Bazemore wins first race of season; defeats teammate Scelzi in their first final round COMMERCE, Ga. (May 16, 2004) - Crew chief Lee Beard, and the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus team received all the accolades from driver Whit Bazemore ...
Bazemore wins first race of season; defeats teammate Scelzi in their first final round
COMMERCE, Ga. (May 16, 2004) - Crew chief Lee Beard, and the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus team received all the accolades from driver Whit Bazemore today for providing him and his Funny Car the consistency they needed to win his first NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series race of the season, the 16th of his career, and the second here at Atlanta Dragway.
The No. 2 qualifier here first defeated Ron Capps in the first round with a 4.865/316.97 to Capps' 4.945/265.33.
In the second round, Bazemore faced the Funny Car championship points leader Del Worsham, dismissing him with a 4.841/319.52 to Worsham's tire-smoking 7.158/109.17.
Bazemore found himself facing another stout competitor in the semifinal, Tim Wilkerson, but was able to send him home packing as well with a 4.956/305.63 to Wilkerson's 5.777/172.25.
The final round couldn't have been scripted any better for Don Schumacher Racing, as Bazemore and his teammate Gary Scelzi went head-to-head for the first time for all the laurels. They launched nearly identically with reaction times of .073 for Scelzi, .075 for Bazemore. It was the match-up the fans were waiting for. And it should have been a barn-burner, but Scelzi's HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge struck the tires at the hit of the throttle, ending his day, as Bazemore continued his charge down the quarter-mile to take the victory with a 5.025/299.80.
"It wasn't a shame we had to run Scelzi in the final, it was great, actually," said Bazemore. "It's a shame we both couldn't win. It's tough. That Oakley team, they're stout. They're good friends of ours, a close-knit group of people. They're over here helping us all the time, we're helping them all the time.
"To win here twice is just unbelievable. This place is emotional, because the points are the same, the money is the same, but there are some places that just mean more than other places. For me this is one of those places because it's where I first saw drag racing as a young kid. So this is a place where the dreams start to foment."
Bazemore won his first race at Atlanta Dragway in 2002. "'02 was good," he said, "but this is good because we've been runner-up twice this year. We've kind of had a struggle in the beginning of the season, we were inconsistent. We found a pretty serious problem with our race car after Bristol two weeks ago. The team did a great job. They addressed it and here we are. Our car was nearly flawless. They gave me a perfect car.
"One of the keys to success in the sport is that you have to be consistent. You've got to have a race car that has performance equal to or better than your competitors and you've got to to be able to do that every round. The team gave us that this weekend and it was an effort. It's a team sport all the way."
Today marked the first time the two teammates faced each other in the final round since Scelzi joined the team in 2003. "You think racing your teammate is fun," said Bazemore, "but it's almost a worse thing because you can't lose. It's not ego, and it's not bragging rights, it's staking your claim. He is very, very competitive. The guys on both of our teams are close. We work together every day and when it comes down to it one of the biggest wins is whenever we can beat that team; it means a lot. Not only because it's Gary and the fact he's won three (Top Fuel) championships and he's a friend but just because they're good and you want to walk into the shop as number one. And he feels the same way.
"We were fortunate today, he beat us in Pomona earlier this year. It was very, very frustrating (for me) then. I know how he feels right now, but they're going to win some races this year."
Lee Beard won his 49th national event today as a team owner. "It's just fantastic for Matco, Oakley, Dodge, all of the people that support our program. It's really special to win for Whit Bazemore here in Atlanta, where he grew up.
"As a team we had some problems, it started in testing and went through Bristol. We did manage to get to the final round in a couple of places, Vegas and Bristol, but the wins were eluding us. We put our finger on the problem. To be able to come here and win is going to give our entire team a big boost of confidence and hopefully we can continue on and have our noses in there for the championship."
Beard is no longer known as the master of tracks under cooler conditions, as today's rounds were held under high humidity and 80-degree temperatures on a sticky surface. "All the conditions are a challenge for you," he said. "I don't think I'm really a specialist at hot tracks or cold tracks . The thing about the Funny Car is it has a very narrow window for error; you have to tip-toe under conditions like we had today in those later rounds where we had 125-,130-degree track temperatures."
Bazemore jumps into second in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series point standings, just 51 out of first place.