Bazemore comes up aces in Memphis; takes over points lead Mopar Pro Stock Wrap Up MILLINGTON, Tenn. (Sept. 22, 2003) -- Mopar Funny Car shoe Whit Bazemore took over the Funny Car points lead for the first time in his career and Don Schumacher...
Bazemore comes up aces in Memphis; takes over points lead
Mopar Pro Stock Wrap Up
MILLINGTON, Tenn. (Sept. 22, 2003) -- Mopar Funny Car shoe Whit Bazemore took over the Funny Car points lead for the first time in his career and Don Schumacher Racing doubled-up for the second time this year, winning both the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes in a race that was rained out on Sunday.
Tony Schumacher came back from a devastating crash on Friday night to win his third Top Fuel race of the season in the U.S. Army car, and Bazemore collected his third victory of the year as well, driving the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus. The team had scored a double win at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., last June.
Starting from his second No. 1 qualifying spot this year (and the 23rd of his career), Bazemore's 15th career win propelled him into the points lead by seven points, as Tony Pedregon lost in the second round to Dean Skuza. Skuza, who also eliminated Bazemore's other rival for the Funny Car championship, John Force, in the semifinal, was Bazemore's opponent in the final round. Unfortunately, Skuza also eliminated Bazemore's teammate Gary Scelzi in the first round.
In his winning round against Force, Skuza's car was destroyed in a blaze which occurred after the finish line. With only 75 minutes allowed to prepare for the next round, a number of teams in the pits helped Skuza rebuild his car in time, and even Bazemore asked NHRA to allow the team as much time as necessary.
Skuza took off at the lights with a .059 reaction time to Bazemore's .082. But it was Bazemore all the way, taking the win with a very strong 4.894-second pass at 309.42 mph in the heat of the day to Skuza's losing 5.225/227.50.
En route to the winner's circle, Bazemore, of Indianapolis, defeated Bob Gilbertson (4.875/318.99 to 7.458/115.98), Cory Lee (4.967/295.66 to 4.971/291.82, winning by three feet) and Ron Capps (4.991/291.82 to 5.014/299.66).
"They pulled off a miracle. They're a tremendous team over there," said Bazemore of Skuza's effort. "We had to focus and try to win the race and that's what our Matco Tools Dodge team did. It's a great feeling. Any time you win one of these NHRA POWERade races it's a tremendous feeling.
"We've had a good year. We've had some ups and downs. We've been knocking on the door of the POWERade championship points lead since late spring. We haven't been able to knock the door down until today. Today we passed Tony Pedregon for the lead."
Bazemore won his first event at Memphis Motorsports Park today after not qualifying here in 2002 and is now the first driver since 1992 other than Force to lead this late in the season. Only five races remain.
"I really knew deep in my heart that our team was capable of winning this thing and that I'm capable of winning it," he remarked. "I think this was a turning point. I have the confidence in the team and in myself and I knew we just needed a little bit of luck to go our way and today we were able to put it all together and it happened. We're in the lead, we won this race, we have five more to go. The guys behind us (Tony Pedregon and Force) are very, very good. It's going to be a dogfight to the end, we know it. At this point we don't want to settle for second best, that's for sure."
"Our fate is in our own hands," he continued. "We can control the situation if we do our job the best way we know how to do it. And we can win the POWERade championship. If we go out and make mistakes we're not going to win it. We're on a roll, we feel great. I know we have the team to get it done. And congratulations to Tony Schumacher for his great win after that crash on Friday."
Lee Beard was a happy man in winner's circle, celebrating the 49th win of his pro NHRA career as a crew chief. "It was an outstanding day for the Matco Tools Dodge. A tremendous effort by the team," he said. "The guys did a great job preparing the car every single round. There wasn't a mistake made on their end and Whit did a great job of driving. When you get all of that to come together you win one of these things."
"We're tickled to death to be in the points lead," he added. "I think my guys are finally really believing in themselves that they can be world champions. You always have that dream. And none of the guys on my team have been there before. They really didn't have the confidence in themselves, but I think after today they realize that all the hard work and all the extra effort they put out is going to come their way and make them world champions. We have five races left and we're all going to put our personal lives on the back burner and give this race team 150 percent and hopefully we'll come out on top."
"I was very happy that Dean Skuza's team made it up there. It's never the same when you have a single, whether it's in the first round or the final round. They're formidable opponents. We didn't take them lightly and Whit's 4.89 certainly would've been a competitive enough run to beat them under the best of conditions. We're pleased with that."
Team owner Don Schumacher, owner of six pro teams as of this year, was predictably ecstatic. "To double up is fantastic for Whit and Lee and the Matco Tools team and to move into the championships points lead," he said. "It's just fantastic to see Tony come back from the crash he had on Friday night and be able to win this race. Alan Johnson (Tony's crew chief) and that whole team are just doing a fantastic job.
Bazemore has reached 11 semifinals and seven finals in 18 races in 2003, winning three of them.
Gary Scelzi found himself exiting Memphis Motorsports Park early with his first-round Funny Car loss at the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals. The driver of the Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus lost to Dean Skuza, who produced his best run of the weekend, a 4.877/312.06, to beat Scelzi's 4.864/318.09.
Earlier in the session, No. 1 in points Tony Pedregon advanced to the second round with his best pass of the weekend, 4.825/315.78, which proved to be a bellwether of the excellent track conditions the racers would see today following yesterday's rain, with temperatures in the 70s under partly cloudy skies.
"It was very unfortunate that that happened and the way it happened. We went in thin for lane choice in case we had Tony Pedregon the next round," said the Fresno, Calif., resident. "We didn't have time when we found out how good the track was to put some counterweight on it to make it run an .82 or better and I went in thin. Dean rolled it in; he had a .054 light, I had a 104, just like I had all weekend qualifying thin."
"We just got beat. There's no excuse, no anything; it's just what happened. We still have a good car. There's no game-change plan. We're not going to have our heads down. We're not going to change anything; we're going to stay the same."
"Its just part of the game. I could be upset, but it's not going to change anything. We dust ourselves off, we load it up and we get on down the road. You can't beat yourselves up because then you'll start making mistakes and you'll start doing things that are out of the realm, and that's not what we're going to do."
"We raced smart. Skuza hadn't been better than a 5.05 all weekend, and he unloaded on us."
MOPAR PRO STOCK WRAP UP...
A promising weekend for the Mopar Pro Stock contingent turned to a bitter pill on race day. During qualifying, for the first time this season, all four factory backed Mopars' qualified for the 16-car field and looked to have a good day of eliminations lined up. It wasn't to be.
Mopar driver Larry Morgan, who qualified fifth for the second time this season, fell in the first round of eliminations to veteran Bruce Allen. Despite having lane choice, Morgan, who held a sizable .018-.053 of a second starting-line advantage, lost the handle on his Dodge Stratus and ran a 6.870-second elapsed time at 201.22 mph. Allen posted a quicker 6.825-second lap at 201.82 mph.
"We just made a horrible run," said a disappointed Morgan. "We ran so well all weekend, especially during qualifying. We just blew through the clutch and spun the tires hard down the track. But, I'm not unhappy with this team. They have worked so hard this year to get to where we are. We'll just have to get them in Chicago here in a couple of days."
Gene Wilson and his Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus lost in the first round to Dave Connolly. The 2002 NHRA Rookie of the Year qualified ninth, and gave lane choice over to Connolly, who made a 6.827-second pass at 201.34 mph. Wilson managed a 6.871-second elapsed time at 200.98 mph.
"We spun the tires and I think not having lane choice hurt us today," Wilson said. "I must say I am happy with the consistency this team has demonstrated so far. We will look at things on the computer and see what we can get after in Chicago."
The red light bug bit Johnson & Johnson Racing today. Three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion Darrell Alderman, who grabbed 10th in qualifying, went up against Kurt Johnson in round one. But before they could battle, the red light flashed and Alderman's Dodge Stratus was out. Johnson went on to post a 6.820-second elapsed time at 202.09 mph.
"It just went red out there," Alderman said. "I knew I had to have a good light to beat Kurt -- I guess I was a little too good. We have turned the corner with this team and I can't wait to run next weekend."
The same fate befell teammate Allen Johnson. With a solid 13th-qualified position under his belt, Johnson was confident going into a first-round match with Jim Yates. It wasn't to be as Johnson flickered the red, ending his day early.
"Well, that was disappointing," Johnson said. "We really thought we had a good set up to compete this weekend. I was just a little early, I knew I had to be good, but it was just too close. The good news is that we have found our horsepower again and we should be strong the rest of the season."