Baytown: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon chases Houston title from front of the POWERade pack. Points leader favored in 16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals. BAYTOWN, Texas (April 11-13) -- To push forward, Tony Pedregon has had to look back and the retrospective hasn't ...

Pedregon chases Houston title from front of the POWERade pack.
Points leader favored in 16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals.

BAYTOWN, Texas (April 11-13) -- To push forward, Tony Pedregon has had to look back and the retrospective hasn't always been that pleasant.

Nevertheless, to win the 2003 POWERade Funny Car Championship, the 37-year-old Latino driving star knows that it's important to remember how he lost the title a year ago and apply those lessons to races like this week's 16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park.

"I don't want to forget that," he said of his 78-point loss to boss and teammate John Force, his fourth runner-up finish in seven seasons at the wheel of the Castrol SYNTEC^ÙFord Mustang.

"I got caught up in the emotion last year and I think it cost me," Pedregon said. "When I raced John in the semifinal (of last November's season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California Finals at Pomona, Calif.), I made a little mistake. I got a little emotional. I got a little too fired up.

"And when I raced him in the first round last week at Las Vegas, I started going back in time and remembering what happened last year (when Force beat him in consecutive showdowns meetings in the season's final two events) and I had to tell myself, 'you're getting emotional again.'

"By nature, I'm not very good at camouflaging my feelings," acknowledged the 21-time tour winner from Chino Hills, Calif. "John has told me, 'don't give 'em the satisfaction,' but sometimes, if there ain't a smile, there just ain't a smile."

Nevertheless, once he's had time to reflect, Pedregon invariably is fine.

"I don't beat myself up because we lose," he said. "All I try to do is figure out how we can do it better and how we can avoid getting beat the next time. I remember how John beat us (last year) and I don't want that to happen again. Maybe that'll give me an edge."

Pedregon actually has had an edge for the last nine months. Since last September, he's won exactly half of the races contested in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series (five of 10 including two of four this year) and started from the No. 1 position six times.

That performance wasn't lost on those who closely follow the circuit. In fact, in an informal poll of motorsports writers (conducted by Louis Brewster of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in California), Pedregon beat out his boss for the favorite's role in this year's race for the $400,000 champion's bonus.

Instead, the early points race has pitted Pedregon against his OTHER teammate, former high school auto shop teacher Gary Densham, while Force has struggled to get his Castrol GTX® High Mileage Mustang back up to speed, literally as well as figuratively.

In the end, though, Pedregon hopes it will play out as it did last year -- him against his boss, mentor and friend.

"When I have to race him, I know what I'm up against," Pedregon said. "And what I'm up against is the best."

Pedregon says he believes that there is a part of Force that legitimately wants him to win the championship. Unfortunately, that part often is in conflict with the champion's natural and well-known competitiveness.

"He's not going to give (the championship) up easily," Pedregon said.  "And
that's the way I want it.  If I beat him, I want to beat him at his best."

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham