Bazemore takes Thunder Nat'l Funny Car title

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Whit Bazemore romped through the Funny Car field Sunday afternoon in the MAC Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, while Bluff City's Todd Paton made an impromptu run to the event semifinals.
   Bazemore's Matco Tools Pontiac was the dominant car all day, making four trips down the quarter-mile strip at over 309 mph. "To have a win in the spring at Bristol is tremendous," said Bazemore, who beat Gary Densham's Mustang in the final round. "This is the earliest in the season I have won a race. We're on the right track.
   "We all expected a performance like this earlier, but that's why it's racing. You can't predict a winner. You can't predict a champion or any of this, except John Force might win a championship again. It's just hard to maintain the consistency needed to win races."
   The trip up the elimination ladder saw Bazemore knock off Dale Creasy, Jr. in the first round, defeat Tommy Johnson, Jr. in round two and beat Tim Wilkerson in the semifinals.
   The day was marked with upsets including Densham, the last place qualifier knocking off teammate and No. 1 qualifier Tony Pedregon. It was justice for Densham, himself a victim of a first-round defeat last year when he was the No. 1 qualifier.
   Their car owner and rival driver John Force also fell in round one, losing to Johnson, the same racer Force that beat in the finals at the series' last race at Houston.
   "Racing is a weird game," explained Densham. "Tony and those guys were tough and we figured we were behind the eight-ball. It worked out for us, but it was bad of bad luck that John went out.
   "Everybody is so tough out here and stuff is going to happen. If it was a pre-determined deal then we wouldn't have to take the car out of the truck, we would just give out trophies."
   No upset was more surprising than Paton's Nitro Fish ride beating defending race champion Ron Capps' Skoal Chevy in round one.
   "It's disappointing to go out in the first round," stated Capps. "We've always had great luck here. That's just part of the game. We wanted to do well after qualifying fourth.
   "Everything about this weekend seemed good. The car was running good and we felt like we had a great chance. You just never know how things are going to turn out. Out here, you're on the edge all the time."
   Added Paton, "I was driving along and didn't see Capps for the longest time. I felt my car shake a little bit. It started to smoke the tires, so I gave it a quick pedal. I still didn't see him, so I made a bee line to the finish line.
   "When you win, the crew's geared up and the driver is geared up. We're a family-run team. We don't have the same budget as the Skoal cars. It's good to show them the little guys can go out there and still kick it."
   Paton backed up the Capps upset with a win over the Dodge factory car of Dean Skuza in round two before falling to Densham in the semifinals.
   Force still remains atop the Funny Car standings in pursuit of his record 12th NHRA title. Densham moved into the second spot, with Worsham falling to third. The top three cars are only seperated by 62 points with the Powerade tour heading to Atlanta next weekend.
   For the Bazemore team, the win came at a cost. "It's days like today, I'm glad I'm not a car owner," remarked Bazemore. "(Team owner) Don Schumacher, it hurt him in the wallet, because we went through six engines this weekend. I'm just driving it and I'm happy."