Bazemore wins first Gators, moves into points lead
Gainesville, Sunday: Whit Bazemore finally conquered the Gatornationals, a POWERade Drag Racing Series event he has never won in his 16-year career as a professional Funny Car drag racer, by capturing his 18th Funny Car title today in the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus R/T.
Bazemore defeated Bob Gilbertson in the Funny Car final round at Gainesville Raceway, with a 4.897-second pass at 315.67 mph. Gilbertson, whose car was quickly repaired after it burst into flames while winning the semifinal round, fouled out and was disqualified.
This marked Bazemore's first win of the 2005 season in his first final round appearance of the year and his first win since Topeka 2004.
The Indianapolis resident and two-time U.S. Nationals champion moved into the Funny Car points lead with this victory, and stands nine points ahead of 13-time Funny Car champion John Force (237-238), who lost in the semis to Gilbertson.
En route to the final round, Bazemore eliminated Cruz Pedregon with a 4.869/316.67, Robert Hight with a 4.917/315.45, and his teammate Gary Scelzi with a 4.920/302.02. These were no stellar passes, but they were consistent and good enough to claim the wins over his tire-smoking opponents.
Bazemore was also beaming over the birth of his and his wife Michelle's first child, Dashiell Aidan, on March 12 - also Bazemore's birthday.
"It's huge," he said of the win at the track he first saw as a 10-year-old and where he attended the Frank Hawley School and earned his Alcohol license in 1986. "The place has a lot of personal feelings for me. It's incredible to win the Gatornationals. It's like a Pomona, an Englishtown, or even Indy. It's right up there. It's one of the classics.
"I wondered for a long time if I'd ever win anywhere and there were times when I wondered if I'll ever win again. Honestly, you win when everything comes together. We've been really fortunate this year. We've managed to go some rounds at very race, even though our performance hasn't been where we'd like it to be.
"Even this weekend we went into the last qualifying session 16th and moved ourselves up to eighth, but we could just as easily not qualified.
"The final round was difficult just because Bob Gilbertson had had those problems in the semis, and in a situation like that you almost would rather be racing John Force. I do better as the underdog, so here we are in the final knowing full well they had a major catastrophe over there. Anything can happen. It's drag racing. So to lose a race like that would have just crushed us. Personally I was hoping they wouldn't come up, I'll be honest with you, but we waited as long as we could and they came up. When he 'red-lit' I thought, OK, they have mechanical problems; he'll shut it off, and then he didn't and went on down there and had a problem again.
"The credit goes to our team, Matco Tools and Don (Schumacher, team owner) for putting everybody together. It's a huge effort, obviously. We're expected to win...a lot.
"There's an element of sportsmanship in our sport," he said of his DSR team members helping Gilbertson repair his race car to get it to the line in time. "We have it. It's a great thing to see. I'm glad we were helping them."
On being a new father, he said: "Man, fatherhood. It's the most incredible thing. Everyone has friends that have had children, obviously, and you hear all the time how great it is. I always kind of said, Oh, yeah, I'm sure it is, where's my race car? When it happens it's just the biggest, most joyous moment I think you can experience. I said at the other end on television that it's the greatest week of my life. And if we had not qualified yesterday it still would have been the greatest week of my life. It far exceeds anything else that you can do, just to hold that little bambino. He's the coolest little kid. It's awesome. Now he'll be proud of daddy some day when he goes, Funny Car? you won! Plus he was born on my birthday."
"That was a fantastic win," said crew chief Beard, who won his 51st career national-event title as a crew chief. "I always look at Gainesville as one of the races that has some real value to win. It's one of the major races on the NHRA tour. It has tremendous history behind it and to be able to win here is just outstanding.
"We were very disciplined today," he continued. "We know the Matco Tools Dodge can go quicker and faster and we wanted to turn it loose, but we felt that it would be easy to give this thing away and smoke the tires and that's what all the big guns did. We raced one of the Force's cars in the second round and they smoked the tires and we saw John Force smoke the tires and our guy Gary Scelzi - that's a great team - smoked the tires. We were a very well-disciplined team to not give it away. We weren't the quickest, we weren't the fastest, but we were consistent going down the race track all day and that's what won us the race.
"We didn't take Gilbertson lightly. We didn't want to push it. It was a tremendous effort on their team to get their car back together and get it running. You never know, they could've come up there and run good enough to beat us. The key word was discipline and not give it away and that's what won us the race."
Beard was also proud of his own family today. "I want to congratulate Zak Beard for winning the Mid-State Wrestling championship in the 100 lb. division and Nick Beard for finishing runner-up in the 85 lb. division," he said. "Just a great week in the Beard family. Zak is 14, Nick 12. They wrestle for Avon Middle School in Avon, Ind."
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