Bazemore & Pulde Story & Funny Car Notebook (F/C)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 BAZEMORE'S FORMER MENTOR COMES THROUGH IN SUBSTITUTE ROLE POMONA, Calif. -- A young photographer hung out around Funny Car driver Dale Pulde's pit area nearly 15...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

BAZEMORE'S FORMER MENTOR COMES THROUGH IN SUBSTITUTE ROLE

POMONA, Calif. -- A young photographer hung out around Funny Car driver Dale Pulde's pit area nearly 15 years ago, eager to be part of a winning team.

Pulde agreed to let the teen-ager help his team, performing menial tasks such as sweeping the pit area, cleaning greasy parts, and tightening nuts and bolts.

That photographer, Whit Bazemore, eventually started driving and formed a race team, landing the coveted Smokin' Joe's sponsorship this season. So when Bazemore suffered severe leg injuries in a motorcycle accident last month, one name continued to pop up when Bazemore and crew chief Rob Flynn scanned a list of possible replacement drivers.

Dale Pulde.

"It's kind of strange how things evolve," Bazemore said. "I never thought I'd be in a position where Dale Pulde would drive for me. He walked on water as far as I was concerned.

"Rob and I wanted Dale because we wanted a guy to fit in the car right away and not make mistakes. He's done a great job. I told him, 'Just don't screw up my stuff as much as I screwed up yours.'"

Pulde, from Sylmar, Calif., has done a masterful job in relief of Bazemore, winning the Chief Auto Parts Nationals earlier this month at Dallas in just his second race in the Smokin' Joe's Ford Mustang. He will be a contender for victory at the season-ending, $1,416,000 Winston Select Finals, Oct. 24-27. It will be his final race in the car, as Bazemore will return as driver next season.

"Whit hired me because he thought I'd do a good job," Pulde said. "You've got to give him credit. It's going to hurt to leave the seat, but if I never race again I can say that I was on a winning team and was a winner on my way out."

WINSTON SELECT FINALS FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK

--No bitterness: It would be easy to think that Whit Bazemore might be muttering "why me?" while recuperating from serious leg injuries in Bowman-Gray Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C.

After all, Dale Pulde won a national event in just his second race with Bazemore's Smokin' Joe's Racing team. Bazemore is winless during his NHRA Winston Drag Racing career.

But you won't hear any complaints from Bazemore.

"I'm incredibly excited and happy for the team and for myself," Bazemore said from his hospital bed. "Every driver wants to be on a winning team. Nothing else matters. We're a winning team now.

"One win doesn't make us Winston champions, but it gives the team confidence to know they can win. I know they can win races now, too. That's something, honestly, that was lacking for a while this year. Deep down, I was frustrated we were struggling."

--On the mend: Whit Bazemore plans to be ready to race again at the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals, Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 1997 at Pomona, Calif.

Bazemore suffered a compound fracture of his left leg, torn ligaments in both knees and extensive soft tissue damage to his right leg when his Ducati motorcycle slid out from under him as he tried to give an oncoming truck more room in a curve.

He will stay at Bowman-Gray Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., for another three to four weeks for extensive rehabilitation.

"Dale asked me if I was absolutely certain that I would be back in time for the Winternationals," Bazemore said with a laugh. "I will.

"But I feel for the guy because there are guys like Dale Pulde who deserve to race and for some reason their careers aren't happening. Sometimes it's not fair."

Pulde owns a thriving business that repairs and customizes Harley- Davidson motorcycles. He said he will return to that job full-time if he can't find sponsorship for a Funny Car team next year.

--More records: The record beat goes on for John Force.

Force won two rounds earlier this month at the Chief Auto Parts Nationals to set an NHRA record for elimination-round victories in one season. Force has won 61 rounds. The record was 59, set by Pro Stock driver Darrell Alderman in 1991.

Force has set four other records this season: 12 victories, 15 final rounds , an elapsed time of 4.889 seconds and his sixth NHRA Winston Funny Car championship.

--Changes: The impressive performances that Dale Pulde have turned in since joining the Smokin' Joe's team in late September have come due to his 20-plus years of experience and due to major changes in the engine program initiated by team owner and driver Whit Bazemore before he was hurt in a motorcycle accident.

Bazemore switched to Alan Johnson cylinder heads at the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals in mid-September. Johnson served as crew chief for his younger brother, Blaine Johnson, until Blaine's tragic death in a qualifying accident Aug. 31 at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Johnson also has served as a tuning consultant for the Top Fuel dragster of Bazemore's Smokin' Joe's teammate, Jim Head, during most of this season.

Johnson also gave a few clutch tuning tips to Bazemore's crew chief, Rob Flynn.

"Rob has taken it from there," Pulde said. "But it's not a one-man deal. I'm really happy for the crew. They've worked hard."

That work paid off with a victory at the Chief Auto Parts Nationals earlier this month at Dallas. Pulde also recorded a team-best elapsed time of 5.000 seconds at the Sears Craftsman Nationals last month at Topeka, Kan., in his first race with the team.

--Join the club: Dale Pulde thinks he could become the sixth member of the Castrol 4-Second Club for Funny Cars at this event.

"Pomona is a tricky track," Pulde said. "If the track is good and it can handle the power, we can go 4.95 (seconds)."

Pulde's career-best time is 5.000 seconds, set last month during his debut with the Smokin' Joe's team at the Sears Craftsman Nationals in Topeka, Kan. Pulde would earn a $1,000 bonus for joining the Castrol club. Members are Chuck Etchells, John Force, Al Hofmann, Cruz Pedregon and Tony Pedregon.

--Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 24, one of only two professional qualifying sessions held on a Thursday this season. Qualifying will continue with a session at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 25, and finish with sessions at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Final eliminations start at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 27. Sportsman competition starts at 8 a.m. Oct. 24.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the Winston Select Finals. Call NHRA at (818) 914-4761 for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets throughout Southern California. To order through Ticketmaster, call (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000, (805) 583-8700 or (619) 220-TIXS.

--On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 60 minutes of live final -round competition from the Winston Select Finals at 4:30 p.m. (PST) Oct. 27 . TNN will televise the Budweiser Classic live from 4-5 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 26.

--On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies. -30-

Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Darrell Alderman , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Chuck Etchells , Cruz Pedregon , Dale Pulde