RETURNING TO HIS COMPETITIVE ROOTS, BAZEMORE HOPES TO BREAK THE BANK IN BRISTOL Putnam, Connecticut, July 1, 1999 - When he was a fledgling motorsports photographer in high school, Whit Bazemore would travel to Tennessee to take pictures of some...
RETURNING TO HIS COMPETITIVE ROOTS, BAZEMORE HOPES TO BREAK THE BANK IN BRISTOL
Putnam, Connecticut, July 1, 1999 - When he was a fledgling motorsports photographer in high school, Whit Bazemore would travel to Tennessee to take pictures of some of the top names in drag racing at Bristol Dragway. In 1986, he made his competitive drag racing debut at the track known as "Thunder Valley" driving an Alcohol Funny Car tuned by Ronnie Swearingen. Although he set the track record in an IHRA Nitro Funny Car during one of his last appearances in 1992, there is another Bristol memory the Indianapolis resident would prefer to forget.
"I had a very educational moment here in 1989," detailed Bazemore. "It was during the May race when the IHRA was having a "Night of Fire". At that time Bristol was a very difficult track to race, particularly for a rookie in a Nitro Funny Car. As I made my pass, the left front tire went flat, and as a result, I ended up scraping the wall. To make matters worse, it set off the fireworks the track had set up for the end of the night. Looking back, it seems pretty funny, but I know it wasn't back then!"
But ten years later, as Bazemore returns to this legendary facility for the upcoming Winston Showdown, it is safe to say that both driver and track have come a long way. After undergoing a total reconstruction, which saw demolition crews raze the tower one year ago, Bristol Dragway is set to debut as the crown jewel on the NHRA circuit. Only the mountainside location remains as attention has been paid to make sure every detail is addressed. This weekend's event with its unique Top Fuel versus Funny Car format is one of the most anticipated in the history of the sport.
Bazemore, for his part, has become one of the top "shoes" in the NHRA's Funny Car division, with five national event wins over the last three years, including the prestigious U.S. Nationals crown in 1997. His recalcitrant Ford Tempo flopper from 1986 has been replaced by the sleek Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Funny Car, under the guidance of one of the top braintrusts in the sport, Tim and Kim Richards. One constant from those early days, however, is Bazemore's desire to win. Although this weekend's event will have no impact on the championship chase, Bazemore eagerly anticipates the challenge of competing against his Top Fuel counterparts and the possible rewards that he and the Etchells Racing team can derive from the experience.
"Jeff Byrd, who oversees the operation of the Bristol Dragway for Bruton Smith, is a good friend of mine and has played a big part in my success" stated Bazemore. "I'm thrilled to come to a track that he has helped make one of the top facilities in all of motorsports. We're also looking forward to putting on a good show for the fans.
We've never run a Funny Car against a Top Fuel dragster before, so we're not sure what's going to happen. Either way, we see it as a win-win situation. On one hand, we could take home a lot of Winston's money, and this Kendall Camaro team is going to do its very best to bring home the win. But even if we don't, the information we get from racing this weekend could help to fine-tune our car and prove useful at some of the upcoming races. No matter what, it promises to be an exciting and productive weekend."
Incidentally, Bazemore will not be the only member of the Etchells Racing team in action this weekend. As he was guaranteed a starting spot in the Winston Showdown on the basis of his victory in last November's Winston Finals, team owner Chuck Etchells decided to once again don his helmet and firesuit. Etchells will be at the controls of the Sickles Motorsports Camaro, which he has campaigned on a limited basis this year.
BAZEMORE BANTER: This will mark Bazemore's fourth appearance at the annual Winston all-star event, which previously had a standard format and was called the Winston Invitational....Bazemore's best previous qualifying effort in the Invitational was 3rd in 1998.
WHAT: Inaugural Winston Showdown.
WHEN: July 8-10, 1999
WHERE: Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tennessee
SCHEDULE: Nitro qualifying sessions start with two sessions on Thursday, July 8 at 5:00 & 9:00 p.m., and conclude on Friday, July 9 with two rounds at 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 10.
TV: ESPN will air one hour of final-round coverage from 9:30- 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 10, and one hour of qualifying highlights on Friday, July 9 from 9:30 - 10:30 p.m.. (All times are Eastern). As always, please check your local listings.