INAUGURAL RTE. 66 FUNNY CAR CHAMPION BAZEMORE AIMS TO REPEAT

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When Route 66 Raceway opened its doors to NHRA Drag Racing in 1998, it was Whit Bazemore who made it into the record books by winning the inaugural Funny Car event against Del Worsham. Bazemore won again in 2001 and still holds the Funny Car elapsed time (4.750 seconds) and top-speed track records (325.45 mph) here, as the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series hosts the Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals this weekend. "Route 66 is a great track," says Bazemore, who has reached the semifinal round in all but one event so far this year, as well as four final rounds (one win) and is second in points. "It's a fantastic facility. It's one of the showcase facilities on the tour. I enjoy the kind of place where the track owners take great pride in their business and do things the right way. I actually feel good going to a place where our sport can be proud. "We've done well here," the driver of the Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car adds. "That has no bearing on the future, obviously. But having won the inaugural race is something that doesn't go away. When you walk in you can kind of feel like you own it a little bit, which is cool." Recalling that race, Bazemore says, "It was good. It was a great day. We slayed them. That's how it went. I drove well, I remember that. They gave us special rings. It was a great win." Route 66 is also home track for team owner Don Schumacher, who heads Schumacher Electric, located in Mt. Prospect. Ill. "The key is we like the track and it's Don Schumacher's home track," says Bazemore. "So it's an important race for him. It was exciting winning there in 2001 with Schumacher's team and it's a great place to show off for him because he has a lot of friends and family coming to the race. That makes it even more exciting than ever when we do well here." Bazemore, winner in Englishtown, N.J., and his Lee Beard-led team have been consistent and strong all season, and would like to knock points leader Tony Pedregon off the podium not only in the standings but in the race as well. "We've had a good two races," says Bazemore. "Two final rounds in a row and one win is very positive. I think it says everything about our team and how good the team is and what we're trying to accomplish. "Right now we're just a little tiny bit behind performance-wise of the other car in the lead. I know that Lee and our guys are working very, very hard to get on that level. We're very close. We're not even at the part of the year where we normally are very strong, so in that regard it's awfully exciting being where we are right now." Doing well is not only rewarding, but it's also fun for the Indianapolis resident. "Our intention is to win," adds Bazemore, two-time U.S. Nationals champion. "We're in a position where we have high expectations and we know we're able to achieve our expectations. We need to, and we will. But at the same time our team is having a lot of fun. It's a very relaxed atmosphere within the team. I think that's really good, because it's easy to get wrapped up in fighting for a championship, and getting all stressed out, but we're not going to do that. "I think that's one of the reasons we're being successful right now. Everybody is really relaxed. We're enjoying our racing. I know I am. I think that's really important." Pro Nitro qualifying is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Friday, May 30. On Saturday, May 31, Pro Nitro qualifying continues at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations on Sunday, June 1, begin at 11:00 a.m.
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