Championship Drag Racing

NHRA Nationals
Las Vegas, NV
(April 6-9)

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Whit Bazemore

Bazemore: Memories of his time on The Strip

Las Vegas, prerace: Whit Bazemore has a fondness for The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The two-time U.S. Nationals champion and driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car has done well here since the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series first arrived at this track in 2001.

As he prepares for this weekend's NHRA Nationals, the Indianapolis resident recalls some of the highlights of his two No. 1 qualifiers here (2001 LV2, 2003 LV1), four runner-ups (2001 LV1, 2003 LV1 and LV2 and 2004 LV1) and finally as the defending champion of this event in 2005:

Runner-up to Tommy Johnson Jr. in 2001: "I think we were beat on a holeshot. It was good. We had a good tune-up back then for this race track. It was a new team for Matco Tools and everybody on board, so to be runner-up with a new team that early was pretty rewarding.

"At the end of the 2001 run, we were a really strong team. We outscored everyone else in points the second half of the season by quite a lot. Vegas is a good track. It typically rewards high-horsepower cars. And we seem to do well here."

Runner-up in 2003 to Tony Pedregon at both events: "The situation in the last one was if we beat Tony in the final then the championship would stay alive going into the last race in Pomona, and we both smoked the tires. We smoked them a little earlier than he did. We lost a very close race, so the championship was over. We left first (at the starting light) and I think we proved, at least to ourselves, that we could fight for a championship. It was a great experience. It would have been awfully nice to have won that race, but we didn't.

"There are a lot of races that we wish we had won, but we hadn't and that's one of them."

Runner-up to Phil Burkart in 2004 (LV1), and winner in 2005 over Tony Bartone (LV1): "You can consider that we have had a lot of success here, because basically when you're runner-up you're second. But, in our sport finishing second is not acknowledged and you don't really come away feeling too good after you're runner-up, honestly. You're just the first loser.

"Our sport rewards winners and that's it. If you finish second in a Formula One race you're on the podium spraying champagne. If you finish third in a Formula One race you're on the podium spraying champagne. If you finish third or second in the Tour de France you're a hero. The fact that we've been runner-up so many times in Vegas to me was somewhat meaningless although it showed that throughout the years we had a good running car at The Strip.

"But last year we got the monkey off our backs and we won at the first Vegas race of 2005. It was a great win. It was a hard day. The track was tricky and we won a tire-smoking contest with Robert Hight, a race we shouldn't have won at all. We smoked the tires a lot earlier than he did, and got by with the win. That was exciting. I think that was in the second or third round. It was a tough race and we won. We beat Bartone in the final in a very close race. It felt good finally to win here.

"It is a tremendous facility and one of our favorite tracks. We really like the people here. They do it 100 percent right, and we appreciate that."

As for the upcoming event here this weekend following a difficult first four races of the year: "We have high hopes that we can turn our season around here. It's obviously a track that we do well at. The team tested Monday with (teammate) Gary Scelzi driving the Matco Tools Dodge Charger after Houston. They changed the tune-up considerably and in the last run we didn't have any of the problems that we've had all year. We don't want to say that we found it, because that's on old cliché, but we're very hopeful that we might be going in the right direction.

"It's really, really been tough on the team, especially on (assistant crew chief) Todd (Okuhara) and (crew chief) Brian (Corradi). It's been a can of worms for Brian. I'm sure he's wondering what the hell kind of decision he made to come here to Don Schumacher Racing and get saddled with a car that doesn't respond to his inputs at all. But, we have a great team, a great bunch of guys. They've worked their asses off, and they've kept their heads held high.

"We're not accustomed to even being out of the top five much less the top 10, so we have a lot of work to do ahead in this season. We're motivated and we're going to come to Vegas with our usual attitude to try to annihilate our opponents."

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