BAZEMORE RIDES THE PENDULUM IN POMONA Pomona, California, February 7, 1999 - Whit Bazemore and the Kendall Oil/ Superwinch racing team faced many questions as they arrived in Pomona, California for the first race of the 1999 NHRA season. The...
BAZEMORE RIDES THE PENDULUM IN POMONA
Pomona, California, February 7, 1999 - Whit Bazemore and the Kendall Oil/ Superwinch racing team faced many questions as they arrived in Pomona, California for the first race of the 1999 NHRA season. The AutoZone Winternationals would be the first event of the 'new era' at Chuck Etchells Racing with Etchells stepping out of his Camaro Z28 Funny Car to concentrate on the business of his team, while hiring Whit Bazemore to handle the driving duties. As with any situation involving this big a change, many wondered how long it would be before this team would show the form that won three races in 1998 and earned seven consecutive Top Five points finishes. Any concerns were quickly addressed when Bazemore claimed his best starting position ever for this event. But before the Etchells team had a chance to display their on-track prowess, they and the rest of the NHRA contingent had to contend with persistent showers, which canceled Thursdays opening time trial and delayed matters on Friday. However, the Tim Richards-led crew took advantage of the down time to practice servicing the motor on their fuel coupe, including changing heads. Any gains made during these drills could save critical time during a between-round thrash, making the difference between winning and going home.
When the skies finally cleared, Bazemore mirrored the results obtained in off-season testing, logging consecutive four-second runs on Saturday, with a best effort of 4.953 seconds at a top speed of 307.16 miles-per-hour. This placed the Etchells Racing entry third on Sunday's final eliminations ladder, giving Bazemore the advantage of lane choice in the first round against a tough opponent, number 14 qualifier Al Hofmann.
"That qualifying pass was the most important run the Chuck Etchells team has made so far this year," stated Bazemore, "because we knew we were the last pair in the afternoon session, which would make it difficult to qualify in the top half of the field. That made it a crucial run, but this team gave me a great car. Al Hofmann is a tough competitor, and we'll have to be on top of our game to get by him."
Bazemore's words would prove to be prophetic, as he would make his best run of the weekend against Hofmann, and his 4.921-second lap at over 311 miles-per-hour would allow him to once again choose his lane in the second round against rival Tony Pedregon. Determined to advance further, Bazemore grabbed an advantage at the start. However his chances for victory were quickly dashed, as his racecar lost traction almost immediately, blazing the tires. Bazemore battled furtively to regain control, allowing his opponent to drive by for the win.
"We're still getting used to this car, and I've found it has a very touchy fuel system, which probably contributed to smoking the tires", explained Bazemore. "It was just one of those things. Naturally, we're disappointed, but this was a good weekend for the Chuck Etchells Racing team. It's been a big change for Chuck, myself and the entire crew to have me come over and drive, but so far we've maintained a very positive outlook, and the transition has been very smooth. I think this Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro team has incredible potential. Chuck Etchells has given me a tremendous opportunity, and I intend to take full advantage of it."
For Etchells, this event was the first in his new assignment as a full-time team owner.
"For the first time in my career, I actually felt relaxed at the racetrack. When we lost a major associate sponsor at the end of last season, I made the decision to temporarily get out of the car, and I believe it was the right move. Putting Whit in the Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro has allowed me to concentrate on growing our racing business, and address the needs of our sponsors. Already in the few weeks since we made the announcement, I believe we've made progress. To be honest, I find the prospect of working on cementing the future of the Chuck Etchells Racing quite exciting. Whit did a great job in his debut here over the weekend, but we were bitten by a mechanical problem. Well move on to Phoenix and build on it there."