close drag race. I had a .69 light which isn't bad. Cruz had a .61, just a little better. He did a better job; that's all there is to it. That's how it goes.
"We were in a very positive frame of mind today and came ready to race," he added. "When Tony went out it was a golden opportunity again and it just didn't happen. We were ready to race. We just lost a close drag race. We weren't necessarily late and that's how it goes. We won one like that yesterday (one a holeshot in the first round of the Budweiser Shootout against Tommy Johnson), and Tommy Johnson wasn't necessarily late. It's just the nature of the business sometimes.
"It was a tough loss. I feel really bad for the team because we had a great car all weekend. I think everybody did an excellent job. I did the best I could. It was decent. It's like that old cliche: it's why they don't race these things on paper. We'll suck it up. We've got three more races in a row, I'm excited to think about where we're going to be at the end of the next three weeks."
Crew chief Lee Beard was especially affected by this loss. It was evident in his demeanor after the team's early exit. "The door for opportunity was wide open with Pedregon losing in the first round," he said, "and we certainly did not want to make a mistake and give it away and smoke the tires and we went just a little conservative. Cruz made a helluva guess on the tree. Hey, it's America, the land of opportunity, and Cruz took advantage of it."
Next up is Round 18 of 23 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series events, the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., Sept. 12-14.