Championship Drag Racing

O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals
Baytown, Texas
(April 15-18)

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Whit Bazemore
Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T
Funny Car


Bazemore on receiving end of payback in first round

Houston, Sunday: No. 11 qualifier Whit Bazemore was presented with another opportunity to move up in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings today in the first round against points leader Del Worsham. Unfortunately, he was unable to match the results of their last meeting in Las Vegas, where he defeated Worsham in the first round, advanced to the final and leapfrogged from eighth into fourth in points.

Instead, in today's initial round of eliminations against Worsham at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, after launching first with a .022 advantage, Bazemore's Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus lost traction early on, recovered, then smoked the tires again, crossing the finish line with a losing 6.606-second elapsed time at 139.34 mph. Worsham's run was virtually trouble-free for a winning 4.881 at 306.40 mph.

"The car spun the tire leaving but then it hooked up and it was fine," said Bazemore. "Del was ahead when it blew off the tires again. We just got beat, because they did a good job.

"We knew it was tough and you just have to go out and do the best you can and we came up short today. We've got a great team and we'll have a better time of it next week in Bristol."

Lane choice was not an issue, he added, despite his having reservations as to the quality of the track's surface. "It seems that more people smoked their tires in the left lane, but some people ran awfully well over there too, so you can't blame the track in this case. You can't blame anything. Our car was just too aggressive right there and we smoked the tires."

Bazemore is now tied in sixth place in the Funny Car point standings with Phil Burkart and Eric Medlen, with 272 points.

Bazemore No. 11 in Houston qualifying

Houston, Saturday: For the second straight race, Whit Bazemore will meet the points leader in the first round of Funny Car eliminations for the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals after qualifying in the lower half of the field. Bazemore, who qualified No. 11 in his Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus today at the newly-resurfaced Houston Raceway Park, defeated Del Worsham in the first round at the last event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway from the No. 10 spot.

Bazemore posted his best pass of the weekend (4.927/297.68) in the second round last night under cooler conditions on an unseasoned track surface, which followed a 7.915/98.97 lap in the first round. Today's two attempts did not improve his position (4.962/286.56 and 4.949/300.13) but the final run did deliver crew chief Lee Beard and the Matco Tools team a good baseline of how to attack this race track.

The weather so far this weekend has been warm, not stifling, with a cool breeze today providing comfortable conditions.

"On a day like today a couple of years ago - a good day here in Houston with some partly cloudy skies - we would have easily seen a lot of Funny Cars run low .80s," said Bazemore, referring to the results on a "green" track surface, which included only one pass in the low .80s, by polesitter Gary Densham, a 4.846. "I think things may change for tomorrow, hopefully for the better.

"Lee was very happy with our last run and thinks it's the one that we can build off of the easiest," said the two-time U.S. Nationals champion. "I think he's right. We went down the track, we went 250 mph at half-track, which is pretty good, and the team is working hard to overcome the challenges that the track preparation is creating for us and everyone else.

"We ran within a couple of hundredths of low E.T. (4.874) in the last session," he added. "We're not unhappy with that.

"We were in a bind last night. When you have track preparation similar to what we have here, the night run is going to be the only one that really counts. There are no excuses. We had to qualify last night so we couldn't be as aggressive as we normally would have been, and the fact that we overpowered the track in the first run also meant we were near the front (of the field to qualify for the night session), so we didn't have the benefit of watching other cars show us what the track could handle."

As it was for Bazemore in Las Vegas, facing points leader Del Worsham in the first round of eliminations for the second consecutive race is a welcome challenge. In Vegas, defeating Worsham helped Bazemore vault into fourth in the standings after he reached the final round, where he lost to Phil Burkart because of a mechanical problem.

"We have good first-round draw again," he smiled. "We're feeling aggressive and we're going to go out and try to do our best to win a drag race tomorrow."

Bazemore back on track

Houston, pre-race: Whit Bazemore is getting back on track in the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series after a strong showing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week. The driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus Funny Car reached the final round after dismissing points leader Del Worsham and two John Force team drivers in the early rounds. This effort vaulted him into fourth in the point standings and placed him right in the middle of the battle for the NHRA Funny Car championship after four races, just 91 points out of the lead.

Bazemore expects the momentum to continue as the NHRA circus heads to Houston Raceway Park this weekend for the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, the fifth series' round at a facility where weather and track conditions are always factors.

"Houston has a new surface, so it's our hope that the track has been smoothed some," said the two-time U.S. Nationals champion. "It was really bumpy, especially in the left lane; so much so that it was really a one-lane race track. We hope they've gotten that fixed. And if they have, the track is probably going to be green, so I look for a lot of tire smoke down track early in the weekend.

"I also look for our car to be strong. I'm fired up, I'm ready to go," he added.

Preparing for different conditions at every race, whether it includes a re-surfaced track, questionable weather conditions, altitude or lack thereof, is routine these days, says Bazemore, the 2003 NHRA Funny Car championship runner-up.

"It could be 90 degrees, 90 percent humidity in Houston this weekend," he said. "It's really not that hard to prepare the car for different conditions. It comes down to the experience that (crew chief) Lee Beard and the Matco Tools team have acquired, and knowing what the car wants in given conditions. All the top teams are pretty good at that these days. "You have a set tune-up for different conditions, you go from that and then you fine-tune from that."

Bazemore is pumped after Las Vegas, following a slow start to his 2004 season, which included three early-round losses from three outstanding qualifying starts (No. 5, No. 2 and No. 2). His best result of the year so far, in Vegas, came from his No. 10 starting spot.

"Qualifying in Vegas really doesn't indicate the true performance of the team," said the Indianapolis resident. "Qualifying was cut short by rain (only two sessions were completed) and we had a good first run. We were in the top half of that session. And we just had a little mechanical on the second run. That's how it goes. That's why it's so important that you go down the track every time that you can. You never know when that run might be the one that counts."

Beating the points leader in the first round in Vegas was key to Bazemore's moving up from eighth in points and bolstering the team's confidence. "It just felt like we did our jobs. We had our Matco Tools Dodge go down the race track. We went up there expecting to win.

"The way I look at it, it was a great opportunity for us. We had nothing to lose and they had everything to lose. I'd rather race a points leader in the first round, where the chances of making a huge points gain during the day is a lot better than racing him in the final, where if you beat him you're only going to gain 20 points.

"To me it was a good opportunity and we took advantage of it. We knew our potential on race day, and we lived up to it for a change." Because of a mechanical problem in the final round, Bazemore lost to Phil Burkart Jr. This weekend's race at Houston Raceway Park is a whole new ballgame, and Bazemore has his sights set on winning his first event at this track. He was low qualifier here in 2002 and runner-up in the second event in 1998. "We haven't won here," he said. "It's a good track. We set the speed record here in '97 (313 mph). That was a big moment in my career."

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