Brainerd: Whit Bazemore preview

Bazemore focused, fired up and ready to win in Brainerd BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 11, 2004) - With eight races remaining in the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, Whit Bazemore, crew chief Lee Beard and the entire Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge ...

Bazemore focused, fired up and ready to win in Brainerd

BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 11, 2004) - With eight races remaining in the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, Whit Bazemore, crew chief Lee Beard and the entire Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car team find themselves in familiar territory: second place in the championship, chasing John Force for the crown.

Bazemore, who was runner-up in the title chase in 2003 and 2001, both times to either Force or a Force team member (Tony Pedregon in '03), is focused, ready, fired up and aiming at the target: his first Funny Car championship of his 16-year professional drag-racing career.

After reaching five final rounds of the first nine events in 2004, winning twice and leading the Funny Car point standings through three events, the two-time U.S. Nationals champion and the fastest Funny Car driver on Earth (4.713 at 333.25 mph at Route 66 Raceway earlier this year), has struggled in the past five events while the team has searched for the optimum setup under hotter summer conditions, the newly-mandated 85 percent nitromethane rule and a new Goodyear tire.

The NHRA circus heads to Brainerd International Raceway for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend, and Bazemore is 146 points behind Force, 14 ahead of Del Worsham and 35 in front of his teammate Gary Scelzi.

"We're working on our tune-up trying to refine it and adapt it to the new tire and the 85-percent rule," he said. "There's no question that when we're in kind of cool, overcast conditions our Matco Tools Dodge can compete right now with anybody, and outperform almost everyone in the class. As soon as we get on a hotter race track we've struggled the last couple of races.

"Brainerd is typically an 80-degree kind of place, but it can be cool here," he added. "If it's cool we will obviously feel really confident. If it isn't then we're going to have to work hard during qualifying to not only to get into the show but to adapt the car so it's very, very competitive in hotter conditions.

"The championship is what motivates me more than anything else and we're certainly not one to give up and throw in the towel, but realistically the Force team is always the one to beat and right now they seem to be the strongest team out there. For us to challenge them for the remainder of the year we have to step up our game a little bit. We know that. It's just the facts as they are.

"I have every bit of confidence in our Matco Tools team, our personnel. I think the championship is what motivates everyone on our team. We're very hungry for it and we understand that now is the time when we cannot stumble and let our competitors build up an insurmountable lead."

Although the Indianapolis resident, who has 17 career wins, has not won at Brainerd, he has two runner-up finishes here (1999 and 2001), has qualified No. 1 twice (in '97 and '01) and still holds the elapsed-time track record here of 4.849 seconds, set in '01.

Pro qualifying begins on Friday, Aug. 13, at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and continues on Saturday, Aug. 14, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 15, at 11 a.m.

On Saturday, Aug. 14, ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, Aug. 15, ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, Aug. 15, ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET).

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi