Putnam, Connecticut, September 10, 1999 - In the early stages of his career, the NHRA's annual stop at Maple Grove Raceway was not probably among Whit Bazemore's favorites, as he usually qualified in the lower half of the field and was out of ...
Putnam, Connecticut, September 10, 1999 - In the early stages of his career, the NHRA's annual stop at Maple Grove Raceway was not probably among Whit Bazemore's favorites, as he usually qualified in the lower half of the field and was out of competition after the first round. The last two years have seen reversal of fortune, however, with Bazemore placing in the top three during qualifying and culminating with a semi-final round appearance one year ago. This weekend, this improving trend should continue, as he returns for the True Value Keystone Nationals with the Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Funny Car Racing team.
"With the Keystones being the first race after Indy, earlier in my career it was a race I went to trying to survive," explained Bazemore. "After the U.S. Nationals, we were usually out of parts, so I would come to Pennsylvania with an empty trailer. Running on a small budget, I might only have had one spare motor instead of three of four. It was more a race we tried to squeak through.
"But in the last couple of years, as our fortunes increased, we left Indianapolis Raceway Park stronger and became more competitive in Reading. This year is no different. We went into Indy with a lot of momentum. We ran well there, qualifying fifth and setting low elapsed time of the first round of eliminations. Things just didn't go our way on raceday. We didn't gain or lose ground. This weekend, we're looking to resume moving forward."
As always, the location of this weekend's event will play a part in determining who will succeed. Nestled in the woods outside of Reading, Maple Grove is well known for producing record performances. But the friendly atmospheric conditions are somewhat tempered by a tricky racing surface.
"Maple Grove is a good, fast track in terms of performance," said Bazemore. "Unlike other tracks, however, you get the full sensation of speed, because it's fairly narrow and a little bumpy. The car wants to move around a lot. I'm sure we'll have the front end up some at half-track over the bumps. That makes it a challenge to drive. Actually, I think Reading is sometimes a little too exciting from the driver's seat."
This Kendall team has seen its share of success at this facility in the past with team owner Chuck Etchells at the controls, with several top qualifying performances and the 1995 Funny Car title. In fact, Etchells still holds the track Funny Car speed record at 309.91 miles-per-hour. As every member of the Etchells crew realizes, the importance of duplicating those earlier results with only six races remaining on the 1999 schedule cannot be overstated. Eighty-seven points separate Bazemore from second place, and full advantage must be taken of each opportunity. But for this veteran team, it's simply a matter of business as usual.
"I've always seen Reading as the start of the final stretch run," stated Bazemore. "But I don't believe there's any added pressure. We've been able to make up a lot of ground in recent weeks. I think we're doing all that we can do. Besides, we challenge ourselves to win every race, and that doesn't change if we're tenth in the points looking to be ninth, or third trying to be second, or second and going for the title.
"This Kendall Camaro team has to remain focused and aggressive. So far, we've been very successful at doing precisely that, and the results speak for themselves. In drag racing, if things aren't perfect sometimes you're going to get beat. There's no lap to make up, no second chance. But our car continues to run well. We should be right there at the end on Sunday. I don't expect us not to be.
I remember Chuck's win here in 1995. He beat Force in an exciting tire-smoking duel. It would certainly be great to duplicate that achievement and put the Kendall Camaro back in the winner's circle this year."
This will be Whit's ninth appearance at Maple Grove Raceway, where he looks to improve upon his semi-final finish from last year....Bazemore is looking to score his second win as driver of the Kendall Camaro.....Bazemore is also seeking to reach a career-best sixth final round of the season.....Bazemore continues his dogged pursuit of second place Tony Pedregon.
WHAT 15th annual True Value Keystone Nationals, the seventeenth event on the 22-race 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series Schedule.
WHEN: September 16-19, 1999
WHERE: Maple Grove Raceway, Mohnton, Pennsylvania
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions start with two sessions on Friday, September 17 at 3:30 & 7:30 p.m., and conclude on Saturday, September 18 with two rounds at 12 noon and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, September 19.
TV: Speedvision will provide two hours of qualifying highlights on Saturday, September 18 from 5 - 7 p.m., with two hours of first round coverage from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, September 19. In addition, Fox Sports will broadcast two hours of final round coverage from 5-7 p.m. on Sunday, September 19. (All times Eastern) As always, please check your local listings