Bristol: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon goes for three-in-a-row. Funny Car points leader tries to end Bristol Dragway drought. BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 25-27) -- It's probably safe to say that the man who coined the phrase "numbers never lie" wasn't a race fan. Consider, for...

Pedregon goes for three-in-a-row.
Funny Car points leader tries to end Bristol Dragway drought.

BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 25-27) -- It's probably safe to say that the man who coined the phrase "numbers never lie" wasn't a race fan.

Consider, for instance, this week's third annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, sixth race in the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

The numbers say that Tony Pedregon is the Funny Car track record holder for both quarter mile time (4.844 seconds) and speed (322.34 mph).

However, rivals trying to stop the 38-year-old's drive to the 2003 POWERade title can derive some encouragment from what the numbers don't say.

Although he has dominated Funny Car racing for more than nine months, winning six of the last 11 tour events and advancing beyond the first round in 16 straight races, Pedregon never has won a competitive round at Bristol Dragway, where he was beaten last year by teammate Gary Densham.

Furthermore, Bristol is the only track on which he legitimately has failed to qualify his Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang in the seven-plus seasons he has toiled in the employ of 12-time series champion John Force. He missed the 16-car lineup by .012 of a second in the inaugural Thunder Valley Nationals in two years ago.

The current points leader and winner of the two most recent events in the series, Pedregon is unfazed by the suggestion that he could be derailed by a "Bristol jinx."

"I'm not superstitious and I don't believe in jinxes," he said. "Most of the time, you make your own luck. We just weren't at the top of our game the last two years. This time we're coming in with a lot of confidence and with a better race car.

"We won't change our game plan. Job one, obviously, is to qualify. Unless you do that, you have no chance to win the race."

Three-in-a-row isn't territory with which Pedregon is unfamiliar. The 22-time tour winner won three straight events last fall while pushing Force to the semifinals of the season's last race, ultimately losing the championship by a mere 78 points, Force's smallest margin of victory in the last 10 years.

This year, the Latino driver has opened the season as if he wants to take all of the drama out of the 2003 points chase. He has history on his side in that only one Funny Car driver ever failed to claim the championship after winning three of the first five races and that was only because the current system wasn't in place when Ed McCulloch won three straight times to start the 1972 campaign.

Force won three of the season's first five races on the way to five of his championships (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999). Kenny Bernstein followed the same path in 1985 and 1987, Frank Hawley in 1983 and Don "the Snake" Prudhomme in 1975 and 1976.

Of course, those are just numbers and Pedregon has learned to be wary.

"Last year, when we won three-in-a-row, they told me no one ever lost the championship after winning three straight races, so I'm a little skeptical," Pedregon laughed. "Besides, it's way too early to even talk about the championship. We'll just go out this week and try to do what we've been doing.

"Watching John, I've learned what it takes. You have to be focused every week because there aren't any easy races anymore. Anybody can take you out at any time." Even a teammate.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham , Frank Hawley