MOHNTON, Pa. - Entering the 2001 season, there once again was a clear cut favorite among all competitors for the NHRA Winston Funny Car crown: John Force. Force might be the consummate favorite, but Whit Bazemore is going to make him earn it. The...
MOHNTON, Pa. - Entering the 2001 season, there once again was a clear cut favorite among all competitors for the NHRA Winston Funny Car crown: John Force. Force might be the consummate favorite, but Whit Bazemore is going to make him earn it. The Indianapolis resident will try and continue his impressive streak and second-half surge when the NHRA's 50th Anniversary season makes its yearly stop in Eastern Pennsylvania for the 17th annual NHRA Keystone Nationals, Sept. 13-16, at high performance quarter-mile at Maple Grove Raceway. The $1.9 million race is the 19th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Bazemore began his charge towards the top with his first No. 1 qualifying effort of the season at the Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals in Pomona, Calif. with a runner-up finish there to his rival Force. The 38-year-old Bazemore then went on to top qualifying efforts at four of the next five events and visited the winner's circle twice in three final round appearances. What seemed to be an insurmountable lead that Force had built, has been trimmed to a still-imposing 243 points. A Herculian effort from Bazemore, combined with an uncharacteristic performance meltdown from the animated Force, is the combination needed to stop Forces' march to his record-setting 11th Winston crown.
"(The John Force Racing team) had some bad luck in the last couple of races where they've lost in the first round and, to be honest, I don't think we expect that to happen too often," said Bazemore. "They're too good. It's awfully hard to make up a 243-point deficit with them being the team that they are. We're way behind, a long way back. Our goal is to go to the races and try to win as many rounds as we can and try to bring home some trophies. It's certainly not unreasonable for us to win a couple more times this year. But to have Force go out early, which is something that would have to happen a few more times for us to catch him, is something we can't control so we don't worry about it."
In addition to the recent climb in the standings, Bazemore's new body on his Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird made a statement during the recent Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at historic Indianapolis Raceway Park. Bazemore drove his Firebird to the quickest (4.756 seconds) and fastest (325.69 mph) Funny Car pass in the 50-year history of the NHRA. That extraordinary performance during an evening seession of qualifying at IRP surpassed the old performance marks formerly held by Force (elapsed time) and his teammate Tony Pedregon (speed).
"It's a dream come true for me because there are times in your career where you can't hit your ass and you wonder what it takes to get to that level that some of the guys are, so to set the pace for once is really cool," said Bazemore. "Whether (our new body) has an advantage or not, we're not sure yet. We haven't had it in the wind tunnel. I think it's certainly a little safer the way the spillplates are supported and that's a big thing because last year I broke two spillplates, which really unsettles the car. In fact, we had a wing failure on the 4.75 run and the car started to make a pretty hard left-hand turn. So there's a lot to the safety side of it and whether or not it gives us a performance advantage, at this point, I'm just not sure."
In 1999 Bazemore finished a career-best-tying third in the Winston standings. Entering the final six events, and based on his recent upswing, he remains firmly locked into second in the standings more than five rounds ahead of his closest competitor, Del Worsham. However, a lackluster effort over the final quarter of the season can result in a plummeting in the standings. And Force and Bazemore are both quite aware of that.