RETURNING TO ATLANTA EVOKES CHILDHOOD MEMORIES FOR BAZEMORE=20 Putnam, Connecticut, May 7, 1999 - As a teenager growing up in Atlanta, Whit Bazemore was fascinated with drag racing. He built model cars, read racing magazines, and decorated...
RETURNING TO ATLANTA EVOKES CHILDHOOD MEMORIES FOR BAZEMORE=20
Putnam, Connecticut, May 7, 1999 - As a teenager growing up in Atlanta, Whit Bazemore was fascinated with drag racing. He built model cars, read racing magazines, and decorated his room with posters of racecars. He took particular interest in the intimidating and, arguably, most dangerous class of vehicles known as "Funny Cars". His childhood heroes were Don Prudhomme, "Jungle Jim" Lieberman and Raymond Beadle, among others. It was the on-track exploits of these straight-line legends that sparked the desire in young Bazemore. But the one day that truly cemented his fate occurred over twenty years ago when he was first able to experience an NHRA event in person. It happened at the Atlanta Dragway, site of this weekend's Advance Auto Parts Nationals. Even now, the Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro Z28 pilot can recite the events as if it were yesterday.
"I remember the first time I went to the Atlanta Dragway," detailed Bazemore. "I went with a schoolmate of mine, Hank Young, who to this day has a street rod business in Atlanta. His family was big into cars, as I was, and we loved drag racing. It was about 1977 or '78, and our mothers took us up there on a Friday. To show you how big a deal it was to us, they pulled us out of school for a day to take us to the races.
The first car I saw there was a Fuel Funny Car - Tom McEwen's Corvette. I remember very vividly seeing that car run - it really got my attention. I think my future was pretty well sealed. It scared the hell out of me, but I thought it was the most awesome racecar I had seen at the time, and I wanted to drive one. So I devoted my life to achieving that goal, and here I am."
One thing that has not changed since Bazemore's initial encounter with drag racing is the fierce level of competition. Just as Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen's nemesis was Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, so does Bazemore do battle with the Pedregon brothers and reigning Funny Car champion John Force. This weekend, the world's fastest quarter-milers will be testing their skills and each other at the Atlanta Dragway. Although this venerable facility has a racing surface similar to that at Virginia Motorsports Park, site of the last race two weeks ago, there is little chance the conditions will be the same. Should temperatures remain near normal for this time of year, the challenge for all concerned will again be to make these 2,300-pound, 6,000 horsepower land rockets walk the tenuous tightrope between traction and power. Whoever performs this task the best should do well.
But the Etchells team has concerns beyond that of taming the track. So far this season, the Kendall-backed entry has posted impressive qualifying numbers, but has yet to capitalize with a win on Sunday. Since installing a completely different engine and clutch configuration prior to the Gainesville race, this veteran crew has been searching for the key to consistent, repeatable performance under any conditions. Although severely tested, their determination to excel remains strong, and they are confident of becoming a more prominent challenger in the near future.
"So far this year our car has been very consistent through qualifying and eliminations right up to the run when we get beat," explained Bazemore. "I think it's just a matter of (crew chief) Tim Richards continuing to fine-tune this set-up with the five-disc clutch. He's learning more about it on every pass. It's a hard combination to run, because it's so different from where we were before. We're not that far out the realm of running really well.
We've also had one or two freak mechanical things that have cost us a round win. It's not that our competition has gone out and really outrun us - more than not, we've beaten ourselves. That's something we have to work on, trying to improve our game so that doesn't happen.
The track this weekend should be difficult for all the Fuel cars to get a hold of, especially now that this race is held in May. If we have a hot weekend where it's 80 degrees and the sun is out, it could be a marginal surface.
It could all come down to crew chiefs and drivers. If that's the case, I like the Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro Z28 chances of completing my childhood dream."
BAZEMORE BANTER: This will be Whit's 10th appearance at the Atlanta Dragway, where he looks to improve upon his semi-final finish from 1996....Bazemore is looking for his first win as driver of the Kendall Camaro.....Bazemore's best qualifying performance at this event is 3rd.
WHAT: 18th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals, the seventh event on the 22- race 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series Schedule.
WHEN: May 13 -16, 1999
WHERE: Atlanta Dragway, Commerce, Georgia
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions start with two sessions on Friday, May 14 at 3:00 & 7:00 p.m., and conclude on Saturday, May 15 with two rounds at 12 noon and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 16.
TV: Fox Sports will air two-hours of same-day final-round coverage from 7-9 p.m. on Sunday, May 16 (Local time). In addition, Speedvision will have one hour of qualifying highlights from 8-9 p.m. on Saturday, May 15 and two hours of first round coverage from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, May 16 (All Speedvision times are Eastern). As always, please check your local listings.