Pomona: Whit Bazemore preview

Bazemore looking to maintain momentum and keep an edge INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 30, 2002) -- No one can blame Whit Bazemore for his approach to the opening of the 2002 National Hot Rod Association season. The veteran Funny Car driver says he is not ...

Bazemore looking to maintain momentum and keep an edge

INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 30, 2002) -- No one can blame Whit Bazemore for his approach to the opening of the 2002 National Hot Rod Association season. The veteran Funny Car driver says he is not looking at the K&N Filters Winternationals opener as a new season, but as a continuation of the 2001 season.

And when one takes a brief look at Bazemore's performance during the second half of last season it is easily understood why he and his Matco Tools Funny Car team don't want to start fresh, but instead to maintain the 2001 momentum as they prepare for the new NHRA season, Feb. 7-10 at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.

At midseason of last year, Bazemore was in sixth place in the standings with 679 points. When the season ended, he finished second with 1,748 points. The improvement was a result of a second half surge that saw Bazemore accomplish the following in the final 12 races:

* Qualified No. 1 in nine of the final 12 races, including the two races at Pomona.
* Earned more points than any other Funny Car driver with a round record of 30-9.
* Won three races and finished runner-up four times.
* Recorded the three fastest runs in NHRA Funny Car history with the fastest being 325.69 mph, set at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
* Recorded the second, third and fourth quickest elapsed times in Funny Car history with the quickest being 4.732, set in Reading, Pa.

"We want to carry our momentum from last year into this year," said Bazemore. "The stats speak for themselves. Yes, the Matco Tools car had an edge over the competition during the second half of last year, but the key for us is to maintain that momentum, and at the same time, to keep making advances. You have to do this because you know the competition is working hard to also find an edge. Lee and Mike (co-crew chiefs Lee Beard and Mike Neff) know what's ahead of them and they worked hard over the off-season. Their efforts paid off with the success we had in preseason testing. We have to continue with the same intensity when we get to Pomona. You cannot stand still or you'll be on the outside looking in."

Based on the team's second half performance last year and its position in the final points standing (second), the next goal is obvious for the Matco Tools team.

"Of course we're shooting for the NHRA POWERade championship and feel we have as good of an opportunity that we've ever had," said Bazemore. "We have a big challenge ahead of us and a big reward if we can get it done. There are plenty of good teams in Funny Car, but Force's team has set the standard and that's why you target that team. They have been the most successful for a long time. And generally speaking, if you can beat Force you should have an upper hand on the rest of the field, all things being what they've been."

Bazemore, 38 of Indianapolis, feels another advantage in his quest for the championship is that owner Don Schumacher added a second Funny Car to the team - Scotty Cannon's Oakley car-- at the conclusion of last season. "Having two cars to learn from is a resource that should give both teams an added value as the season goes on," said Bazemore. "Scotty's a good person and we have already started to work well together."

When it comes to Pomona Raceway, Bazemore feels he has some unfinished business. At the last two races on the historic track, he finished runner-up each time - losing to Force in the 50th Anniversary final in July and to Del Worsham at the Auto Club final in November. Bazemore's performance was dominant at the final race of last year - he recorded eight consecutive runs in the 4.70s. In the Winternationals last year, Bazemore reached the semifinal round, his best finishing position at the annual season opener.

"Pomona Raceway has plenty of tradition and the Winternationals is a marquee race," said Bazemore. "We had opportunities to win there last year but it slipped away from us. Hopefully we can rectify that. I would like nothing better than to start the year off with a victory and have a Winternationals trophy in my cabinet."

Notes: In five days of preseason testing at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix, Bazemore had the day-ending quickest runs three times. His best of 4.789 was low for all Funny Car drivers. The two times Bazemore wasn't the quickest in testing, his teammate had the honors - Scotty Cannon in the Oakley car...Bazemore was married during the off-season to Michelle Mercer - Dec. 8 on the island of Anguilla in the British West Indies. Whit and Michelle are avid cyclists -- it's what originally brought them together. Michelle competes in road and track cycling events in the Midwest and Eastern states.

Bazemore numbers at a glance
Career final rounds: 25
Career event wins: 10
Career No. 1 qualifying: 18
Last final round: Nov. 11, 2001, Pomona
Last event win: Sept. 30, 2001, Chicago
Last No. 1 qualifying: Nov. 10, 2001, Pomona
Career best elapsed time: 4.732, Oct. 7, 2001, Reading, Pa.
Career best speed: 325.69, Sept. 1, 2001, Indianapolis*
Career races qualified: 208
Career round record: 203-195

*fastest in Funny Car history


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Scotty Cannon , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff