Whit Bazemore - DSR interview

DON SCHUMACHER RACING Q&A WITH WHIT BAZEMORE, DRIVER OF THE MATCO TOOLS IRON EAGLE DODGE FUNNY CAR INDIANAPOLIS (Feb. 1, 2006) - Whit Bazemore joined Don Schumacher Racing in 2001 to drive for the first NHRA Funny Car team introduced under the...

DON SCHUMACHER RACING
Q&A WITH WHIT BAZEMORE, DRIVER OF THE MATCO TOOLS IRON EAGLE DODGE FUNNY CAR

INDIANAPOLIS (Feb. 1, 2006) - Whit Bazemore joined Don Schumacher Racing in 2001 to drive for the first NHRA Funny Car team introduced under the DSR banner and continues today as the flagship driver for sponsor Matco Tools.

The New York City-born Bazemore, who was raised in the Atlanta area, made his mark in the professional ranks of NHRA competition driving for low-budget teams and as an independent team owner from 1986 to 1999. He then joined Chuck Etchells' Funny Car team in 1999, before moving to DSR two years later.

Bazemore is still looking for his first Funny Car championship following several seasons of close battles with John Force Racing, including a third-place finish in 1997 behind Force and Tony Pedregon, a result he repeated in 1999. In 2001 he was runner-up to Force in the Funny Car standings and, in 2003, he took the battle for the crown to the penultimate race of the year against Tony Pedregon, losing the title by a mere 140 points.

He finished the 2004 season in sixth place and struggled in 2005 to earn ninth position in the standings, despite leading the point standings early on.

Bazemore, 42, is a two-time U.S. Nationals champion (1997 and 2001) and is the first Funny Car driver to break the 325-mph barrier (U.S. Nationals 2001). His career quickest ET is 4.713 seconds; his career fastest speed is 333.25 mph, both set at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., in 2004 in what was at the time the quickest and fastest speed in Funny Car history.

An avid cyclist, he took up the sport following an off-track motorcycle accident in 1996 which resulted in his using cycling as therapy to repair the damage to his legs.

Bazemore, whose early career was as a fashion and racing photographer, lives in Indianapolis and is married to Michelle, a competitive amateur cyclist. The couple have a 10-month-old son, Dashiell, Aidan, born on Bazemore's birthday, March 12.

Following the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, in which he won two events in two final rounds and qualified No. 1 once, Bazemore has a career total of 19 Funny Car event wins in 43 final rounds, 29 No. 1 qualifiers and a career round win-loss record of 319-278.

The 2006 NHRA season begins Feb. 9-12 at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.

WHIT BAZEMORE Q&A

1. Q. YOU STRUGGLED LAST YEAR AFTER STARTING OUT SO STRONG, BUT IMPROVED TOWARDS THE END OF THE YEAR. CAN YOUR TEAM KEEP UP THIS MOMENTUM IN 2006?

A. Because everything is new this year, any momentum we had really doesn't count. We're starting over. We have a new crew chief in Brian Corradi, and, importantly, Todd Okuhara is still here as a carry-over from last year. We made a lot of personnel changes and some of our key crew guys are still here and we added a few. So I'm looking at the team this year as a new team. Last year was very difficult, to say the least. We did have success early on, but Don Schumacher made a crew chief change mid-year and from that point on it was a matter of trying to save what we could from our season and start the rebuilding process.

2. Q. YOU HAVE THE CHALLENGE IN 2006 OF WORKING WITH A NEW CREW CHIEF. WHAT DOES BRIAN CORRADI BRING TO YOUR TEAM, IN YOUR OPINION?

A. What he brings is ability and he showed that last year and in previous years. Last year, when he worked for Frank Pedregon on a team that was limited financially and in resources, he showed how good he can be. It's a refreshing change, actually, to have him here. He's a younger guy, very hungry, very eager to make his mark on the sport. He's yet to prove himself as a solid race winner or a championship contender, but, again, he hasn't worked on a team where he's had the absolute say on how to run the car and on a team that has also had the resources and wherewithal to go out and contend for a championship. So, he's got an opportunity that he hasn't had before. And for me it means that I have a crew chief who is, No. 1, very hungry and eager to prove himself and, No. 2, who has the ability to go out and run low E.T. and hopefully contend for lots of wins.

3. Q. WHAT IS NEW FOR THE MATCO TOOLS TEAM IN 2006?

a. The biggest change, obviously, is the crew chief change, going from Dan Olson to Brian Corradi, and there are some other new faces on the team as well. A team is only as successful as its people, and the people are by far your most important asset. So, I think the Matco Tools Dodge team has been able to assemble a group of people whom I feel very strongly about, and a group of people who are capable of taking this team to the next level and putting us back on the map where we need to be.

4. Q. YOU HAD TO WATCH YOUR TEAMMATES GARY SCELZI AND RON CAPPS BATTLE IT OUT WITH JOHN FORCE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2005. THAT HAD BEEN YOUR ROLE FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS. HOW DIFFICULT WAS THAT FOR YOU?

A. That in itself wasn't difficult for me. What was difficult for me was the fact that our team was struggling so much and we weren't competitive. The reason I race is to be competitive and 10, 15 years ago I might have been happy where we were, as a survivor and with a team that qualified and went a round or two, but not anymore. We have very high expectations. And, honestly, we weren't meeting our own expectations or even coming close. That's what was frustrating. But, as far as having my teammates be successful in the championship fight, I was excited for them and excited for the Schumacher organization that, while the Matco Tools team was struggling, we had two other Funny Cars that were very competitive. That was all good.

5. Q. WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM TO BE IN THE HUNT FOR THE FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP AT THE END OF THE SEASON IN 2006?

A. It's really very simple. It comes down to the performance of the race car and the chemistry of the team. The people on the team dictate the performance of the race car. So, to get the performance where we need it to be, Don's made the changes that he feels are necessary, and, like I said, the addition of Brian to the team and some of the other new faces here I'm very positive will enable us to be competitive again.

6. Q. THE COMPETITION IN FUNNY CAR LOOKS LIKE IT WILL BE EVEN FIERCER IN 2006. IS THERE NOW A MORE LEVEL PLAYING FIELD?

A. It's hard to predict what can happen throughout a season. Last year showed that the competition between different teams is closer and more cars are more equal in performance than perhaps they've been in years past. So, if that trend continues, and hopefully it will, it's going to make for an exciting season for the fans and everyone else.

7. Q. YOU ARE THE DON SCHUMACHER RACING FUNNY CAR VETERAN. SCELZI AND CAPPS CAME TO THE TEAM AFTER YOU. ARE YOU THEIR SO-CALLED BIG BROTHER?

A. No. When Scelzi first came here he had to adapt from a Dragster to a Funny Car, and they're quite a bit different, and I helped him a little bit there. We're teammates, we're not best friends. We get along and everything is great, but it's business. We're teammates, but we're also competitors. Obviously, we have a lot of respect for those guys and they are two very good drivers and have two excellent teams behind them, so they're a major force to reckon with. If you want to win a drag race, you're probably going to have to go through one of those guys. So, at the end of the day, I look at them more as competitors than anything else.

8. Q. YOU THREE ALWAYS APPEAR TO BE PLAYFUL TOGETHER, YET WE KNOW EACH WANTS TO BLOW THE OTHER'S DOORS OFF. ARE YOU THREE REALLY FRIENDS?

A. With those guys it's hard to say if we're friends or not. We get along well and there are times when we hang out together and we have a good time together, but, at the end of the day, like I said, it's a competition and everyone is out here to beat everyone else in all aspects of the sport. So, honestly, it's hard to have your competitor as your best friend in this day and age.

9. Q. DOES IT HELP OR HURT TO HAVE TEAMMATES IN THE FUNNY CAR CLASS?

A. It's a good question because the multi-car-team concept is something that we've seen emerge over the last couple of years, where more and more teams are going to a multitude of cars. A lot depends on the people involved and the organization. I think you could have multi-car teams that are successful and help each other and, in some cases, I think it could be a detriment if the crew chiefs don't really work together or the team isn't well-organized, or there are politics that get in the way. The bigger the operation gets the bigger the potential is for politics and back-stabbing and so forth to come about. The bigger your team gets, the better management there needs to be in order to insure success and make sure everyone is happy and doing their jobs the best they can.

10. Q. HOW HAS DON SCHUMACHER CHANGED THE FACE OF NHRA DRAG RACING, IN YOUR OPINION?

A. I don't really think Don has changed the face of the sport at all. I think what he's done is build a very strong organization and a good team that hopefully is a rewarding business for him and a successful business for him. It's a big business, certainly, and he's very aggressive as a car owner. So, I don't think he's changed the face of the sport necessarily. I think he's simply taken advantage of the opportunities he's had to expand his team and his business to include nine different cars in different categories. That opportunity is there for anybody.

11. Q. DO YOU BELIEVE JOHN FORCE HAS FINALLY LOOSENED HIS STRANGLEHOLD ON THE FUNNY CAR CLASS?

A. He definitely lost it last year because he's not world champion, but they're a tremendous operation over there and you can't say that they're never going to win a championship again, because that is certainly not going to be the case. They're a very, very strong team and I'm sure their motivation now is higher than it's ever been and they've always been extremely motivated individuals. So, they're going to be very tough this year; there's no question.

12. Q. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO FINALLY WIN A FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP?

A. A Funny Car championship is very important to me, it goes without saying. The championship doesn't necessarily reward the team that wins the most races; it rewards the team that is the most consistent and wins the most rounds. I enjoy winning races and, simply, my goal is to add to the number of races that we've won and if the championship is in the future then it's in the future. You don't go out with the goal to win a championship; you go out to win races. A championship will happen for you if you win enough races. And if you're a good, consistent team that's competitive every single weekend and you avoid early-round mistakes and early-round losses, you'll be in contention.

13. Q. YOU'VE HAD A LONGTIME RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SPONSOR MATCO TOOLS. THAT SAYS A LOT ABOUT YOU AND HOW YOU WORK WITH YOUR SPONSORS.

A. I've been incredibly fortunate from very early on in my career to recognize the importance of good financial backing and good sponsorship. My career depended on it from the very beginning. Matco Tools is a great company. It's a growing company, and its business is doing very, very well. Matco Tools corporate and the 1600 or so distributors that really drive Matco Tools' business, I look at them as partners in my racing career. And they've been obviously very important to me and I hope that the job that we've been able to do for them throughout the last six years is invaluable and has helped them grow their business.

14. Q. WHAT IS NEW FOR WHIT BAZEMORE, PERSONALLY, IN 2006?

A. A lot of the new things came last year, with our son Dashiell being born last March. This year he's growing and I'm very fortunate over the winter to have spent a lot of time with Michelle and Dashiell both. It was actually a lot of fun, really, being a dad and getting into that and being there every day. The off-season was exceptional for that. This year I want our car to be competitive. To me that's the most important thing, on a professional level, and to have a race car underneath me that allows me to perform at my best.

15. Q. YOU ARE AN AVID CYCLIST, BUT YOU ARE NOW ALSO A FATHER OF A 10-MONTH-OLD SON. HOW HAS BEING A PARENT CHANGED YOUR PERSONAL LIFESTYLE?

A. As a parent, definitely, your priorities change drastically, so, naturally, my priorities now are not only my wife Michelle, but my son Dashiell. We're an active family. It's important that we're fit. It's just part of our lifestyle. And this year we increased our relationship with Seven Cycles, a leading manufacturer of racing bicycles, out of Boston, so the cycling part of our lives is still very strong. I think Michelle is going to compete again this year and we're both looking forward to that. We're two people who are very competitive in everything we do. And, from what we've seen, our son, at 10 months old, has already shown signs of being fast and fearless. It might run in the family.

16. Q. YOUR WIFE MICHELLE IS ALSO A COMPETITIVE CYCLIST. DO YOU AND SHE STILL FIND TIME TO CYCLE TOGETHER?

A. It's a lot harder now, but I think this spring we'll be doing a lot of training together. She's getting back into her fitness routine and she's made a decision that she's probably going to be competing in the summer. So, we'll be doing a lot of riding together, which is great.

17. Q. YOU ARE A PROUD PROPONENT OF THE SHARE THE ROAD PROGRAM, WHERE MOTORISTS ARE ASKED TO SHARE THE ROAD SAFELY WITH CYCLISTS. HOW STRONGLY DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS?

A. I feel very, very strongly about it. Something that every road cyclist has to face is angry motorists or motorists who are simply bad drivers. People who drive cars definitely need to understand the responsibility that they have, not only to themselves but to other motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and other people who are on the road. Cyclists have a legal right to use the roads in this country and 99 percent of all motorists are really good, polite and safe, but there's an element out there of motorists who either buzz a cyclist coming close or actually just endanger the lives of other people on the road. I think there should be tougher Federal and State laws written to protect pedestrians and cyclists, more than there are now, because a large number of cyclists are killed every year, and sometimes the drivers of the motor vehicles are let off the hook. And there's no excuse for that. So, it's an issue I feel very strongly about and I hope we can get more involved with it and promote Share the Road. I think motorists need to fully understand the legalities of the situation, and they need to also understand who actually are the cyclists - from Lance Armstrong to Marty Nothstein to everyday mothers and fathers and wives and children. These are human beings out there. I think people need to be cognizant of that fact and they need to definitely drive more aware and be more aware that cycling is a growing sport and more and more people are doing it and they need to be safe out there.

18. Q. YOUR BUDDY, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL CYCLIST MARTY NOTHSTEIN, WILL BE RACING AN ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR THIS YEAR. HOW MUCH OF AN INFLUENCE WERE YOU ON HIS DECISION TO ENTER DRAG RACING?

A. I don't know if I've been an influence. You'd have to go ask him that. I know I've helped him. It's great that he's getting some opportunities. He's a very competitive individual. We joke. He wanted to be a race-car driver, I wanted to be a professional cyclist. But it's too late for me to turn back the clock. And, even if I could, that sport is so difficult that making it to the top takes a huge effort, not to mention special genes and DNA that you're born with. But, Marty has an opportunity, coming into Alcohol Funny car, a competitive one, tuned by Bucky Austin, and it's going to be good for him. It's going to be a real learning experience. I'm very excited for him and very eager to see how he does this year.

19. Q. BESIDES WINNING A FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, WHAT ARE YOUR DREAMS AND/OR GOALS FOR THE FUTURE?

A. My priority is to provide just a good living and a good way of life for my family. And that's really my only goal that I have and, of course, to be happy and content in life. Ever since my accident 10 years ago I've kind of adopted that outlook, that every day is a new day and try to do things that make you happy and make a difference.

20. Q. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF EVER QUITTING DRAG RACING?

A. Quitting drag racing is kind of a harsh term. It's a sport and it's not something you do forever. There's a lot of risk, a lot of danger. It's a somewhat difficult lifestyle, but I've been involved with the sport since I was 17 years old, so, I've been traveling to a lot of races for a long time. It's a way of life for me. To step away from the sport is something, honestly, I never even considered. I'm sure I'll be involved in the sport one way or another for a very long time.

21. Q. WILL YOU ENCOURAGE DASHIELL IF HE WISHES TO FOLLOW IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS?

A. Drag racing is a sport for a very select few who can make a very good living at it. You don't get wealthy by any means, but a select few can make a decent living. So, it's a very, very hard sport to make it in. And, like I said, there are a lot of risks, it's a tough lifestyle. If he wants to do it, then that's fine. He can do what he needs to do, but I won't encourage it or discourage it. It has to be something that he has to want in the worst way, because I think that's what makes you successful or not successful, is your desire. But, hopefully in 10, 15 or 20 years from now, the sport will be in a better place. But, who knows what the future is? Who knows what kind of drag racing there will be? There are a lot of issues facing the world, environmental issues being at the top of the list, and political issues. Hopefully, there is still a place for motor racing in the future. But, I'm sure there will be competition and sport and Dashiell may want to be an athlete, or he may want to be a piano player or something else. Who knows? My parents were very supportive of most of the things I wanted to do when I was growing up, and that's kind of how Michelle and I intend to raise Dashiell too, supporting him in whatever he may want to do.

-dsr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Chuck Etchells , Bucky Austin , Don Schumacher