After qualifying 16th on his final attempt, Whit Bazemore knew he would have his work cut out for him at the 46th running of the U.S. Nationals. First, the Etchells Racing Team would have to find the consistency that had so far eluded them at...
After qualifying 16th on his final attempt, Whit Bazemore knew he would have his work cut out for him at the 46th running of the U.S. Nationals. First, the Etchells Racing Team would have to find the consistency that had so far eluded them at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Second, as race day has dawned with temperatures twenty degrees cooler than during qualifying, crew chief Terry Manzer would have to develop a completely new tune-up for the Kendall Oil/Matco Tools Camaro. Finally, there was the competition, starting in the first round with No. 1 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr., with Bazemore determined to pay back an earlier loss from Seattle when Bazemore was the low qualifier.
>From the very start, Bazemore showed that both he and his racecar were on their game, as he gained two hundredths of a second on his opponent at the start and never looked back, using a run nearly five hundredths quicker than their qualifying performance to eliminate Johnson. Despite not having lane choice, Bazemore continued his strong performance in the second round, posting the third quickest Funny Car pass of the weekend at 4.955 seconds with a top speed of 307.65 mph to trailer Tim Wilkerson. The semi-finals found Bazemore matched with Cruz Pedregon. As he would all day, Bazemore left on his opponent, but was forced to quickly pedal his car in order to maintain traction, allowing the oldest Pedregon to grab the lead. However, just as it seemed Bazemore's day would be over, Pedregon's racecar was slowed by mechanical problems, while the Etchells entry recovered to record a 5.052-second elapsed time, capturing the win and advancing Bazemore to the sixteenth final round of his career (and 2nd of the 2000 season).
Bazemore's opponent would be veteran Jim Epler, whose car had been one of the most consistent throughout the event. Once again, Bazemore gained the advantage at the starting line. But as he powered down the track, smoke billowed from Bazemore's rear tires, indicating a speed-robbing loss of traction, and despite his repeated efforts to regain control, it was not enough to prevent his opponent from gaining the narrow victory and spoiling Bazemore's hopes for storybook ending.
Despite his impressive performance, which catapulted Bazemore up three positions (to 6th) in the season's points standings, it was apparent that the impact of just missing his second U.S. Nationals title was more than just another loss to the Indianapolis resident.
"It's tremendously disappointing because it's the U.S. Nationals. You only have so many chances at this race and you get so close you can virtually taste it, but then it slips away. It's a frustrating part of racing, but you learn to deal with it. When the disappointment wears off, we'll look back and be really proud of what we did today, because where we came from in 16th, and the struggles we went through both in testing and qualifying here, there was definitely some magic today, so it feels good. It's just frustrating to come up short.
"The key to our success today came yesterday when we got down the track without smoking the tires. We were able to tickle it for this morning's run and improve on our 5.08 (qualifying time) in the first round. After that, we adjusted it some more and ran the 4.95, which was a tremendous effort by the Etchells Racing team and Terry (crew chief Manzer). Then the track got a little better and we didn't quite catch it. We're still not totally on top of the car, so in the semis against Cruz (Pedregon) I had to pedal it, and we were lucky, because it looked like I was a tick behind him, and we weren't catching him. We were definitely going to get beat, but he had a problem down track and we passed him and won. We tuned the car up a little bit for the final to fix that problem, and just didn't get it done.
"I think Terry learned a lot this weekend about the clutch discs that were giving us problems, and how it relates to the tune-up. But we still need more runs, and fortunately, we will be able to do some testing in Englishtown before we race. We've shown that the performance is there - we just have to get to the point of Terry knowing exactly what this Kendall/Matco Camaro is going to do when he makes a change, and that takes time. I'm confident that we can make the right decisions and do a good job and win a few more races before the end of the year. But anytime you get to the finals, it's been a good day."