BAZEMORE MAKES PROGRESS IN PHOENIX Chandler, Arizona, February 28, 1999 - Whit Bazemore and the Chuck Etchells Racing team fully expected to go through a learning curve in the early part of the 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season. After all,...
BAZEMORE MAKES PROGRESS IN PHOENIX
Chandler, Arizona, February 28, 1999 - Whit Bazemore and the Chuck Etchells Racing team fully expected to go through a learning curve in the early part of the 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season. After all, this would be the first time Bazemore had driven for someone other than himself, and this would be the first time the Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro would be driven by someone other than Chuck Etchells. However, in a true testament to the caliber of this organization, Bazemore has been a contender for the win in each of the first two events.
At this weekend's Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Firebird International Raceway, Bazemore gained the best starting position of his career for this event, and powered his way into the semi-finals. Facing second qualifier Cruz Pedregon without the benefit of lane choice, Bazemore knew he would need a great run to advance to his first final of the young season. Although he was able to gain the advantage at the start, his 5.052-second elapsed time was not enough to prevent his opponent from edging him at the finish line.
"In the second round, I felt a vibration start early in the run that didn't go away," explained Bazemore. "The end result was that we had hurt the rear main bearing, which forced us to change motors. Cruz has one of the best cars out there, but we felt we were ready for him. We were able to get the jump at the start, but the car just did not respond the way we wanted it to."
The Etchells crew had arrived in Arizona as defending Funny Car champions for this event, and were determined to repeat the feat with their new driver. The conditions at the facility just outside of Phoenix were completely different from those encountered at the first race in Pomona, with clear blue skies and high temperatures greeting competitors and fans throughout the four-day event. Throughout the pits, crews struggled to find the best combination for the tricky, slippery racing surface. After encountering traction problems on their first attempt, Bazemore confirmed his intentions for the weekend by making a 5.016-second run on Friday's afternoon attempt, which temporarily placed him fifth in the qualifying order.
Not satisfied with their standing, the Kendall team came back on Saturday to post the quickest time in the morning session, a 4.908-second, 306.12 miles-per-hour pass, which ultimately earned him the third spot on Sunday's final eliminations ladder. This set the stage for a first-round meeting with number fourteen qualifier Dale Creasy Jr., whom Bazemore had never faced in his career. Although he was able to gain the victory, it wa s not an easy one as Bazemore had to overcome a slight disadvantage at the start, and then precisely backpedal the Etchells fuel coupe to maintain traction and chase down his opponent. He would have a much easier route to the win in the second round against Cory Lee, leaving first and powering to the finish line, putting him into his semi-final round match-up with the middle Pedregon brother.
"It was another good weekend for the Kendall/Superwinch team," stated Bazemore. "Obviously, we don't like to lose, but the important point is that we won a couple of rounds, which you have to do if you're planning to contend for the NHRA Funny Car championship as we are. At the end of the year, when we look at the big picture, going to the semi-finals in our second race of the year is not a bad situation at all.
As I've said before, this is a very strong team, and we are headed in the right direction. The entire Chuck Etchells Racing team has really accepted me, and I am quickly coming to terms with the Kendall Camaro. I'm still pinching myself to be in this situation, and to be honest, I cannot wait to get to Gainesville."
In Sunday's final, John Force defeated Cruz Pedregon for his first win of the season. The NHRA tour now heads to the East Coast for the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida March 18-21.
Funny Car Points Standings: 1. J. Force - 196, 2. T. Pedregon - 187, 3. Whit Bazemore - 132, 4. G. Densham - 123, 5. D. Skuza - 111, 6. C. Pedregon - 107, 7. D. Worsham - 87, 8. J. Toliver - 86, 9. (tie) F. Pedregon - 84, 9. (tie) A. Hofmann - 84.
Big Bud Shootout Points: 1. J. Force - 1285, 2. Whit Bazemore - 1185, 3. C. Pedregon - 1165, 4. R. Capps - 1100, 5. T. Pedregon - 1070, 6. A. Hofmann - 955, 7. D. Skuza - 920, 8. G. Densham - 845.