Bristol: Whit Bazemore final summary

Bazemore faces Force in Bristol final round BRISTOL, Tenn. (May 3, 2004) - No. 1 qualifier Whit Bazemore survived three interesting rounds in Funny Car eliminations today at the O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals to make it into the final ...

Bazemore faces Force in Bristol final round

BRISTOL, Tenn. (May 3, 2004) - No. 1 qualifier Whit Bazemore survived three interesting rounds in Funny Car eliminations today at the O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals to make it into the final round for the second time this year. After eliminating Bob Gilbertson, his teammate Gary Scelzi and rookie Eric Medlen, he found himself paired against his perennial rival John Force in the final round for the eighth time in his career.

It should have been the match of the weekend between the duo who have had their share of close encounters over the years, but Bazemore's Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus struck the tires at the hit of the throttle, while Force continued strong to the finish line, taking the win light with a 4.781-second E.T. at 322.88 mph to Bazemore's 13.224/93.50.

In the first round, Bazemore defeated Bob Gilbertson, despite losing a cylinder and eventually an engine, with a 4.870/293.15 pass to Gilbertson's tire-smoking 10.348/94.85.

The two-time U.S. Nationals champion then found himself facing his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Gary Scelzi in the second round, a match-up that seemed to bring out the best in both of them. They took off at the lights nearly identically, (.079 for Bazemore, .080 for Scelzi). Bazemore held that edge down the entire quarter-mile, tripping the win light with a 4.773-second E.T. at 315.56, the quickest E.T. of the day, while Scelzi came through just .0497 of a second later with a losing 4.821/323.97.

A driving contest best describes Bazemore's semifinal round against Eric Medlen, where both cars lost traction within milliseconds of each other, with both spitting, smoking, stumbling and pedaling their way down the quarter-mile to a spectacular finish. Bazemore won that skirmish with a 6.631/212.76 to Medlen's 7.026/292.27.

"It was a good weekend," said Bazemore. "The car ran well. We're still battling a few problems with it. There's something going on that caused it to smoke the tires right at the hit of the throttle (in the final). There's no way tune-up-wise that the car should have done that. There's something mechanically wrong there. We have to find it. (Crew chief) Lee Beard is somewhat beside himself that we have a gremlin like that, that basically gave this race away.

"It was still a good weekend. Any time you go to the third round or the final - you really hope to win - is good. But, the sport being what it is, you go out, you do the very best you can and you get the result and live with it.

"It was really a hard day. Some races you're meant to win and it's relatively easy," he added. "Other days you really have to fight for it. Today we had to fight for it. That's what makes it so disappointing. We clearly felt good about our chances going to the final round. We know that if the car had gone down the track it could have easily run a mid-.70. We got beat."

Racing your teammate can be fun as well as intimidating. "You try not to look at the cars in the other lane," said Bazemore, "but, obviously, we are a tight team. We know what Scelzi's team is capable of doing and they know what we're capable of doing, so it was a very hard round, there was a lot of pressure there. It was good to come out on the winning side of that match-up, certainly.

"The run against Eric Medlen was just as tough. We blew the tires off at the hit. He blew them off a little after we did. He had a tenth on us at the 330-ft. mark E.T.-wise . I think with reaction time (Medlen's was .116, Bazemore's .074), we were probably even. We were fortunate that we were able to get our Matco Tools Dodge to hook up and get to the finish line in one piece and turn on the win light. Part of it is skill and part of it is luck. Sometimes you can work really hard and the car will never hook back up. That time we did every trick we knew how to do and it hooked back up. So, we were pretty fortunate."

Crew chief Lee Beard was puzzled but not entirely disappointed with the result. "Obviously, any time you come into one of these races and you're No. 1 qualifier and you have low E.T. of the event (4.770 in qualifying) and low E.T. for the day - the two quickest runs of the event - you have to be more than satisfied. In fact, we're tickled to death with that.

"As a crew chief, I'm a little puzzled," he added. "We had this thing strike the tires instantly on the jump of the throttle. And that is frustrating. We made some changes over the winter to help our driver's reaction time and the throttle response on our engine is very, very good. Sometimes when he rolls up there to do a burnout it's hard for him to do a burnout because the thing's so snappy on the throttle. I'm sure that has attributed to smoking the tires instantly like that. We may have to find a happy medium on the throttle response versus smoking the tires.

"I've got my work cut out for me," he remarked.

Bazemore was penalized for two oildowns by the NHRA today, one of which Bazemore is questioning (a check of the videotape of that run is pending), which resulted in a loss of a total of 25 points. This keeps him sixth in the Funny Car point standings . Without the penalties, he would have moved up into fourth.

Next up is the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway on May 13-16, 2004.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Gilbertson , Whit Bazemore , Gary Scelzi , Eric Medlen