Bazemore runner-up in Vegas and in Funny Car Championship LAS VEGAS (Oct. 26, 2003) - A Hollywood screenwriter couldn't have scripted a scene any better than the one that played out today in the Funny Car final round of the ACDelco Las Vegas...
Bazemore runner-up in Vegas and in Funny Car Championship
LAS VEGAS (Oct. 26, 2003) - A Hollywood screenwriter couldn't have scripted a scene any better than the one that played out today in the Funny Car final round of the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals.
Two drivers going for their first Funny Car championships. Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus driver Whit Bazemore 114 points behind Tony Pedregon. Pedregon needing to beat Bazemore by two rounds to grab the crown - or so we thought (see below). Each driver on the opposite side of the ladder meeting up in the final round. If Bazemore would win the final round he'd head to the last race in Pomona, Calif., 98 points down and still alive in the title chase.
The one clinker in the deal was that, after qualifying No. 1, if Pedregon would win he would be exactly 138 points ahead of Bazemore. With precisely 138 points available in a weekend, including winning the race and setting a national elapsed time record, even if Bazemore won here and collected all those points in Pomona and Pedregon didn't show up, he'd lose the championship by virtue of his fewer wins.
It was all on the line for No. 6 qualifier Bazemore in today's final round, and it was a doozy. Bazemore had lane choice and scorched the starting lights with an outstanding .038 reaction time to Pedregon's .050. Then, at half-track Pedregon smoked his tires. In a blink of an eye Bazemore started smoking his tires. It was anyone's race at that point, with both drivers pedaling and their cars smoking all the way to the finish line. But, as the announcer said, Pedregon smoked less and made it first across the finish stripe in 5.135 seconds at 273.39 mph to Bazemore's losing 5.183/266.64.
"The car was loose and it smoked the tires," said a disappointed Bazemore. "It just wouldn't go straight. We had our hands full. It used up the whole race track. I didn't see him. I was waiting for a lot to happen. Fortunately, we didn't crash and nothing else happened either.
"Tony is a very, very good race car driver and he and his team beat us. We have a lot of respect for that team. You have to be a good loser, I think, before you can be a good winner," he said after the two shared a hug at the top end.
This championship battle has been a tough one this season for the Indianapolis resident. It's the closest he's been to winning his first Funny Car championship. He's bummed, but he's proud of his Matco Tools team led by Lee Beard, and has now turned his focus on to 2004.
"We did almost everything that we had to do," he said. "We did the best we could. We lost. That's it. They're a great team. They deserve it. They won more races than we did all year.
"We also have a great team. I'm very, very proud to be associated with the people on this team. The effort that they made this year to win this is just unbelievable. The way our team came together is something I am very proud of and very proud to be a part of.
"Having guys on a team like we have is worth more than a championship because in reality if you don't have people like this you're not going to ever win or be successful. We know we have a good nucleus here, a good foundation and we know that we can apply what we learned this year, which was considerable, and be stronger. That's the only way you can be successful in a game that's as competitive as this is - to always, always improve. And we came a long way this year and we're going to be a better team next year.
"We will be better prepared mentally, physically and emotionally and our race cars will be better next year. All that is going to make us a stronger team and hopefully we will be able to compete again for the championship and maybe do it in a stronger way."
Team owner Don Schumacher was stoic after three of his six teams ended up as runners-up today. "Through the middle of the year we were really battling for the points championship and doing a great job," he said. "Whit took the lead in Memphis, Tenn., and then we had problems in Chicago and everybody knows the tragedy in Reading (Pa.) with the car not qualifying. This season has turned out to be a tough one, a bitter pill to swallow, but we have a great, great team, and we're looking forward to winning the championship next year."
Crew Chief Lee Beard had only high praise for his Matco Tools crew. "This is a great team," he said. "The goal of our race team when we established it in 2001 was to beat John Force's team. And our finishing second in the points and Force finishing third - which is how it's going to end up - is a hell of an accomplishment for our team. The fact that this group of guys finished ahead of (Force's crew chiefs) Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderley and that entire John Force team shows you how good these guys are. My hat is off to (Pedregon's crew chiefs) John Medlin, Dickie Venables and that car of Tony Pedregon's. They had a fantastic season. We knew they were going to be tough. They ran tough at the end of last season. We had our hands full. I wish we could have risen to the top, but we don't have anything to hang our heads about. We feel very proud of what we accomplished and it's just going to motivate us and make us work harder this winter."
Bazemore defeated Tommy Johnson Jr., Phil Burkart Jr. and Frank Pedregon en route to his eighth final round of the season and 36th of his career. He has won 15 events in his career, three this season.