MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 17, 2003) - It's been a tough last third of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series for Whit Bazemore, driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car, who's aiming for his first Funny Car championship. The rainout...
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 17, 2003) - It's been a tough last third of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series for Whit Bazemore, driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car, who's aiming for his first Funny Car championship. The rainout of last weekend's race in Reading, Pa., and threats of Hurricane Isabel hitting the eastern part of the U.S. this weekend aside, Bazemore's main concern is getting qualified in the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals this weekend and gaining points on Tony Pedregon.
The two-time U.S. Nationals champion, who is just 57 points behind Funny Car leader Pedregon, failed to qualify here last year, as well as in 1989 and 1997. If he's going to leave Memphis with the class points lead, this cannot happen again, he says.
"That certainly can't happen," says the Indianapolis resident who was runner-up here in 1992 and 2000. "It's always a possibility. To win the championship it can't happen. But we're not going to worry about it.
"We go to every race expecting to and prepared to win. But the first order of business is to get the car qualified," says Bazemore, who has qualified for each event so far this season, including one No. 1 and 14 top fives. "That's why every run is so important. The first run is somewhat on the conservative side, usually. You go down the race track at a competitive number and get into the show. From there, you can fine tune the car and try to increase the performance and try new things if you need to.
"You can't take qualifying for granted. You've got to work hard at every single race. It's not like other kinds of racing, where if you've reached a certain level then you're guaranteed to qualify at every race. In drag racing you have to prove yourself every weekend; there are no free rides for anybody."
One of the more difficult things he's had to endure this season is not being able to capitalize on Pedregon's four first-round losses in the last five races. Bazemore also had early exits in the last six of seven events. "They struggled some and we struggled also," he said. "That's the bottom line. And because of that we haven't been able to pass him, but we have seriously eroded his points lead to a point where it's definitely doable. It's not like we're 150 or 200 points back - even though that would be doable too - but to be within right around 60 points is three rounds. That's conceivably one day of racing - one day of racing and we have six races left.
"I wouldn't trade positions with Pedregon's team at all right now," added Bazemore, who has gone to the final round six times, the semifinal round 10 times, and has won twice this season. "I think we're in a good position. We're just going to focus and make it happen. That's what we've got to do, that's what we're going to do."
He's also looking over his shoulder at John Force, who is 152 behind in third place. "Force is 152 points back, which conceivably can be two days of racing," said Bazemore. "He's very much in the fight and so we have to keep an eye on him and an eye ahead of us.
"But if we go rounds and do our job it will be irrelevant. We have to go rounds. We have to go to the semis and the final round a lot out of these last six races, and if we do that we should be there."
As for returning to Memphis, "I've had really mixed fortunes at Memphis," he remarked. "I reached my very first final round there in 1992. The track when it's cool can be really good. If it's 90 degrees it won't be so good. We'll just have to see what the conditions are when we get there and hope there's not a hurricane we have to face."