Indianapolis: Whit Bazemore preview

Two-time U.S. Nats champ Bazemore steps up his game INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 31, 2004) - Whit Bazemore was a 16-year-old professional photographer with full media credentials when he witnessed his first U.S. Nationals in 1979. That was the 25th ...

Two-time U.S. Nats champ Bazemore steps up his game

INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 31, 2004) - Whit Bazemore was a 16-year-old professional photographer with full media credentials when he witnessed his first U.S. Nationals in 1979. That was the 25th anniversary of this prestigious event and this weekend marks the 50th running of the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Bazemore, who lives in Indianapolis, barely comprehends the fact that not only has his dream of racing a Funny Car come true, but that he'll be competing this weekend at IRP as a two-time U.S. Nationals champion. "Being a part of this race 25 years later is a huge honor for me and is something I am really proud of," he says.

Taking home trophies at the U.S. Nationals in 1997 and in 2001 were milestones in Bazemore's 16-year pro NHRA career, and a third victory this weekend as well as a move up from third in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car rankings are the goals of his Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus team and crew chief Lee Beard.

"The U.S. Nationals is by far my favorite race of the year and it's a race obviously that means the most to win," says Bazemore, who is 243 points out of first place, 23 points behind teammate Gary Scelzi in second, and just two points ahead of Del Worsham in fourth, "so I'm really looking forward to having the weekend start on Friday.

"Our Matco Tools team is coming into Indy with renewed confidence following successful testing last week and we know that a win at the 50th U.S. Nationals would help make this season one of our best.

"Having said that, Indy is the toughest race on the schedule, so, in order to win, everyone on the Matco Tools team and every part of the car has to be 110 percent. It's the kind of challenge we love to tackle head-on and we know that most of our competitors will be making the same strong effort that we're going to make.

"Indy is one of the hardest races to win because - almost impossibly - everyone's able to raise his game just that little bit more than normal," adds Bazemore, who posted the fastest and quickest Funny Car pass in NHRA history this year, 4.713 at 333.25 mph, "and you think that you are always giving 110 percent all year. But when you come to Indy you somehow find that extra concentration and you find that extra performance in the race car that's hard to find anywhere else.

"And I think it's because winning Indy means more than winning any other race. So, believe it or not, you want it more. And you find more ways to perform head to head at the highest level."

Bazemore is also qualified No. 3 for the $100,000 bonus event on Sunday, the Skoal Showdown, and will face Tim Wilkerson in the first of three rounds.

"Indy is always billed and looked upon as the biggest race of the year, the most prestigious single race to win," says crew chief Lee Beard, who has won the U.S. Nationals three times as a crew chief, "and therefore it would mean a great deal to me.

"I think that when people look back at a season, there are a few things they remember about it. They remember who won the championship, who won Indy and who won the Showdown. Everything else seems to be in second or third. People forget who won Atlanta or Topeka. No matter how bad of a season a team has, if you're able to pull off a win here at Indy, it turns into a spectacular season for you."

Professional qualifying has one round on Friday, Sept. 3, at 6:15 p.m., two on Saturday, Sept. 4, at 1:15 and 6:15 p.m. On Sunday, Sept. 5, pro qualifying continues at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., with Skoal Showdown eliminations at 12:30, 2:15, and 4 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 6.

On Saturday, Sept. 4, ESPN2 will televise one hour of early qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, Sept. 5, ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a half-hour event preview show at 11:30 a.m. (ET). Also on Sunday, Sept. 5, ESPN will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 1 p.m. (ET) and three hours of qualifying highlights and the Skoal Showdown at 5 p.m. (ET).

On Monday, Sept. 6, ESPN2 will televise a special edition of NHRA 2Day celebrating 50 years of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at 11 a.m. (ET). Also on Monday, Sept. 6, ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of early round eliminations at 11:30 a.m. (ET) and three hours of final eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET).

-dsr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Gary Scelzi , Tim Wilkerson