Madison: Whit Bazemore preview

Bazemore hopes to change his St. Louis luck MADISON, Ill. (June 24, 2003) - Whit Bazemore's favorite memory of his NHRA Funny Car career at Gateway International Raceway is from 1998 when he beat John Force on a holeshot advantage in the first...

Bazemore hopes to change his St. Louis luck

MADISON, Ill. (June 24, 2003) - Whit Bazemore's favorite memory of his NHRA Funny Car career at Gateway International Raceway is from 1998 when he beat John Force on a holeshot advantage in the first round (.479 R/T for Baze, .529 for Force. Bazemore's winning numbers were 5.254/280.19 to Force's 5.252/278.37).

The rest of Bazemore's results at the track whose address is Madison, Ill., but is in fact just over the bridge from St. Louis, Mo., is somewhat of a blur to the driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car. He did, however, advance to the semifinal round that year - his highest finish at this track - where he lost to Chuck Etchells.

Another positive nugget gleaned from the Gateway International Raceway archives is that Bazemore is one of only eight NHRA drivers (the others are John Force, Tony Pedregon, Kenny Bernstein, Doug Herbert, Matt Hines, Angelle Savoie and Steve Johnson) who have qualified for all six races to date.

The Indianapolis resident is enjoying his best NHRA season of his 16-year career in the first half of 2003, having reached the semifinal round in nine of the 11 races so far, as well as five finals resulting in two wins, and he's second in the POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings. So the two-time U.S. Nationals champion is eager to turn his Gateway luck around at the Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals this weekend by collecting another win and carving away as many of those 101 points as he can from Tony Pedregon's lead for the Funny Car championship.

"Some tracks you have better records at than at other tracks," says Bazemore, who has qualified in the top half of the field in each race this season. "St. Louis is one where we've just never really had stellar results. It's one of those places where we've struggled some and that happens. It's just kind of coincidental. In the last couple of years we've struggled in the heat with the race car and this is one of the hottest races and hottest tracks that we race on. I feel a lot more confident this year going in there because I know we have tune-up more suited to the conditions that we'll experience."

Bazemore's Matco Tools team, led by crew chief Lee Beard, is working hard to chip away at Tony Pedregon's points lead for Bazemore to earn his first driver's championship. The team's strongpoint has been its consistency this year, and Beard and the crew expect their momentum to continue. "We have a good car," Bazemore affirms. "We have the second or third quickest car right now consistently, so that's where we are. We're very competitive, but we have to work on our car. Lee and Dan (Olson, co-crew chief on Bazemore's and Gary Scelzi's cars) are addressing some of our weak spots on the race track. We need to qualify, go rounds and win races."

This Sunday's final eliminations will be held in the evening, with first round scheduled for 4:30 p.m. "It will still be somewhat in the heat of the day in the summertime in St. Louis, so I don't see the advantage of that, really. It'll still be hot on Sunday," Bazemore adds.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Matt Hines , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Chuck Etchells , Steve Johnson