Topeka: Whit Bazemore preview

Fastest and quickest in Funny Car, Bazemore realistic for Topeka TOPEKA, Kan. (May 26, 2004) - Whit Bazemore is back to business this weekend at the O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka after becoming the fastest and quickest...

Fastest and quickest in Funny Car, Bazemore realistic for Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (May 26, 2004) - Whit Bazemore is back to business this weekend at the O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka after becoming the fastest and quickest Funny Car driver on the planet last Sunday at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill. Setting the elapsed-time national record of 4.713 seconds and top speed of 333.25 mph aside, the driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus is focused on reality...and winning.

"Being realistic means that we expect to have a good weekend," said Bazemore, who moved into No. 1 in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings as well. "We've been in four finals in the last five races. I think that's pretty outstanding, so we feel good. But, you have to prove yourself every race and you can't take anything for granted.

"The first step in Topeka is to go down the race track, get qualified and hopefully have a good, consistent and fast race car - the same race car we've had the last month or so. Plus, we have the new Goodyear tire that we're mandated to run. My teammate Gary Scelzi's team tested with it on Monday in Joliet and from what we learned it shouldn't throw us a curve ball, but you never know with these things. Hopefully it won't upset the apple cart too much."

Bazemore, who finished runner-up twice in the NHRA Funny Car championship, is seeking his first crown and is in the midst of a battle royal - once again - with his arch-rival John Force, whom he's faced twice this season in the final round and lost both times. Bazemore, however, maintains a 16-point lead over the 12-time champion going into Topeka.

"The motivation is to win races and that's what we're trying to do," said Bazemore, also the first Funny Car driver to break the 325-mph barrier. "The objective is obviously to get as many points as you can all the time. You do that by winning races. The fact that we're fighting for the lead with Force is a good thing. They're the still the team to beat, they're running well. Their performance isn't that far behind us."

Bazemore has done well on Topeka's quarter-mile. He won his first Funny Car race here in 1997, was No. 1 qualifier in '99 and runner-up last year. "Topeka has been a good track for me," he said. "So, obviously, I have fond memories of racing here. It's a good track. If we have cool and overcast conditions, Topeka is the kind of place that can really offer good traction and a good surface. Although I don't think we will see the performances we had in Joliet last week I think we can be close. But, on the other hand, it is Memorial Day weekend, it's May, it's almost summertime, and it can be hot here. If it's hot then everybody is going to struggle to get traction."

Can he top 333-mph again this year and establish an all-new top-speed national record? "I think we can," he responded. "It would be obviously in a night run. We're not going to be able to do that anytime this summer during the day, I wouldn't think. Maybe in Englishtown (N.J.) at night we could do it. And maybe even Topeka at night. If it's cool enough we could do it. So much depends on the track surface and the weather.

"When we went 325 mph a couple of years ago, it was unheard of at the time, and then Force's team and our own team were able to do it repeatedly after that, even during daylight hours. Maybe the same thing will happen here, I don't know.

"You always want records, sure," added the Heartland Park track speed record holder of 326.48 mph (May 2003).

Two qualifying rounds for the Nitro classes will be held Friday, May 28, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., and on Saturday, May 29, at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin on Sunday, May 30, at 11 a.m.

On Saturday, May 29, ESPN will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, May 30, ESPN2 will televise two hours of eliminations at 4 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, May 30, ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute magazine show at 11:30 a.m. (ET).


* Quickest and fastest Funny Car driver in NHRA history: 4.713-second ET (national record) at 333.25 mph

* Qualified No. 3 at O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals in 2003, was runner-up to Tony Pedregon

* No. 1 in NHRA Funny Car points after eight races, with one win, four final rounds

* Holds track speed record here of 326.48 mph (May 2003)

* Won Funny Car class here in 1997, runner-up in 2003. Was No. 1 qualifier in 1999

* First Funny Car driver to break 325-mph barrier (U.S. Nationals 2001)

* 2003 Funny Car points runner-up

* Won three times in 2003, runner-up five times

* Has 16 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 41, 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

* Two-time U.S. Nationals champion


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher