Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac
Bazemore reaches semi's for sixth straight event
Atlanta, Sunday: In his sixth straight semifinal-round appearance in seven events, Whit Bazemore did his job at the starting line in his Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car. He blasted off first against the man he's aiming to knock out of first place in the point standings, Tony Pedregon. Bazemore's reaction time was a quick .058 versus Pedregon's .064, but when the tires on the Matco Tools Iron Eagle went up in smoke at the hit of the throttle, so did Bazemore's chances to make it to his third final round of the year.
The defending Atlanta Funny Car champion pedaled it several times to try to reach the finish line before Pedregon, who was doing his own pedaling dance to get to the stripe. Unfortunately, Pedregon had to pedal less and took the win with a 5.102/275.96 pass to Bazemore's 7.114/167.53.
Bazemore continues to hold on to second place in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car standings with 551 points, 108 behind Tony Pedregon, who won today's event.
"We smoked the tires from the hit of the throttle," Bazemore said. "If God's smiling on you, you can run a 5.80 when it does that. If not, you're just going to struggle to hook it back up. We finally got it hooked back up, but you can't win races like that.
"We're not really satisfied just going to the semifinals anymore," he commented. "It's a tough loss because basically they gave it to us and we couldn't take advantage of it. If they went out and ran .70 in the heat it would be, 'OK hat's off (to you) and it wasn't our destiny.' Lee Beard (crew chief) and I and Don (Schumacher, team owner) just had a good conversation. We're going to address that part of the race track (60-foot mark) with our Matco Tools Dodge, and we think the changes we make will help our 60-foot time and hopefully our reaction times as well and make the car a little more consistent there and less prone to smoking the tires like we've done a few times lately right at that point in the race track."
Bazemore congratulated his rival Pedregon and his crew chief John Medlen at the top end of the track. "It's no different than anyone else. When you're battling for championships you have respect for the people you're battling with," Bazemore remarked.
Defending champion Bazemore No. 3 in qualifying
Atlanta, Saturday: The defending Atlanta Dragway Funny Car champion Whit Bazemore, in the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car, qualified No. 3 for tomorrow's final eliminations, establishing a 4.802-second elapsed time at 322.73 mph, the weekend's highest speed so far, in the second of only three qualifying sessions. Rain shortened Friday's schedule to only one qualifying session; two were held today.
In the first qualifying round, Bazemore, second in the point standings and seeking his first win of the year, clocked in at 4.985/304.80. In the final round he smoked the tires at half-track and crawled to an 8.727/91.06 run.
This is Bazemore's seventh straight qualifying effort in the top half of the field in seven events. He's advanced to the semifinal in five of the six events so far, as well as two final rounds. The former Atlanta resident is second in points behind Tony Pedregon.
"We've had a decent weekend so far," he said. "That last run was a little disappointing in a way because we were really trying to get after it. We just couldn't do what we were trying to do. I think overall the Matco Tools Dodge team is in a good position. Our car is going down the track. No major dramas. We feel as confident as always going into tomorrow. The same old story. We just need to attack the first round and win that. That's our game plan."
Defending Atlanta champ Bazemore on track to be No. 1 in points
Atlanta, pre-race: Whit Bazemore, the defending Atlanta Funny Car champion, is second in the POWERade Drag Racing Series point standings, and within striking distance of his rival Tony Pedregon for first place, as NHRA arrives at Atlanta Dragway for Round 7 of the 23-event series this weekend, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals.
"The Matco Tools Dodge team is in a good position," said the two-time U.S. Nationals champion, who defeated John Force in Atlanta in 2002. "We've been to the semifinals five out of six times this season. And we've been to two finals. Our car's been a consistent, good performer. We're in the best position we could possibly be in to try to defend our title in Atlanta. And that's the most important thing to try to win each and every race and especially our first race of the year, and in particular the race in Atlanta, which is the place where being successful means a lot to me."
Getting a repeat win at Atlanta Dragway means a lot to Bazemore, who grew up in Atlanta and where his dad Chuck and stepmother Kathy still live.
"I first went to Commerce back in 1977, as a sixth or seventh grader," he said. "My best friend was a car nut too, so our mothers let us out of school on Friday and took us up there. That was just tremendous. A couple of years later my parents would take me up on Friday and come pick me up on Sunday. I would walk to a hotel room not far from the track there at the intersection. Obviously, it's a place that has a lot of memories for me. I consider it a place where I grew up in a way. And I had goals to one day race there. And to achieve those goals and to ultimately win the race there is a dream come true."
This is the highest Bazemore's has stood in the points this early in a season, and he finds himself a serious contender for his first NHRA Funny Car championship.
"The championship is our ultimate goal and after we defeated (points leader) Tony Pedregon in the third round at Bristol last Sunday, for the first time I really feel that the championship is definitely attainable" he said. "We just have to stay very, very focused and continue to improve our car and make it happen. This is the earliest in the season I've ever been second and we have some good momentum. It's going to be a long year. It's going to be a tough, tough summer and fall, but we're in a good position and we have to keep grinding away.
"For now and for the rest of the year, we're just going to concentrate on each run at a time, and we'll try to first qualify. It's no different in each race. We have to qualify first and then try to win the first round, then the second, just take it one run at a time."
Defeating John Force in the final in Atlanta last year was sweet for Bazemore, but even though Force is down in the points this season, he knows that the 12-time champion cannot be dismissed.
"History shows that you can't count Force out, certainly," he said. "We've built up a little cushion and it's good because I think at some point they're going to come back awfully strong and that's the kind of team that can easily go out and win four, five, six, seven races in a row. And they've done that many, many times. You can never count them out, and we're certainly not. This championship is going to be a very hard fought battle. My only hope is that we remain in the thick of it for the rest of the season. And whether we win it or not remains to be seen. But the fact that we can fight for it and contend for it that's really the goal is what means a lot."
Bazemore is enjoying his relationship this season with his two teammates, Gary Scelzi and Scotty Cannon, and would like to see them enjoy the same success as he is, which would help the entire team.
"Our Matco Tools team has had a lot of success this year and my teammates haven't," said Bazemore. "It's frustrating for everyone on the team to see those guys struggle. They have unlimited potential Scotty and Gary both. When those guys turn the corner it's going to make our team even more competitive and it's going to help us. But more than that, I've become friends last year with Scotty and then this year with Gary, so I'd like to see those guys enjoy some of the success that we're having. Not that we've had a ton; we're still looking for our first win. But we're up there in the championship and I think it would be very cool if at the end of the year they're way up there in the championship too."
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