Phoenix: Whit Bazemore preview

Bazemore pumped for Phoenix CHANDLER, Ariz. (March 3, 2004) - No one expected to have to compete in three back-to-back events at the start of this 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, but that's how it's turning out. Whit Bazemore and his ...

Bazemore pumped for Phoenix

CHANDLER, Ariz. (March 3, 2004) - No one expected to have to compete in three back-to-back events at the start of this 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, but that's how it's turning out. Whit Bazemore and his Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car team head to Firebird Raceway this weekend for the CSK NHRA Nationals, having just completed the rain-delayed (from the previous weekend) Winternationals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway on Sunday as well as a trip to Las Vegas for Matco Tools on Sunday evening through Wednesday.

Bazemore's loss in the second round of final eliminations at Pomona to his teammate Gary Scelzi has spurred Baze and crew chief Lee Beard to work even harder - if that's possible - to get the new car and engine combination sorted out before the season gets too far underway.

"We have a problem with our car that we're trying to find...and a gremlin," said Bazemore, seventh in the Funny Car point standings after one event. "The gremlin is making our car a little inconsistent. When everything works on it it shows a lot of potential. Part of that is our unfamiliarity with our new combination, and the other part is the mechanical gremlin that we're chasing.

"The guys made a lot of changes this week. Hopefully, we'll be quick and fast right out of the trailer at Firebird," he added. "That will give Lee and Dan (Olson, co-crew chief) time to dial in the combination to the conditions and to the race track."

Although the team tested at Firebird on Feb. 6-8 (where Bazemore was quickest and fastest of the "official" weekend with a 4.929/309.98), conditions will be different here this time around. "The tune-up is something that constantly evolves and is constantly changing in an effort to react to the changing track conditions and weather conditions that are never the same," said Bazemore. "We have a good baseline. We've got to work on consistency. Once we have good consistency then it's a lot easier for Lee to tune the car and to make the car react to his changes. And he'll know what he wants to do and he'll know that the car will do it.

"Right now that's a little bit of a gray area. We're not far off. Our team is made up of a bunch of perfectionists. So being close is not at all what we're interested in. Everyone is interested in being exact - as exact as you can be with a Fuel Funny Car.

"Another race or two and I think things will be easier for the team, but it's a hard game and very unpredictable. We have everything in place. We have a great team, a great car, great people. We have every intention of winning this race and we know, compared to our competition, we're ahead of most of them and very close to the ones that might be ahead of us."

Bazemore, along with Gary Scelzi, Don Schumacher and Sunday's Top Fuel winner Tony Schumacher, hopped on Schumacher's jet immediately after Tony's victory-Iane celebration for a short trip to Las Vegas, where they represented Matco Tools at an Exposition this week. "We've got a great team and a tremendous sponsor behind us," said Bazemore, in his fifth year with Matco Tools as his sponsor. "All the Matco Tools distributors - 1500 strong - that we just spent a couple of days with are really behind the race program and our team in particular. It's really gratifying to meet and talk with these people and to hear how our racing program relates to their business. It's really fantastic. Yeah, I'm all pumped up and ready to get to Phoenix and get on the right track.

"It's been a busy couple of weeks. It will be nice to get to Phoenix and go for a good three-hour bike ride up McDowell Mountain and then get relaxed and be ready to race Friday morning," said the avid cyclist.

Pro Nitro qualifying is set for 3:30 p.m. on Friday, March 5, and again on Saturday, March 6, at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 7.

ESPN2 will have qualifying coverage on March 6, from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. (ET), and final eliminations coverage on March 7, from 7-10 p.m. (ET).

WHIT BAZEMORE QUICK FACTS:

* Qualified sixth at CSK Nationals in 2003, lost in the semifinals to Gary Densham
* Has not won a pro Funny Car event at Firebird
* 2003 Funny Car points runner-up
* Won three times in 2003, runner-up five times
* Has 15 career Funny Car event wins
* Took the 2003 championship chase to penultimate race in Las Vegas in an exciting final round against eventual champion Tony Pedregon
* Was also second in the NHRA Funny Car championship in 2001, third in 1997 and '99 and has finished in the top five six times and 11 times in the top 10 since 1992
* Age 40, born in New York City, an avid cyclist, lives in Indianapolis with wife Michelle, a semi-pro cyclist
* 2004 is his fourth season with Don Schumacher Racing
* Stands seventh in Funny Car points following Pomona
* Two-time U.S. Nationals champion

-dsr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher