PITTSBORO, Ind. (Nov. 3, 2006) -- Having spent nearly 20 years as a professional drag racer, Whit Bazemore has accrued some rather impressive statistics: 20 NHRA Funny Car victories, 46 final round appearances, 29 low qualifier awards, and 338...
PITTSBORO, Ind. (Nov. 3, 2006) -- Having spent nearly 20 years as a professional drag racer, Whit Bazemore has accrued some rather impressive statistics: 20 NHRA Funny Car victories, 46 final round appearances, 29 low qualifier awards, and 338 round wins. While establishing a reputation as one of the top drivers in the flopper division, the avid road cyclist has never been one to shy away from his opinions, helping earn a loyal fan base. After winning the Seattle race in July, Bazemore drove his Matco Tools Dodge Charger to a runner-up finish at the prestigious U.S. Nationals, coming within inches of capturing a third career Indy title. Following Indy and after Matco Tools announced its move to the David Powers Motorsports camp, Don Schumacher opted to replace Bazemore with rookie driver Jack Beckman. Bazemore was immediately hired to drive a second David Powers-owned Top Fuel dragster in 2007. The sometimes controversial nitro pilot discusses how he's spent his time during his driving hiatus, his move to Top Fuel, and what it was like to see his former race car in the winner's circle last weekend at Las Vegas.
Q: When were you informed that you would no longer be driving the Matco Tools Funny Car?
BAZEMORE: Matco (Tools) informed Don (Schumacher) the Friday morning of Indy of their change of direction, and from what I understand Don went public with that. But in the meantime, he also said I don't know what I'm going to do, if I'm going to have you in the car the rest of the year. Later on, he explained his position that he'd been having conversations with (Jack) Backman's backers for a dragster and that maybe they could do something for a Funny Car. I totally understood where he was coming from, but the whole thing was still a surprise with the way it all happened and the changes that took place.
Q: What have you been doing since?
BAZEMORE: It's been really different. If I was going to miss five races, I wanted to make the most of it and maybe it would be good. After 20 years or so of racing non-stop -- I took a break in 1996 and spent two months in the hospital, but that wasn't much of a break -- I thought this might be a good opportunity to really step back and recharge my batteries and start a new chapter in my career. After missing one race, I was already fully recharged and ready to go, and after missing a few more, I'm really starting to get itchy, but it's been fun. I've been spending a lot of time with my family. I've still gone to every city they've raced in except (Las) Vegas for Matco Tools appearances, so it's not like I haven't traveled. We've been traveling and working around the house and being a dad. It's a lot of fun. I take my son to the park four or five times a week and I have a lot of fun doing that.
Q: Is it hard being at or near the race knowing you're not going to be driving?
BAZEMORE: Well, not the first two times because it was raining. I went to Richmond and planned to stay there a couple days and went to the track and hung out with the guys. Conveniently, NHRA parked the (David) Powers' Top Fuel team next to the Matco Tools Funny Car, so it was convenient for me to walk back and forth. It is what it is. I'm really ready to go racing. I won't say it's frustrating not racing, but I race, that's what I do. I'm ready to do it.
Q: What's it been like being a fan and watching from the sidelines or on ESPN2?
BAZEMORE: It's been odd stepping back a little bit from being at every race and participating, but following the sport from home is such a different way to follow the sport. I've been involved in the sport since I was a teenager, so it's engrained in me. Now, tuning in, you watch television from a different perspective. You see things differently from the fans perspective. It's been an eye opener to say the least.
Q: How was the decision made to field a second dragster rather than a Funny Car?
BAZEMORE: That I'm not sure about. That's something between Matco Tools and David Powers. I wasn't privy to any of that. It was pretty much a surprise when Matco announced the change of direction. Fortunately, my relationship with them is very strong and they had a plan to take me with them. I'm very fortunate in that regard. The more I'm around David Powers, the more I talk to him, the more I like him. He's a very positive individual and I'm very excited to be associated with him and to be working for him. My relationship with Lee Beard and Rob Flynn goes back quite a ways also.
Q: Are you excited about the move to Top Fuel?
BAZEMORE: Actually I am. I really am. It's different and the fact that it's different is exciting. From what other guys have told me like (Mike) Dunn and (Larry) Dixon, the sensation of speed is pretty good cause you're out in the open. I'm excited about that. The challenge of driving one is different and racing against new people is exciting. Doug Kalitta is someone we have a huge amount of respect for, and the same with Dixon and many others. There are a lot of people in Top Fuel that I'm excited to race against. That part of it is exciting.
Q: You've been fitted for your new Top Fuel chassis, correct?
BAZEMORE: Yep. I think the first two cars are scheduled to arrive at the Indy shop right after the Finals. I wish we could test right now. If I could fit into (Rod) Fuller's car, I'd be real happy because we'd be testing already. But, that's not the case. We're going to wait and do preseason testing.
Q: You've worked with both Lee Beard and Rob Flynn in the past. Are you excited to reunite with them?
BAZEMORE: Absolutely. Rob was my crew chief for four or five years and we had a lot of success together. We basically built a team in 1994 from scratch. We had a tight budget and went through a lot of ups-and-downs together, and we ended up contending for the championship in 1997, finishing third to (John) Force. We had a lot of fun and a lot of success together, so we have a strong relationship. And, of course, my relationship with (Lee) Beard is strong. I have nothing but good memories working with him at DSR. We finished second twice. It's exciting for me to be reunited with them. It would be great to be with one of those two, but to have both of them on one team is pretty strong.
Q: Are you going to miss the rivalry with John Force?
BAZEMORE: No, not really. That rivalry, to me, wasn't any different that how I felt about any of the other guys I was racing. Force is a really good race car driver and they have a great team, so they were very hard to beat. I wish I had more success against them, but I didn't. I gave it 100-percent every time I raced no matter who the opponent was. When you race Force though, it brings out your best. It was big challenge I enjoyed that. I might miss that a little bit, but I think Top Fuel will be just as difficult. There's going to be someone else or another group that are really hard to beat. It's the same thing to me.
Q: You'll be part of a two-car team with "Hot" Rod Fuller next season. They're doing well with a two wins and a top five ranking. Your thoughts on joining the David Powers Motorsports camp.
BAZEMORE: It's a really strong team. Getting to know Rod a little bit, I really like him. He's a really good guy. I think he's a straight shooter and that's the kind of people you want to work with. I'm excited about that. Coming off of Las Vegas, he's obviously a hell of a race car driver and I'm going to have to raise my game. That's obvious. Hopefully, my presence will make him raise him game and he'll force me to raise my game and I think that's how it's going to be.
Q: Were you bothered to see your old Matco Tools Dodge win with a different driver?
BAZEMORE: Oh no, not at all. Not even close. It's interesting that a lot of people think that it should bother me. The way the car was running at the end of the summer having won Seattle and the runner-up at Indy, I thought the team had come together to where we had the second best car in the field; second to Robert Hight's car in terms of performance. They had a great day in (Las) Vegas. Jack (Beckman) didn't make any mistakes. He's a rookie and it's a lot of pressure. Whether he bought the ride or was hired is irrelevant. Even though you're taking money to Don's (Schumacher) team, Don's not the type of person to cut you slack when you make mistakes. I'm sure the first couple races weren't the most pleasant for Jack. To win a race, should open the door and give him the confidence to really focus and get more experience and work better with the team. I want the team to be successful because they're a great bunch of guys and we all formed good friendships. I think the world of Todd Okuhara and (Phil) Shuler and the job that they can do. It's a good team and they all deserve to win. It's good that Beckman was able to deliver that for them.