Baytown: Whit Bazemore preview

Bazemore back on track for Houston BAYTOWN, Texas (April 13, 2004) - Whit Bazemore is getting back on track in the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series after a strong showing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week. The driver of the...

Bazemore back on track for Houston

BAYTOWN, Texas (April 13, 2004) - Whit Bazemore is getting back on track in the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series after a strong showing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week. The driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car reached the final round after dismissing points leader Del Worsham and two John Force team drivers in the early rounds.

This effort vaulted him into fourth in the point standings and placed him right in the middle of the battle for the NHRA Funny Car championship after four races, just 91 points out of the lead.

Bazemore expects the momentum to continue as the NHRA circus heads to Houston Raceway Park this weekend for the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, the fifth series' round at a facility where weather and track conditions are always factors.

"Houston has a new surface, so it's our hope that the track has been smoothed some," said the two-time U.S. Nationals champion. "It was really bumpy, especially in the left lane; so much so that it was really a one-lane race track. We hope they've gotten that fixed. And if they have, the track is probably going to be green, so I look for a lot of tire smoke down track early in the weekend.

"I also look for our car to be strong. I'm fired up, I'm ready to go," he added.

Preparing for different conditions at every race, whether it includes a re-surfaced track, questionable weather conditions, altitude or lack thereof, is routine these days, says Bazemore, the 2003 NHRA Funny Car championship runner-up.

"It could be 90 degrees, 90 percent humidity in Houston this weekend," he said. "It's really not that hard to prepare the car for different conditions. It comes down to the experience that (crew chief) Lee Beard and the Matco Tools team have acquired, and knowing what the car wants in given conditions. All the top teams are pretty good at that these days.

"You have a set tune-up for different conditions, you go from that and then you fine-tune from that."

Bazemore is pumped after Las Vegas, following a slow start to his 2004 season, which included three early-round losses from three outstanding qualifying starts (No. 5, No. 2 and No. 2). His best result of the year so far, in Vegas, came from his No. 10 starting spot.

"Qualifying in Vegas really doesn't indicate the true performance of the team," said the Indianapolis resident. "Qualifying was cut short by rain (only two sessions were completed) and we had a good first run. We were in the top half of that session. And we just had a little mechanical on the second run. That's how it goes. That's why it's so important that you go down the track every time that you can. You never know when that run might be the one that counts."

Beating the points leader in the first round in Vegas was key to Bazemore's moving up from eighth in points and bolstering the team's confidence. "It just felt like we did our jobs. We had our Matco Tools Dodge go down the race track. We went up there expecting to win.

"The way I look at it, it was a great opportunity for us. We had nothing to lose and they had everything to lose. I'd rather race a points leader in the first round, where the chances of making a huge points gain during the day is a lot better than racing him in the final, where if you beat him you're only going to gain 20 points.

"To me it was a good opportunity and we took advantage of it. We knew our potential on race day, and we lived up to it for a change." Because of a mechanical problem in the final round, Bazemore lost to Phil Burkart Jr.

This weekend's race at Houston Raceway Park is a whole new ballgame, and Bazemore has his sights set on winning his first event at this track. He was low qualifier here in 2002 and runner-up in the second event in 1998. "We haven't won here," he said. "It's a good track. We set the speed record here in '97 (313 mph). That was a big moment in my career."

NHRA Pro Nitro qualifying is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 16, and 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 17. Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 18.

ESPN2 will air qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. ET on April 17. Eliminations will air on April 18 at 5 p.m. ET, and will be repeated on April 23 at 3 p.m. ET.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Phil Burkart