Phoenix: Whit Bazemore preview

Simple goals for Bazemore: it's a cliche, but going rounds is key. Following a promising season-opening effort at Pomona Raceway, Whit Bazemore, who drives the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing, has simple goals...

Simple goals for Bazemore: it's a cliche, but going rounds is key.

Following a promising season-opening effort at Pomona Raceway, Whit Bazemore, who drives the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing, has simple goals for the rest of the season: go rounds. Yes, it's a typical drag-racing cliche and a ho-hum part of just about every interview, but the two-time U.S. Nationals champion believes that, more than ever before, placing a total focus on winning rounds is how races and championships will be won this season.

"Each round, each run is critical and that's what, as a driver, I'm just focusing on: one round at a time," he says. "It's the small picture. You are not going to get a lucky break if you are going to win a race in Funny Car on Sunday these days. You might, but you can't count on that. So, for a driver, in order to win you're going to have to be virtually perfect. We already saw that at Pomona, where the reaction times where phenomenal, to say the least. When you have a couple of teams running mid- 4.70s and the potential to run low .70s, races are going to be decided by thousandths of a second. A driver's role is more important now than ever. For that reason it takes a huge amount of concentration and effort. Therefore, for me it's a lot easier to look at it as one run at a time rather than, Oh, my God, I've got to be perfect four times today."

Bazemore was on a roll at Pomona, after qualifying second with an outstanding pass of 4.766 seconds at 325.69 mph, the fastest speed of the weekend, and eliminating his teammate Scotty Cannon in the first round. But it was a small part in the clutch that eliminated him in the second round of eliminations against Tommy Johnson Jr. His reaction time in that round, .035, was the seventh quickest of the day.

"The good news coming out of Pomona is that our car ran well, our team worked very well together, made good decisions, and our performance increased as the weekend went on," he says. "And there was a specific reason for our loss. It definitely wasn't tune-up related. It was an inexpensive part that broke. We're taking steps to correct that with a different manufacturer. We're extremely optimistic. We know we have a good car, we have a good team and we're just excited about the rest of the season and the opportunities that we think we have to be successful."

Bazemore's performance at Pomona was a clear signal that the Schumacher Racing brain trust was working well together, which includes his crew chief Lee Beard. "The team is really strong and I think that was reflected in our performance at Pomona," Bazemore emphasized. "We ran consistently better each day and we were able to increase the performance of the car consistently right up until we lost. The bottom line is you're only judged by your results. I think our results show that we have a strong team, a good team and we have a lot of potential this year. It's going to be exciting to go out and realize that potential."

Since entering his first NHRA Funny Car race at Firebird Raceway in 1992, Bazemore has not won a final round. His best results were two No. 3 qualifying positions (1999 and 2001), and three semifinal losses (1996, '97, '99). Last year, he barely made the field, qualifying last, then lost in the first round.

"Phoenix has never been one of my favorite races," he admits. "But I think now we have our potential to do the best that we've ever done there. I think the track is strong. A lot depends on the weather, but the surface is good and there should be some really good performances. I think the competitiveness in Funny Car right now is extreme, to say the least. I think everyone is going to be pushing everyone else to really stretch the performances. It's going to be tough. But I think we're in a good position."

Pro qualifying at Firebird Raceway begins on Friday, Feb. 21, with sessions at 1 and 4 p.m.; 1 and 4 p.m. again on Saturday, Feb. 22; with eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Scotty Cannon , Tommy Johnson Jr.