Whit Bazemore, who amassed 20 career NHRA Funny Car victories, took his first steps towards becoming just the 14th NHRA racer to collect victories in both nitro categories Friday at Firebird International Raceway when he made two passes in his Matco Tools Iron Eagle dragster during the National Time Trials. Bazemore and teammate “Hot” Rod Fuller will continue preparing for the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season at the Phoenix track through January 31.

Baze returned to the cockpit of an 8,000 horsepower nitromethane-powered car for the first time since racing to a runner-up finish at the prestigious U.S. Nationals last September. On his first attempt of the annual preseason testing bash, the veteran racer powered to the 330-foot mark before lifting off the throttle. It was a planned shutoff. On Friday’s second attempt, Bazemore’s Matco-backed rail lost traction early. Overall, the Indianapolis resident is thrilled to have his first Top Fuel laps under his belt.

“My first impression of driving a Top Fuel car is that the perception of speed is much greater,” Bazemore said. “I think it has to do with the peripheral vision. You see things just whizzing by. It’s more tunnel vision in a Funny Car. It’s not an easy car to drive. It’s still a nitro-burning race car. A Top Fuel dragster is the quickest accelerating race car in the world. It’s an animal.

“I’ve heard they’re easier to drive (than a Funny Car), but I still find it challenging. I’m excited to get more time under my belt here this weekend. The team did a great job today. The group that David (Powers) and Lee (Beard) put together is tremendous. It feels good to be back out here driving again.”

Both Bazemore and teammate “Hot” Rod Fuller will continue at the National Time Trials on Saturday afternoon in Chandler. Fuller also made two testing attempts on Friday afternoon behind the wheel of his familiar Valvoline rail, with a solid half-track pass (3.07 seconds at 272 mph) on his second blast.

“It’s exciting to be back at it,” Fuller said. “I’m really excited because most of us on this team haven’t worked together yet. There are also new parts and pieces on the race car, so to make two runs with no glitches is fantastic. I took it to half track on the last run and it was going to make it. It would have been a low 4.50. That was a real shot in the arm for our team. The guys worked so hard in the off season putting this thing together. I’m just excited for them.”