Don Schumacher Racing 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series January 16, 2004 WHIT BAZEMORE Don Schumacher Racing's Funny Car teams are preparing for the 23-event 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, which officially begins at Pomona Raceway...
Don Schumacher Racing
2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series
January 16, 2004
Don Schumacher Racing's Funny Car teams are preparing for the 23-event 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, which officially begins at Pomona Raceway in Southern California Feb. 19-22, by attending pre-season tests at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Jan. 28-31) and Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Ariz. (Feb. 6-8).
In the following interview, Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car driver Whit Bazemore reflects on his 2003 championship-chasing season and talks about the team's 2004 quest for the Funny Car crown.
WHIT BAZEMORE QUICK FACTS:
* Age 40, born in New York City, lives in Indianapolis with wife Michelle, a semi-pro cyclist.
* Drives the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing; 2004 is his fourth straight year with this team.
* Enjoys cycling.
* Was Funny Car runner-up to Tony Pedregon in 2003, in an exciting battle for the championship which saw the chase go down to the penultimate race in Las Vegas in a head-to-head match-up in the final round.
* Ended 2003 with three season victories, 15 career wins, and completed his closest NHRA Funny Car championship battle of his 16-year career second in points, with 1628 to Pedregon's 1768.
* Was also second in the NHRA Funny Car championship in 2001, third in 1997 and '99 and has finished in the top five six times and 11 times in the top 10 since 1992.
* Reached the final round eight times in 2003.
* Had a 42-19 win-loss record for the 2003 season.
* Is still seeking his first Funny Car championship.
Q: HOW IS WHIT BAZEMORE GOING TO APPROACH THE 2004 SEASON? DIFFERENTLY, OR BASICALLY THE SAME AS IN 2003?
WB: I think the same. We learned a lot last year and the key to having a good season will be to not only perform consistently well all season but to also take advantage of all the opportunities that our opponents give us. And that's something that we didn't always do last year. We had a great year and our team performed very well, but there were times last year when our opponents tried to give us something and we didn't take it. I think the key will be to be consistent and have the car running well all the time, but at the same time not make any mistakes and just try to be steady and aggressive the whole year.
Q: DID THIS CLOSE BATTLE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2003 CHANGE YOU IN ANY WAY?
WB: I don't think so. It was a learning experience. You apply what you learned and hopefully become a better race car driver. In that regard maybe it has. But as a person I would say no. It's why we race - to win races, contend, and hopefully win championships. It was a great experience.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR REGRETS?
WB: There are no real regrets because we gave 100 percent every time we got into the car. But during the off season, as a team, we were able to dissect the season and pinpoint some areas or some things that we could have approached differently and perhaps better. I wouldn't say there are regrets but there are opportunities to learn and improve. That's how we look at it and we're going to take those lessons with us and move on.
Q: WHICH TEAM IN 2004 HAS THE STRONGEST CHANCE OF TAKING THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
WB: I think John Force himself will be very strong this year, a lot stronger than last year, and he and his team were pretty damned strong - as they always are. I think our team is obviously a contender. And Gary Scelzi, my teammate, now that he's got a full season of Funny Car racing under his belt, is going to be a lot stronger as well. I would say those three teams head the list. The (Del) Worsham team has been there the past couple of years in the top five. So you certainly can't overlook those guys at all. And (Don) Prudhomme's team certainly has the ability to be there.
Q: ARE YOU EAGER TO START THE 2004 SEASON?
WB: Yeah, I am. I am very eager to go out and go racing and to make things happen this year. Last year was good, but the feeling of optimism within our team is very, very strong. And we know we can improve upon our results. That kind of optimism makes it exciting.
Q: WITH ONE FULL FUNNY CAR SEASON UNDER HIS BELT AND BASED ON HIS CAR'S STRONG PERFORMANCE IN 2003, WILL SCELZI BE A TOUGHER OPPONENT THIS YEAR?
WB: I definitely think he will be. Mike Neff, the crew chief on the Oakley Dodge, did a great job last year in what was his second season as a crew chief. And this will be his second year working with Scelzi, and Scelzi's second full year in a Funny Car as well. So, the experience that they've gotten over the past couple of seasons will make them more competitive, definitely. They had shown that in 2003. They were very strong.
Q: ARE YOU AND SCELZI FRIENDS?
WB: Yeah, we're friends, I would say, but we're also very competitive. Scelzi wants to bury everyone at the race track and so do I, even each other. But we overlook that at times and usually get along very well. We're different. There's a lot of mutual respect and I think we want what's best for the team and I would say that we're friends.
Q: WHAT HAS GIVEN YOU THE MOST SATISFACTION IN THIS SPORT?
WB: I would have to say that just getting to this level and being able to make a living doing this and being competitive is probably the most important thing for me. Obviously the two times we won the U.S. Nationals have been huge moments of my career. Given the early days of my career, the fact that now we're in a position to contend for championships and race wins at every race is the biggest accomplishment that I've made and the one thing that probably gives me the most satisfaction.
Q: YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CREW CHIEF LEE BEARD IS UNIQUE. HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS RELATIONSHIP WHEN STRIVING FOR A TITLE?
WB: It's really critical that everyone in a team respects and supports everyone else in the team. It's especially true between the driver and the crew chief. Lee and I have a very, very strong relationship, where he trusts my judgment 100 percent and he takes my opinions and thoughts into account. And I trust his decisions 100 percent. So, I think that trust is the most important ingredient between the driver and the crew chief. And we have that.
Q: YOU'VE BEEN THE BRIDESMAID A COUPLE OF TIMES. WHAT WILL YOU AND YOUR TEAM DO DIFFERENTLY TO CLAIM THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR?
WB: I think it's a natural evolution of experience growing together and working together over a number of years that will make us stronger every year. And the experience last year of contending for the championship in such a way that we actually led it late in the season was something that I'd never experienced before. And you look back and you analyze the things that you did right and the things that you did wrong and you work on those areas that you did wrong and you try to improve them. If you can do that, then naturally you're going to be better prepared and stronger the following season. That's kind of where we are.
You can't predict results and you can't take anything for granted. You have to go out and earn it every single race. It's very easy to go out and smoke the tires in the first round three or four or five races in a row - which would just be suicide as far as your championship goes. But, it's easy to do that kind of thing. You just have to prepare the car as best you can and go out and outperform the other teams. You also have to hope for a little racing luck when you need it so you can take advantage of mistakes that other people make in the other lane. If you do all that right, given a team like ours, you should be very close at the end of the year.
Q: WHAT ABOUT MECHANICAL CHANGES TO THE MATCO TOOLS IRON EAGLE DODGE STRATUS?
WB: We've made some changes to the car that should make it have better performance and be more competitive and make it easier for Lee to tune. All that's a part of improving the team. And naturally the car is the most important thing. It's got to be competitive and that's Lee's job to make it competitive. He's on top of it and developing new components for us. This year's Matco Tools Dodge will be the best race car we've ever had.
Q: TALK ABOUT YOUR LONGSTANDING RELATIONSHIP WITH MATCO TOOLS AND HOW THAT KIND OF SUPPORTIVE SPONSOR HELPS YOU REACH YOUR GOALS.
WB: Any team is not going to be much without the proper funding and Matco Tools provides that for us. And for me personally, 2004 will be the fifth year of my association with Matco Tools. It's been a great time with them. They're a very aggressive company. They're growing their business every year. And the way they utilize the motorsports program to drive their business with some of their marketing plans is really exciting for me and it's exciting to be part of a success story such as Matco Tools. It's not just a matter of putting their name on the side of the car and going racing. We're a very valuable part of their marketing program. And the fact that it works for them and we're getting results and their business is growing, due in part to the racing program, is really kind of neat; it's satisfying. And they're going to use me more. Each year they've gotten a little more aggressive in how they use their association with me and it's going to be even stronger this season. It's something I really look forward to.
Q: DON SCHUMACHER IS KNOWN AS A TOUGH TEAM OWNER. YOU'RE AN OUTSPOKEN PERSON. HOW HAS THIS RELATIONSHIP WORKED FOR YOU?
WB: I'll tell you, it's had its moments (laughing). In all seriousness, Schumacher is a very fair person. I just concentrate on doing my job as best I can. Neither one of us likes excuses, so that makes working for him very easy, in my opinion. He provides the very best he can for the team and he expects results. Our car doesn't want for anything. As a driver you can't ask for a better situation than that. If we didn't have what we needed to get the job done then I'd be very frustrated.
Q: YOU'VE JUST COMPLETED NEARLY 800 MILES OF CYCLING DURING "HELL WEEK" IN FLORIDA WITH MIKE DUNN. WILL THIS HELP YOU IN YOUR RACING?
WB: I'm really relaxed and I feel good right now. It's just been about a week since we completed that trip. The more fit you are the better job you're able to do. That's just an undeniable fact. And doing that ride - 770 miles in eight days - has made me the fittest I've ever been. I feel really good. It definitely takes the edge off for me. Some people like to go out and play golf. You have to do whatever you have to do to prepare yourself and for me it's cycling and usually the harder the challenge the better it is. The fact that we did it and we overcame a lot gives us a sense of accomplishment that is hard to find in everyday life. It gives you confidence that maybe you wouldn't have otherwise.
Q: WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE WINTER TO MAINTAIN THIS FITNESS?
WB: I'll do some more riding here in Indy even when the temperature is in the 20s and lift weights. Then we'll be out West. We have a week between the two test sessions, four or five days. I'll probably get in 200 to 300 miles. I've ridden already 1200 miles since the last race. My goal is to have 2000 miles on the bike before the first race. I think we'll do that. It's all a part of being fit.
Q: IS DRIVING FOR A MULTI-CAR TEAM AN ADVANTAGE OR A DISADVANTAGE?
WB: It's definitely an advantage. The amount of time in drag racing that we're actually on the race track is so small, given the nature of the sport, that it's become more and more important over the years to be able to have as much data and experience as you can at any given time. By having a multi-car team we're able to get way more information. If you have a two-car team you're able to double your information each time you race. And it makes it a lot easier to try different things. You just get way more done in the same amount of time by running two cars. It also allows Don Schumacher to increase the commercial side (of the team) and broaden the sponsorship base and that's always healthy for a team. Provided you have sponsorship for it, there are many, many benefits that far outweigh the downside.