Like last year, NHRA Funny Car pilot Whit Bazemore has one win as he prepares to compete in the 19th annual Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals at the Colonel's Brainerd International Raceway Thursday through Sunday.
But that's the only similarity between this year and last year.
Instead of advancing to three consecutive final rounds before the event, like last year, this season he has clicked off three consecutive No. 1 qualifying efforts with his Kendall Motor Oil/Matco Tools Camaro Z28 Funny Car.
Bazemore's biggest change this season is his crew chief, Terry Manzer, who replaced Tim and Kim Richards in the Madison, Ill., event, five races before CBIR.
Manzer, former team manager for Jerry Tolliver's WWF Funny Car team this season, tuned drivers Tim Wilkerson and Jim Epler to national event wins last year.
Mazer bolted out of the blocks for Bazemore, wrenching him to his first win in almost a year at Denver on July 16. Bazemore also recorded the speedway's first four-second Funny Car elapsed time in his win.
At Seattle on July 30, Bazemore smoked his tires and lost in the first round. Earlier, he set the track's elapsed time record.
"We're not down by any means," Bazemore said in a NHRA teleconference call. "We have tremendous confidence for the rest of the season. Our car runs well and we have a serious chance at every race."
At Sonoma, Calif., Bazemore lost to Dean Skuza in the quarterfinals. He said that Manzer does "run the car differently."
Bazemore said during his loss at Seattle, the tune up was "a little off."
"The car snuck up and bit us," he said.
Bazemore said that at every event he is learning how to work with Manzer.
"It's a more violent race car now and harder to drive if you can believe that," Bazemore said. "If it shakes the tires at all, it doesn't recover. I have to concentrate a little more.
"He makes a lot of power. He's shown me he can run a fast hot rod."
Bazemore knows Manzer is an excellent crew chief but he feels he still has to prove himself to Manzer.
"I'm fine with that. It makes me have to work harder," Bazemore said.
Bazemore said Manzer likes to talk about the car's performance and wants input from people.
"The bottom line is it's a mental game more than anything and it's how you feel about yourselves," Bazemore said.
Bazemore, eighth in this season's championship points standings, is confident of advancing in the points standings by the end of the year.
"We're aiming for the top five pretty quickly," he said. After that we're aiming for the top three. My goal is just win some races and at the end of the year see where we stand for the championship."
If he wins at CBIR, it will be his first time. Last year he lost to John Force in the final after smoking his tires. That also was the second time Bazemore lost to Force in a final last year. He also only qualified No. 1 once last year.
In his 11-year career, the 37-year old Bazemore has seven wins in 15 finals. He finished third in points last year.
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