Houston Chuck Etchells Preview

BAZEMORE PREPARES TO TACKLE A GIANT IN HOUSTON Putnam, Connecticut, April 2, 1999 - With three races gone in the 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season, the battle for the Funny Car championship is taking the shape of a modern-day version of...


Putnam, Connecticut, April 2, 1999 - With three races gone in the 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season, the battle for the Funny Car championship is taking the shape of a modern-day version of David and Goliath. Starring as the gargantuan warrior is eight-time champion John Force, whose armada of Jack Roush-bodied Mustangs has captured the victory at each event in rather easy fashion, establishing new records for elapsed time and top speed. Prepared to assume the role of the small town boy who stands to fight them is Kendall Oil/Superwinch pilot Whit Bazemore, whose weapon of choice is not a slingshot, but the 6,000 horsepower Chuck Etchells Camaro Z28 fuel coupe. The next encounter in this 300 mile-per-hour tug of war is set for Houston Raceway Park and the 12th annual O'Reilly Nationals. Bazemore and crew are determined to make sure that this time, the results will be different.

"The way this season has come down, Force's team is running away with the championship, so we have to do something," stated Bazemore. "In a way, it's discouraging, but we're using it as motivation. We haven't given up by any means - in fact, our resolve is stronger than ever. This Kendall team is looking to get really aggressive. So far, we've qualified well and won rounds consistently, but we have to do more, starting in Houston."

The Etchells team's confidence as they arrive in the Lone Star State is buoyed by their performance at the most recent race in Gainesville. Despite being competitive at the first two events and a third place standing in the points, crew chief Tim Richards knew the potential for further improvement was limited with their current set-up. Therefore, he installed a drastically different tune-up for the Florida meet, including new cylinder heads and a five-disc clutch system. Normally, one would expect a transitional period as the crew learned to dial in the new equipment, but any concerns were quickly erased as Bazemore topped the quickest field in Funny Car history in qualifying, dramatically wrenching it away from Force in the last session on Saturday.

"The Gainesville event was really a good race for us, even though we didn't win," explained Bazemore. "With all the changes we had made in the set-up, we essentially brought a whole new car to the racetrack. Our performance went way beyond everyone's expectations, especially when we were low qualifier. Although getting used to the new parts may have contributed to our smoking the tires in the second round on Sunday, I know "The General" (Richards) will use the information from those runs to fine tune our Camaro even further."

Bazemore knows that he will need every ounce of horsepower the team can give him this weekend, for Houston Raceway Park has the potential of delivering record runs on every attempt. The combination of a smooth surface, sea level elevation and cool spring temperatures will challenge the best crew chiefs in the sport as they prepare their mounts to skate the fine line between tire smoke and traction in search of speed. Bazemore has shown the ability to conquer this track, as evidenced by his final round appearance here last October. It is now up to him, Tim Richards and the Etchells crew to put it all together and topple the giant.

"The way we see it, we need to run in the .70's, because that's where he (Force) and any other fast cars will be," detailed Bazemore. "We know our Kendall Camaro has the potential to do it, because it's been great so far, but not yet perfect. We'll keep chipping away, solving any small problems we have in the tune-up, which will make some big gains.

I'm not going to guarantee that we'll go to Houston and beat Force, because he has a tremendous advantage. But with the talent that we have on this Chuck Etchells team, I'm confident that we will have something for him and the rest of the field on consistent basis, if not this weekend, then very soon. The last thing we want to see is John (Force) win all the races. I'm in the best position of my career to do something about it, and we intend to make the most of it."

BAZEMORE BANTER: This will be Whit's twelfth appearance at the Gatornationals, where he looks to improve upon his runner-up finish from last October....Bazemore is looking for his first win as driver of the Kendall Camaro.....Bazemore's best qualifying performance at this event was in 1997, when he captured the No. 2 spot.

Fast Facts

WHAT: 12th annual O'Reilly Nationals, the fourth event on the 22-race 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series Schedule.

WHEN: April 8-11, 1999

WHERE: Houston Raceway Park, Baytown, Texas

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions start with two sessions on Friday, April 9 at 2:30 & 6:30 p.m., and conclude on Saturday, April 10 with two rounds at 12 noon and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, April 11.

TV: TNN will provide ninety minutes of highlights on Sunday, April 18 from noon - 1:30 p.m. (All times Eastern) As always, please check your local listings

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , John Force , Chuck Etchells , Jack Roush , Tim Richards