Topeka: Whit Bazemore race report

BAZEMORE GOES TO FOURTH FINAL OF YEAR TOPEKA, Kan. (May 25, 2003) - For most NHRA pro teams it really doesn't get much better than this: Your driver qualifies in the top half of the field in each of the nine races so far, is low qualifier once,...

BAZEMORE GOES TO FOURTH FINAL OF YEAR

TOPEKA, Kan. (May 25, 2003) - For most NHRA pro teams it really doesn't get much better than this: Your driver qualifies in the top half of the field in each of the nine races so far, is low qualifier once, reaches the semifinal round in each of the nine races except for one, advances to the final round four times, wins one of them, sets track top-speed records, and is knocking on the door for an NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series championship.

Most teams would kill for these results. But in the rarefied, competitive, pressure-filled air of a top NHRA professional team, such as the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus R/T operation of driver Whit Bazemore and crew chief Lee Beard, one quarter of the largest pro NHRA team on the circuit, only one event win in nine races and second place is often just not good enough.

After losing today in the final round against his nemesis and points leader Tony Pedregon from John Force's team for the second time this season, Bazemore is understandably disappointed to not have won his second straight race. However, based on the results mentioned above, crew chief Beard less discouraged. Nobody said it would be easy, but this Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car team is clearly a contender, which no one would argue.

They launched with nearly identical reaction times: .073 for Pedregon, .076 for Bazemore. But it was Pedregon at the finish line first with a 4.848/320.66 to Bazemore's tire-smoking 5.126/252.38.

Quarter-mile race tracks may all look the same, but at most circuits lane choice is critical. The left lane here in Heartland Park Topeka for the O'Reilly Summer Nationals was the one to have and the two-time U.S. Nationals champion did not have it in the final round. Bazemore earned lane choice for the second round after defeating Bob Gilbertson in the first with a 4.833/321.50, and also in the second round, when he defeated Tim Wilkerson with a 4.872/317.64. But he lost the chance to select the more favorable lane for the final, despite defeating Gary Densham with a 4.898/314.39 in the semis.

"We tried everything we could try to have lane choice going into the final and we came up a little short," said Bazemore, who is now 94 points behind Pedregon in the championship. "Even shallow staging and running the car as hard as we thought we could get away with in the semifinals. The bottom line is we lost lane choice. Down track the right lane just wasn't good all weekend. We were one of the many, many cars that got caught out. We spun the tires in the final pretty hard just before half-track and that was it. We got beat.

"We're just extremely disappointed that it's a lone-lane race track and that we got beat. But, it's a long year, we've got a great team over here. I honestly believe that we did everything we could do to win this race. I don't think it was possible to win this race in the right lane unless the other team made a mistake and they didn't. Those are the facts, for what they're worth."

Bazemore and Beard did walk away with the track record, however. "Yes, we did a 326.48 mph in qualifying," said Beard. "We ran good in the earlier rounds, so we had lane choice until we missed it in the semifinals. This was one of those events where lane choice was pretty much a determining factor. Sometimes you have to not only run good, you have to run good enough to maintain lane choice and we didn't do that today.

"The team did an outstanding job," he added. "We went into our fourth final of the year. Obviously, we've got a great combination, setting track records for speed in quite a few different places. I'm not disappointed. Yes, I wish we could have won, but we finished second. We're working awfully hard. We'll just keep our nose to the grinding wheel to try to beat the John Force team."

-dsr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Gilbertson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson