Gainesville: Whitt Bazemore preview

Bazemore sees potential for 330-mph barrier to fall in Gainesville GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 16, 2004) - Whit Bazemore, the first driver to reach 325 mph in the Funny Car class (U.S. Nationals, 2001), and the Funny Car top-speed track-record...

Bazemore sees potential for 330-mph barrier to fall in Gainesville

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 16, 2004) - Whit Bazemore, the first driver to reach 325 mph in the Funny Car class (U.S. Nationals, 2001), and the Funny Car top-speed track-record holder at Gainesville Raceway (324.32 mph, March 2003), sees a serious potential for the 330-mph barrier to be broken in this weekend's NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

"I'm not saying that it will definitely happen because a lot depends on the conditions," says the driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car in the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, "but there's a good opportunity for it to happen here. This barrier is probably going to be broken this year and Gainesville is the first good track with good air that we race on where it could happen. I think it's going to take good conditions, but I don't think it will take perfect conditions."

Bazemore's teammate Gary Scelzi tickled that mark with his national top-speed record-setting 329.18-mph run at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., last year, and Bazemore names Scelzi as one of the top candidates to shatter the record here. Scelzi holds six of the top nine fastest Funny Car speeds in NHRA history, all posted in 2003.

"The first two cars that have the best chance are my teammate Gary Scelzi and Gary Densham from John Force's team," says Bazemore, the two-time U.S. Nationals champion. "After that, I'd say John Force has an opportunity and we have an opportunity with our Matco Tools Dodge. Jerry Toliver has run a big speed already. His new team has proven to be hot and cold, obviously, this season, by winning the first race and then DNQing in Phoenix. So, if they can get down the track they have the potential of doing it as well."

Bazemore, whose career-best top speed is 326.48 mph (Topeka 2003), realistically feels his team has only an outside chance of breaking the speed record. "We'd love to be the team to do it," he says, "but we're not really there right now. We haven't run the huge mile-an-hour over the past year or two that we did a couple of seasons ago when we had the four top speeds in this sport. We've concentrated more on the elapsed times. We just don't run that big a tune-up at the finish line the way we used to."

The Indianapolis resident does, however, hold the fifth fastest Funny Car elapsed time in NHRA's history, a 4.725-second E.T., set in Joliet, Ill., last year, as well as three of the top 10 fastest Funny Car E.T.s.

Bazemore's focus, as always, is on winning this weekend. After qualifying No. 5 and No. 2 and reaching the second round in the first two races, he's fifth in the Funny Car point standings.

"I'm really looking forward to racing in Gainesville," he says. "I think we're going to be strong here. We're probably in the best position we've ever been in to get the result we want - to go out there and win the race. Having said that, we need our share of luck, we need things to go our way and we can't have the car break at an inopportune time.

"The point standings are not an issue right now," he adds. "It's all about trying to win races and not making mistakes and doing the best we can all the time. Phoenix was a huge disappointment," referring to his uncharacteristic .131 reaction time and his second-round loss against eventual event winner Del Worsham. "I felt it was the race we should have won and we didn't. This sort of thing is not going to happen again. I figure if you make one or two mistakes a year, that's what's going to happen. That was my one mistake for the year and that's it. It's real simple.

"Gainesville is one of the top races in the series that we haven't won yet. It's really important to me that we win here. In some seasons you have more of an opportunity to win races than you do other seasons. This season finds us with a great opportunity to win. It's entirely doable.

"Our car and our team are better than our results show. I think it's just a matter of being fully focused, which we are, and making things happen. In terms of preparation and performance, we're the strongest we've ever been at this point of the season," says the 2003 Funny Car championship runner-up.

Pro qualifying rounds are scheduled for 12 noon and 3:30 p.m. on Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20, with final eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 21.

ESPN2 will air qualifying on March 21 at 2:30 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET, and final eliminations on March 21 from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. ET.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Jerry Toliver