PITTSBORO, Ind. (Feb. 18, 2007) -- To no one's surprise, Whit Bazemore passed his much talked-about Top Fuel debut with flying colors. With a career-best 4.507-second blast and a quarterfinal effort at the season-opening Winternationals, Baze...
PITTSBORO, Ind. (Feb. 18, 2007) -- To no one's surprise, Whit Bazemore passed his much talked-about Top Fuel debut with flying colors. With a career-best 4.507-second blast and a quarterfinal effort at the season-opening Winternationals, Baze looked like a seasoned Top Fuel veteran behind the wheel of his Lee Beard-tuned Matco Tools Iron Eagle dragster. Now the 20-time NHRA Funny Car winner looks to become just the 14th driver in NHRA history to card victories in both nitro categories. Never shy for words, Bazemore offers his thoughts on adjusting to piloting a Top Fuel car, working alongside Rod Fuller and Beard, and his fitness routine as he prepares for the second race on the 23-race NHRA schedule near Phoenix, Feb. 23-25.
Q: After completing your first race in Top Fuel, what are your thoughts?
BAZEMORE: My first thought is that Pomona was really good for me in terms of building my confidence as far as my ability in a Top Fuel car goes and gaining more experience. It answered a lot of questions for me. I was always very confident in the team and I've been incredibly impressed by the guys on the team and how good they are. It's virtually a mistake-free organization and that's something that's hard to achieve. That's something that's really hard to achieve. They've done tremendous throughout testing and the first race. Even though we didn't come away with a win, we came way with the confidence and knowledge that we are capable of winning races and we identified some areas that we're going to work on in terms of both the performance of the car and driver. That will make us a much stronger team going forward.
Q: Is there any doubt that you can make the Countdown for the Championship and compete for the title this season after what you've seen so far?
BAZEMORE: I wouldn't say I have doubts, but at the same time you have to acknowledge that it's a challenge. Top Fuel, like all the professional categories, is incredibly competitive and there's no room for error. You don't want to say that you have doubts because we don't, our goal is to win a championship and we're capable of doing that, but at the same time you can't take for granted that you're going to be in the top eight because there will be some strong cars that aren't going to make the cut. You need to work hard all season long to make sure you're in the top eight come Indy time.
Q: What's it like working with new teammate Rod Fuller:
BAZEMORE: The situation here is unique for me. My first experience with a two-car team was back in 1996 with Jim Head under the Smokin' Joes banner, and it really wasn't a two-car team in the sense of the Powers organization. It was two cars sharing a sponsor and some technology. The same was true with Alan Johnson in '97 and '98. Then in 2002, Don Schumacher added Scotty Cannon with Oakley sponsorship. That was a real bonafide two-car team, and as everyone knows, it grew into a lot more than two cars. Even though everyone worked for Don, people looked out for themselves a lot more than they did the other team cars.
It's a lot different than at Schumacher's. The way David and Lee and Rob Flynn have set the team up, it's a lot more similar to John Force's organization. It's really one team with two cars, and even though there are two different sponsors on the cars and we compete head-to-head, it really is a win-win situation for the people on the team and the organization. With the setup that we have, it's going to promote cooperation as opposed to what has happened in the past, which was non-cooperation and people with their own agendas.
As far as "Hot" Rod goes, he's a great guy and I've gotten to know him a little bit. He seems like a really cool dude and he's obviously a really good driver. I'm excited to be working with him.
Q: Have you noticed any difference with Lee Beard?
BAZEMORE: He's very similar to what he was before. Lee is a very motivated and driven person. He's an incredible organizer. Our team reflects what I call a Lee Beard team. It's exciting for me to be back working with Lee. We had a lot of success in the past working together and with the people we have on this car and team, I think we'll have a lot of success in the future too.
Q: Do you miss driving a Funny Car?
BAZEMORE: Honestly, I do a little bit. I like Funny Cars. That's what I've driven. I'll always have a place for them and want to know what's going on. That said, the Top Fuel car is very challenging for me now. Whether that's because they're challenging to drive or because it's new, I don't have those answers yet. It's a hard car to drive well. It's still the same challenge. I'd say my plate is pretty full and I enjoy the dragster. I enjoy driving it. It's definitely less stress not worrying about the fire aspect. I've noticed that. Even though a Top Fuel car has its own set of problems, it is a little less stressful. At the same time, you can't take anything granted.
Q: What's the biggest adjustment you've had to make driving the Top Fuel car?
BAZEMORE: A couple things, like the steering part. The dragster steers so much quicker. I've talked to a lot of people that have driven both and that was a common thing that most people said. What I didn't expect is how different it really is. It's incredibly different. It's night and day. Any characteristic that would help you in a Funny Car works against you in a dragster. I'm having to re-learn some things. It's coming along. The other thing that really got my attention is the intensity in Top Fuel. These people are really good drivers. When Funny Car people cut an .060 light, chances are they're taking a really good chunk. Top Fuel is a lot different. The crutch of deep staging is gone with the exception of just a few guys. But most of the guys like (Larry) Dixon, (Doug) Kalitta, Cory Mac (McClenathan), (David) Grubnic, the really good guys, and it's most of the drivers in Top Fuel, they don't go in on race day and they're still cutting .060, .050, .040 lights. It's pretty intense.
Q: And finally, how has the cycling been going?
BAZEMORE: It's been slow. We have about a foot of snow in Indy and it's been really cold. At Pomona, I had the flu. I rode once with the flu before I knew I had it and I didn't feel well during the ride. I'm starting to get back in the swing of the fitness routine, but it's been tough with the travel. My goals are the same, to ride and use it as training and I'll have good fitness routines this spring and knock a few pounds off. It's all good. I'll do about 6,000 miles. That's what I've done the past couple years. The year my son was born, it was about 4,800 miles. We're moving and I may actually ride more this year.