As Whit Bazemore rolled to the line for his third qualifying attempt for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, he knew the Kendall Motor Oil/Matco Tools Camaro Z28 Racing Team had their backs against the wall. After smoking the...
As Whit Bazemore rolled to the line for his third qualifying attempt for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, he knew the Kendall Motor Oil/Matco Tools Camaro Z28 Racing Team had their backs against the wall. After smoking the tires on their first two passes, Bazemore and the Etchells crew found themselves outside of the top sixteen necessary to qualify. With rain forecast for later that afternoon, Bazemore knew the possibility existed that this could well be their last attempt to make the field.
Running in the right lane, the Etchells fuel coupe rocketed down track, with the early numbers indicating a run in the low 4.9-second range. However, before Bazemore could complete his run, smoke coming from the massive rear tires once again indicated a loss of traction. Bazemore fought to keep his racecar under control and under power, keeping his foot in the throttle as long as possible. Finally the stress proved to be too much on the engine, which failed in dramatic fashion. Fortunately, Bazemore's elapsed time of 5.188 seconds, which came with a top speed of 262.64 mph was enough to place him in the precarious 16th position heading into the fourth and final session, although the team realized improvement would be essential to ensuring their position on Sunday's final eliminations ladder.
However, before the professional categories could log their final attempts, Mother Nature once again intervened, with a persistent rain forcing NHRA officials to curtail qualifying to those rounds already completed. This locked Whit Bazemore as the sixteenth qualifier and set the stage for a first round encounter with No.1 qualifier and 2000 Winston Funny Car Champion John Force, marking the first time these two have met in competition since Brainerd a year ago.
"You don't like to come here on Saturday not being qualified and having not made it down the track. We're struggling with smoking the tires just like several other teams are, but we were fortunate today that it made it far enough to where it still had good momentum and I didn't have to pedal it, although I could have. At the time it smokes the tires, you have to act instinctively, because every thousandth of a second counts. The motor went a little high, and I backed off the throttle a little bit, but it hooked back up and made it to the finish line despite dropping a couple of cylinders, running a 5.18. We were really fortunate because the weather moved in, and we were 16th.
"So now we get to run Johnny (Force) in the first round, and I like that. We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. I hope we'll give them a good race. We have to get our Kendall/Matco Camaro working better, and I've got to do my job as well. If we can go from A to B without smoking the tires, we'll do okay.
"I say I like racing John, especially in the first round, and people think I'm crazy because they could go out there and rip off an .85, while we've struggled to get down the track, which adds up to an early exit. I don't look at it that way. I see it as an opportunity to knock off the best team out here, which they are. We'll be ready for them."