Indianapolis: Whit Bazemore preview

Bazemore aims for third U.S. Nats title and lead in Funny Car INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 25, 2003) - As the U.S. Nationals approaches this weekend at Indianapolis Raceway Park, an event comparable to the Indy 500 or Daytona 500 for the NHRA POWERade...

Bazemore aims for third U.S. Nats title and lead in Funny Car

INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 25, 2003) - As the U.S. Nationals approaches this weekend at Indianapolis Raceway Park, an event comparable to the Indy 500 or Daytona 500 for the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, Whit Bazemore's emotions run the gamut in his quest for a third U.S. Nationals title and his first NHRA Funny Car championship as the strongest team this season to give the John Force camp a run for its money.

The driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus has had a wide range of results at the U.S. Nationals since he began his NHRA pro drag-racing career in 1988. He's won it twice (1997, 2001), and was runner-up once (2000). It's also the first NHRA race he ever saw as a fan in 1979. But it's also where he was the victim of a spectacular fire early in his Funny Car career, a frightening conflagration in 1990 which some have called the worst ever in the history of Funny Cars. He also recalls another time as a fledgling racer when he struggled to finally qualify for this most prestigious race only to find himself with a car that was so used up that he was unable to compete in final eliminations.

What bittersweet memories this event evokes for the 40-year-old who calls Indianapolis his home, not the least of which is not qualifying here in 2002!

Why is this race so important, we asked Bazemore, ranked second in Funny Car championship points behind Tony Pedregon, with a chance to take over the lead at this event. "It's just the prestige of the U.S. Nationals, the tradition," he says. "This is THE race and in some respects your career isn't really complete if you haven't won this race. You can race and be very successful and not win a championship and that may be a problem to a lot of people. If you've won the U.S. Nationals that goes a long way. I'm not saying that this race is more important than the championship, because it isn't, but it's a very important race to win.

"I've had a lot of frustrating times here as well," he adds. "Those are the things that test your resolve and make you hungrier than ever to be successful. Having come back from those hardships and winning it twice and being competitive here since has been rewarding. Lately it's been a good track for me except for last year. Those things happen sometimes."

There's no question that winning his first NHRA Funny Car championship is Bazemore's ambition, but for the driver who still holds the IRP Funny Car track E.T. record of 4.756-seconds and the speed record of 325.69 mph (both set in 2001) but who DNQ'd in 2002, the first objective is to make it into the show.

"It doesn't matter how strong you are or how good you are or whatever your situation is in the points, your first goal at any race is to qualify," he says. "As we've seen this year sometimes it's hard to qualify and you really have to have your act together every single run. The championship doesn't concern me at all right now. We just have to go and make Friday night count and get it in the show and if we have any problems we have to be strong on Saturday and get it in the show Saturday night."

As a nine-time qualifier for the the Budweiser Shootout at Indianapolis but never a winner, Bazemore would like to finally take home the $100,000 prize for winning this special event held at the U.S. Nationals, but he'll take whatever happens in stride. "In the years past I've put a big focus on it and it's been a big priority," he says, "but this year my main focus going into this race is to win the U.S. Nationals and I think the Budweiser Shootout is a bonus. It is a very special race. It has a rich tradition, there's a lot of money at stake, and it is the race for the top eight cars in the country. It's really exciting to be a part of it again. If we do well, great, and if we don't, hopefully we'll have learned something on Sunday that will help us on Monday."

-dsr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore