Sonoma Etchells Racing Review
BAZEMORE & TEAM KENDALL SWEEP TO VICTORY IN SONOMA Sonoma, California, August 8, 1999 - Whit Bazemore capped an outstanding West Coast swing by capturing the Funny Car title at this past weekend's Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway. The ...
BAZEMORE & TEAM KENDALL SWEEP TO VICTORY IN SONOMA
Sonoma, California, August 8, 1999 - Whit Bazemore capped an outstanding West Coast swing by capturing the Funny Car title at this past weekend's Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway. The victory was Bazemore's first of the season, and sixth of his career. It also marked his inaugural trip to the winner's circle as the driver of the Kendall Oil/Superwinch Camaro Z28 Funny Car.
"To finally get the job for Chuck and Shelley Etchells, Kendall and Chevrolet was tremendous," stated Bazemore. "This is my first win in a Camaro. It was a little more than a year ago that Chevy got on board with me. They played a big part in saving my career, and made me feel like family.
"But this one is for the entire Etchells team. When Chuck hired me at the end of last season, he threw me a lifeline. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to work with the team Chuck had assembled over the last four or five years. I owe him quite a bit. Chuck had faith in me. I was getting a little frustrated this year with not winning, because this team had won a lot of races last year."
However, the Etchells team's accomplishments go far beyond winning the event. After coming close with final round appearances in Denver and Seattle, the crew seemed determined to succeed in Sonoma. From the first pass in qualifying, when Bazemore's 5.003-second elapsed time paced the field, they established themselves as the top contender for the victory. After archrival John Force was able to temporarily claim the top spot on Friday night, Bazemore used a 4.931-second pass in arguably the most exciting side-by-side pass of qualifying on Saturday morning to outrun Force. This cemented his status as the top qualifier, and broke the previous track record by five hundredths of a second.
The first round was a rematch of last year's Sears Point finalists, with Bazemore looking to avenge his loss to Cruz Pedregon. It proved to be no contest, as Bazemore's 4.979-second run allowed him to easily advance. In his next match-up, Bazemore again used the quickest pass of the round to eliminate Dean Skuza.
"The way the Kendall Camaro performed in qualifying, I felt it could easily be our day," explained Bazemore. "But so many things can go wrong even if you seem to have an advantage. These are very hard races to win. Just look at the last two finals, where small mistakes kept us out of the winner's circle. I felt like we had to redeem ourselves here, and we did."
In the semi-finals Bazemore faced John Force's teammate, Tony Pedregon, a contest with several important implications besides advancing to the final. For example, there were the built-in rivalries between competing manufacturers, sponsors, and the drivers themselves. With Force having exited in the first round, defeating Pedregon represented an opportunity to gain ground on the two competitors ahead of Bazemore in the points. Once again, the Etchells crew met the challenge. Bazemore rocketed down the Sonoma quarter-mile in 4.876 seconds with a speed of 310.20 miles-per-hour, shattering both ends of the track record and advancing to his third final round in as many races.
"The race against Tony was the toughest," said Bazemore. "Let's face it, that's Force's team. They've had a tremendous year and were capable of running a tenth better than the low e.t. to that point. They've done it to us before, and beat us up, so I guess (crew chief) Tim Richards decided he just wasn't going to take it anymore. The car spun the tires a little leaving and by three to four hundred feet I knew it was on a hell of a pass. As a driver you can tell what the clutch is doing and by half-track I felt it was really hauling. That 4.87 was unbelievable."
The final obstacle between Bazemore and his first 1999 win was the third and oldest of the Pedregon brothers, Frank. Etchells' pilot was not to be denied, and used his third four-second run of the day to easily eclipse his tire-smoking opponent. Bazemore's dominance on Sunday can be best exemplified by the fact that his worst pass of 5.021 seconds in the second round was three hundredths of a second quicker than the best effort of any other Funny Car in final eliminations.
"It's just been a dream weekend," said Bazemore, who celebrated by spraying champagne on his teammates in the winner's circle. "Tim has done a very good job on our tune-up, getting the car to work better on both the good and the slick tracks. This is the first race I've had where I was low qualifier, set both ends of the track record and won the race. Like (co-crew chief) Kim Richards said, it's a clean sweep. It's a great feeling. The fact is today we got the job done the best way possible, and I think it sends a message that this Kendall Camaro team is for real, and we're going after them. This whole team is just outstanding.
"I don't know what we can do with John and the championship, because he's way, way out there. They're still the team to beat. However, we definitely have our eye on Tony in second, and today went a long way towards that. We ran well this weekend, and I think we surprised them - I know that 4.87 in the semis surprised me! As long as we have a mathematical chance for the championship, I go to sleep thinking I can catch the guy (Force). This team will keep fighting all the way to Pomoma. The points are on the table and we have to grab them.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank all our sponsors, Kendall Oil, Chevrolet, Superwinch, Turtle Wax and their CD-2 brand, Mighty Auto Parts, Auto VentShade and Snap-On Tools. They allowed me to come over here and drive this great car, and it's no exaggeration to say that without them, we wouldn't be celebrating this win today."
Following a weekend off, the NHRA circuit will leave the West Coast and head to Brainerd, Minnesota for the Colonel's Truck Accessories Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, August 19 -22.
Funny Car Points Standings (As of 8/8/99): 1. J. Force - 1,361, 2. T.Pedregon - 1,105, 3. Whit Bazemore - 974, 4. (tie) F. Pedregon - 670, 4. (tie) D. Skuza - 670, 6. D. Worsham - 653, 7. C. Pedregon - 605, 8. T. Wilkerson - 599, 9. C. Lee - 562, 10. J. Toliver - 539.
Big Bud Shootout Points (As of 8/1/99): 1. J. Force - 3,275, 2. Whit Bazemore - 2,955, 3. T. Pedregon - 2,805, 4. D. Skuza - 2,345, 5. R. Capps - 2,340, 6. C. Pedregon - 2,290, 7. T. Wilkerson - 2,215, 8. A. Hofmann - 2,150.