Whit Bazemore has effectively made a name for himself on both
sides of the drag racing fence. First, as a aspiring kid on the
media side, who began his career by taking pictures for R.J. Reynolds
and later developed into one of the sport's leading drag racers.
Politically correct he is not. But entertaining he is. If there's
trouble, Bazemore can find it. If there's a tough situation on the
drag strip, he's the driver you want behind the wheel. Never a man
to mince his words, this Funny Car driver becomes the latest to
share his famed "war stories" with the readers of CompetitionPlus.com.
That Seagraves Boy is gonna get you in trouble - One
of the funniest days of my life was spent with Colbert Seagraves
at Rockingham. This was an IHRA race and I was the photographer
for R.J. Reynolds. Colbert was Ralph’s son, the guy who was
over Winston’s programs in drag racing. We’ve all come
a long way since then, but where we were then wasn’t so great.
He was always getting in some trouble and I was on the verge. R.J.
Reynolds had brought the CEO of the tobacco company…he might
have been President…I forget…the big cheese was there
in any case, and things had to be perfect. There was a lot of pressure
I can remember once…just to show you how it was, Winston's
sports marketing guy Jeff Byrd told me, “Son, if your pictures
don’t turn out you’ll never take a picture again.”
At the time, I was 18 and never thought that I was ever going to
race, so this was the next best thing. When someone tells you something
like that, you really don’t want to screw it up. Those were
some harsh words.
Anyway, Winston brings in the exec in a van that has a sliding
door. Colbert and I end up driving the van through the pits. We
hadn’t been drinking - we were totally sober and having a
good time…just relieving the stress. We were cruising the
pits and passed someone’s gooseneck trailer with the neck
sticking out. The van hit that gooseneck and just trashed the door
- ripped it clean off. This was the van being used to transport
this high-level exec back and forth from Southern Pines to Rockingham.
I can still remember the first words I said…”Holy Shit.”
I knew I was as fired as a person could be – I was doomed.
I knew that even though Colbert was driving, he was okay…he
was Ralph’s son and he was covered. We took the van back and
parked it at the tower. I got all my camera stuff and walked away,
acting like I had never seen that van before in my life.
I never laughed so hard in my life. We were in so much trouble
that it didn't even matter.
We had to pay the piper for that one. I was just happy my pictures
If only digital had been around –Near the
end of my photography career, I had several assignments with RJR
covering the Vantage Golf Tournament. Payne Stewart won this one
particular tourney in San Antonio and it was a real big deal - they
had all the top name execs there. Normally, I’d get home on
Monday and process my film then pick which ones I wanted to print.
The particular time I was shooting indoors with a Hasselblad and
a flash. I had done this job a million times and I wasn’t
Then I looked at the negatives and everything was blank. This was
the first time it had ever happened and I knew there was a big problem.
This was a big job and I stood to make $10,000. It was the first
big golf thing for them. They had a big ice sculpture and everything,
food, cocktails and a week’s worth of stuff. This was a weeks
worth of work. My camera had malfunctioned and I was a wreck. After
six years of doing work for them, I knew I was done.
I called Jeff Byrd - “Jeff, I don’t know how to tell
you this,” I said. “We don’t have any of the indoor
There was silence on the other end of the phone. I was thinking
at that time, I had better start working on my racing career. I
was done here. The pause continued.
“It’s alright,” he responded. “It’s
no big deal. Don’t send it. They won’t even miss it.”
I hung up the phone and I was elated. Then I wondered, ‘shit
- if they don’t miss it, then has all this work I’ve
done for five years not really mattered?’
The Virgin Photographer and RJR – The very
first job I had for RJR was at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in 1980.
I was a sophomore in high school then. Jeff Byrd came and got me
one day and had me shoot 2 rolls of film. He told me to send him
the bill but I had no idea how much to charge, so I finally asked
him. His response was however much I wanted. I was thinking $50
because it only took me a half-hour, and I was used to mowing lawns
for money, after all. I thought to myself that fifty bucks would
cover my expenses for the weekend and I would make a little to boot.
He looked at me and suggested $500. He told me he’d send the
check and instructed me to call him over the winter because he might
have some jobs for me. I thought to myself, “Yeah sure.”
One day I was sitting in class, and I remembered him telling me
to call before the NHRA Winternationals. He said he might have a
job for me there. I had never been to California. The thought of
seeing those new cars was awesome. Back then you had to wait two
weeks for National DRAGSTER and months for the other magazines to
see the new cars. That was better than going to Indy. I just didn’t
have the guts to call. Finally, in January during a first period
history class I got the nerve up to go call him. I asked Mrs. Stevens
if I could go make a phone call. They all knew I was a wheeler and
dealer. I did pictures for the school and had pictures published
in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I didn’t lie, I told
her I was going to try and get this job in California. She laughed
and said good luck.
I was a nervous wreck about calling. I called Jeff and his secretary
answered. She remembered me and then connected me to Jeff.
“Mr. Byrd, its Whit Bazemore from Atlanta.”
There was silence for a moment and then he asked how I was doing.
I reminded him about his Indy offer. My voice was breaking up and
his dead silence of about 30 seconds didn’t help matters either.
I was almost passed out. I thought I had overstepped my boundaries.
I thought I had ruined it.
“You know, I think you just solved a problem that I have,”
Jeff responded. He asked if my parents would let me go and I let
him know that it didn’t matter if they would or wouldn’t.
I let him know that if he hired me, then I’d be there to make
“Nah son, that’s not how it’s going to work,”
Jeff said. He told me to call back in two days. I went home and
smoothed it over with my parents. They were excited. He called me
and even talked to them. He sent me a first-class ticket to Ontario
where I was met by Jeff and Tina Gayle, Miss Winston…the best
looking one ever…you have to understand I was only 17 years
old. The next morning we stayed in The Uplander. I got a call the
next morning from Jeff telling me, “Son, go look out the window.”
It was the clearest day ever in California. I had never seen anything
like it. Here I was at the Winternationals. This was so cool. A
day or two later, we were driving back to the hotel and I noticed
he had two beers. I asked what they were for and he told me that
one was for me and one was for him. We got back to the hotel and
cracked open the beer. I was like a little adult.
RJR had one other photographer named Dozier Mobley. Jeff went into
a discussion about Dozier having a flash that went off all the time.
He then pointed out that was fill-in flash. He went into telling
me about Dozier’s Hasselblad. I had $1500 in my savings and
a Dodge Coronet that would only go 120-mph. I took all the money
I had in savings and bought a used one. My mother went through the
roof. I told her that I had to buy it to compete in business.
I showed up at the Gators, another race working for Jeff, and I
had a Hasselblad. Jeff knew then that I would do whatever it took
to keep the gig. I also wanted to race. Racing was just an impractical
dream. People like me just didn’t race. Photography enabled
me to learn the business and work my way into drag racing.
My Bad Attitude - A lot of stuff in racing is
overblown. I haven’t had a lot of run-ins with other drivers,
although I did have a couple with Force. I thought I was right.
Tony Pedregon denied team orders for a long time. In 1997, we were
second in the points and screwed up in the second round. For Tony
to pass us in the points, he had to win the race. In the final round,
he was racing Force and the Castrol guy came up to me and said”It’s
only business.” Then they denied it. That got me up on the
tires. It was a farce. He denied it on television. He even said
I had a bad attitude on television. I didn’t say I had an
attitude because you’re a (bleep)ing liar. Now that he’s
away from that team, his brother says…you know Tony has been
around team orders for a long time and there won’t be any
of that here. If they didn’t have team orders, he wouldn’t
have won the championship last year. That’s a fact. You can
count the points. I think all of my aggression towards other people
has been justified. There’s only been a few.
That Mohawked Bully – Scotty Cannon and
I were bitter enemies for a while because we pissed him off and
he pissed us off. Then I did it to him a little more. After that,
I stayed away from him for a while. I learned that if you made him
mad, you’d be better served to stay away from him. We ran
Scotty at Bristol in qualifying. We were probably a little slow
in Bristol. He had Wes Cerny at the time and Cerny walked by us
and made the comment to me while I was packing the parachute, “You
guys are pathetically slow.” He kept walking.
The next time we ran, he hung me out and I didn’t like that.
When we got to the end of the track in Atlanta I told him what he
could do and give him the finger. He got mad and to make a long
story short, it was colorful television. It’s all good now.
I didn’t run from him, but I was parked far enough that if
he got after me I could run fast enough that he couldn’t catch
me. I’m the kind of guy that I’m gonna hit first and
then go…especially with Scotty. I ain’t into getting
knocked out on the ground. If he was smaller, I might have parked
closer and acted a lot tougher. Scotty is a good guy with a lot
of heart. I apologized and shook his hand. He took it, but didn’t
offer a lot back. When we became teammates, we became real good
Bad Girls + The Governor = Bad Situation for Whit –
I won’t say who my sponsor was, but in the 90s, in Topeka…the
governor of Kansas would have a dinner party for the racers. I was
invited two or three years in a row. It was an honor and the Governor
knew me well. A nearby team had a few entertaining girls hanging
out. They looked skanky. A couple of them were wearing cut-off shorts
and their cheeks were hanging out. I would venture to say that it
was not the most professional image to convey. It wasn’t my
team so I didn’t care. However, the Governor showed up with
his family and a few friends. These are well-to-due and proper people.
It was an honor that they came to see me. As you can imagine…it
was a situation where you want the Governor and his group to hang
out as long as possible. But, at the same time, you don’t
want them to see any of the shenanigans going on nearby. It wouldn’t
be cool because there might have been an association. Any other
time, it might have been fine. Those girls sat in their chairs the
whole time, and I kept my fingers crossed that they’d remain
seated. If they had stood up it would have been obvious what they
were and what they were there for. The Governor hung out for 20
minutes or so and left. All was good.
Paybacks are a mutha – One of my summer
jobs was in working with Dale Pulde and Mike Hamby on the War Eagle.
We were in Brainerd, which was a road course. It was late and I
had met a girl and I was trying to impress her. Pulde had a little
Mitsubishi truck. I took her out on the road course and I never
over-revved the motor, but I did spin it sideways a time or two
in the turns. Steve Gibbs happened to see it. He jumped on Pulde
about it. Pulde and Hamby looked at me because they knew who it
was. I admitted to it to Gibbs. He knew me, but it didn’t
matter. Pulde was really mad, but he got me back a year or two later.
We were doing some pics for Miller Beer in 1985. I had a super tricked-out
VW Sirocco and it had the spoiler stuff and all - it was my pride
and joy. Everyone was upset with me because it was getting late
and cold, but I was a perfectionist and wanted everything right.
We had my car running and the lights shining on the photo shoot
which had been going on a few hours. The next thing I know, I hear
the shriek of my tires and Pulde takes off in my car down the strip
and up the return road. He went through the pits and down the strip
again. I was livid. They were all laughing and saying “Remember
Brainerd?” That was a good lesson.