WHIT BAZEMORE Whit Bazemore opened the 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season as the favorite in Funny Car. Based on his finish in the 2001 season, he was the obvious choice. He drove his Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird to an ...
Whit Bazemore opened the 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season as the favorite in Funny Car. Based on his finish in the 2001 season, he was the obvious choice. He drove his Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird to an impressive performance during the second half of the 2001 campaign, that included nine No. 1 qualifying efforts and three victories in seven final rounds. However, his 2002 season opened with back-to-back first round losses, setting the tone early for a potential championship season gone awry. As he enters the O'Reilly Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec, Bazemore is hoping to put together a three-race winning streak to close out the season and lock down a third place finish in the Funny Car standings in the NHRA POWERade series. Although he has two victories on the year, he needs to make up for disappointing DNQs at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals in Memphis, Tenn. In this Q&A session, Bazemore, currently fifth in the points order, talks about what it takes to be No. 1, adding a second car to the team and his team's mission for the final three races.
Q: After receiving a lot of hype from the media as the pre-season favorite in Funny Car, and the guy who could finally dethrone John Force, what happened to turn your fortunes around?
Bazemore: We've struggled at times this year. At times we've had a car and still haven't won. We won two races early on this spring and thought honestly that we had turned the corner. It really wasn't to be. It's disappointing. On the other hand there are a lot of things that are different about this year. We experienced a lot of different things that I think over the long haul will make this team stronger. I didn't listen to any of that (pre-season predictions). You still have to take it one race at a time and one run at a time. You can't get all caught up in that hype. Although I enjoyed it. I think it's nice when people say that you are going to win the championship. But you still have to go out and earn it every day, every round. Realistically, you look at John (Force's) team and you realize what it takes to beat them. I think we've got more of what it takes than a lot of other teams. But unless you go out and do it, you are not going to be the champion.
Q: Was it tough handling the pressure of being the pre-season favorite?
Bazemore: That's something that I experienced last year to be honest. It's a different type of mentality of pressure where you go from having nothing to lose to having everything to lose. You really have to experience it to know what it is like. At first I didn't like it because I thought I would rather be the hunter. Now, I would rather be the guy that everyone is chasing. Unfortunately that's not us right now, but that's what I want.
Q: What has been the missing ingredient this season?
Bazemore: These cars are so fickle. We won Bristol but we blew up five or six times. We had the rods out five times. Sooner or later you are going to burn the car to the ground and you are not going to win any rounds. Then we went to Atlanta and we ran well there and won the race. We still didn't have the consistency that we needed there. We have lost some first round races where we had the performance in the car. We also had some holeshot losses that are painfully tough for me personally. That's just all part of the game and it all comes back around. You work on it and focus on it and work on the car and work on the driver and everything gets much better. We've made a lot of progress there. You make your own luck. We're trying to make some good luck. We've had some bad luck. Whether we made the bad luck, I don't know. We've lost some races by very close margins. That's tough. That's just the way the sport is some times. We were just on the wrong end. You can't bang your head against the wall.
Q: Speaking of banging your head against a wall, how tough was not qualifying at Indy, the sport's biggest race where you were the defending winner?
Bazemore: We got behind on the first run and we were in a position where on the last run we had to go down the track. We did, but we had a clutch disc come apart. Instead of running a 90-flat we went through the clutch and ran a 4.97. We also had four other runs, so you can't blame it all on that one run. It's very, very frustrating. I know for the team it was tough. It's a team effort and we didn't get it done. We struggled. I wouldn't trade these guys for anything. It pissed us off. It gives you an attitude, I tell you that. We had the car and the team. Circumstances went against us the entire weekend. The car burned up at 900 feet. The car should've burned to the ground on that run and it didn't. We were smoking the tires and dropping cylinders. It was a weird deal. What do you do? You can't go back and do it over. You have to accept it and move on. It wasn't meant to be.
Q: How do you handle such a setback?
Bazemore: You've got to walk away because otherwise it will eat you. The good part of it was that my father was in town from Atlanta and I got to hang out with my dad on Monday afternoon and have a little family time. That was the positive side of things. There's a silver lining in every dark cloud.
Q: What is it going to take to turn the program around and get back to the championship contending level?
Bazemore: There's some things that we need to resolve and I will feel a lot better. There's rumors going around that are kind of frustrating. My job is to drive the car. That's what I do. If we don't have a good weekend, I still get to drive the car. That's why I am here, that is my passion. But it's not much fun if you don't win. There's only one John Force. The rest of us have to fight over the scraps. We are working hard to get to that level where we are much stronger. We've got a great crew chief, the budget and I think we have the driver. As a team we've got everything that it takes. I think we have to hold it together and move in the right direction. I want to get there again. I think this year has made us stronger. Having experienced (racing at the top level), now we want it more. It's a different level though. You have to be comfortable at that level. I think we were. We could've done better at times. The key is that you have to cut out all the other distractions. You have to focus on driving the car. All the other stuff-- what people say, what the media says and what your competitors say -- you have to shut all that stuff out and just focus on your team and what you need to do to get better. It's really hard to shut all that out, but that's what you have to do in order to be successful at this game.
Q: What's the most important thing that you've learned this season?
Bazemore: Patience. You always learn patience. You can't learn that enough. You've got to learn how to take some failure. You don't want to accept it. It's going to happen. When it does, you have to learn from it and turn it into a positive. By most standards, we haven't had a bad season. We've won two races and we're in the top five. We have a chance to be in the top three by the end of the year and that's our goal. If we finish in the top five we'll be disappointed. If we finish in the top three, I think that'll be pretty good, all things considered. I've had to learn to work with the people here. It's a different atmosphere over here, than say at Bazemore Racing, Foxen Canyon Motorsports or Chuck Etchells Racing. You have to learn how to relate to your car owner and the people around you and their expectations and how they come across and what they really mean.
Q: Does this type of season just fuel your appetite for success even more?
Bazemore: You are always measured by what you do. If you are content with mediocrity, then you aren't going to be very good. It's frustrating when you don't meet your goals. We're off schedule and it doesn't mean that we aren't going to reach our goal. It's just not going to be this season, but eventually we will get it.
Q: How has the two-car concept worked for you guys?
Bazemore: In the long run it will be really good. This year it was depressing early on, no question. Again, it was new for Lee (Beard, crew chief) and Mike (Neff, Scotty Cannon crew chief). Mike went over to run the second car and it changed our team. You look at the team that wins the championship year after year for 11 times, and they don't change their team. You have to get the right group of people together who have the right chemistry and you need to do whatever it takes to keep them happy. I think that is the real key to success out there. Now we know where we are with it. I enjoy working with Scotty. It has strengthened our team. It is good to have another set of eyes and ears and have another opinion. To have another driver it gives us both more credibility when we say there are things going on with the car. It's good to have that back-up. I used to consider my two biggest enemies out here Scotty Cannon and John Force. Now, they're my two best friends. It's kind of weird how that works. Come Sunday morning, you've got to let the friendship go and you've got to get aggressive. If you are not aggressive, you are not going to win.
Q: Is there anything that could happen in the final three races that could salvage your year?
Bazemore: We could win three more races this year and that's what I look at. I want to win races. I want to win a championship really bad, but I've got to wait another year for that. It's about doing the most perfect job you can do, day in and day out. That's all that matters. If you do that, you will be successful. Winning some more races would be good.
Q: How is your team's chemistry right now?
Bazemore: It's good. Lee and I get along really well. I have found that it's the most important thing. It's important that the car owner and sponsor respect how you do your job. Ultimately it is the crew chief that really knows. It is important that Lee has the confidence in me and thinks I do the right thing and make the right decisions. That's important to me. If Lee Beard is happy, then everyone else will be happy too. Lee is my focus. We have a good relationship. He is very methodical and I believe in the guy 100 percent. We have really good chemistry. Scotty and I get along great, stick up for each other and solve problems together.