Pedregon's stock soars in bid to supplant Force as champion
Points leader seeks third win in Mopar Mile-High Nationals
DENVER, Colo. (July 18-20) -- Since last he visited Bandimere Speedway, site of this week's 24th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals, Tony Pedregon's drag racing stock has soared higher than the Rocky Mountains which loom just west of this, the most scenic stop on the 23-race POWERade tour.
After racing the last seven years in the shadow of the sport's most prolific winner, boss and teammate John Force, Pedregon this season has come into his own at the wheel of a Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang that unquestionably is the dominant Funny Car in the NHRA's POWERade series.
Three weeks ago, in fact, the 38-year-old Californian Pedregon completed a full year of racing without suffering a single first round loss.
That's a remarkable streak -- 23 races without a first round loss -- one which began with a runner-up finish in last year's Mile-High Nationals.
"It has been quite a ride," acknowledged the Funny Car points leader, "but, hopefully, it's not over yet. We still have some business to do."
Indeed, there's half a season (11 races) remaining in the Chino Hills, Calif., resident's bid to become the Pedregon family's second world champion after older brother Cruz (who won five of the season's final six races to beat Force for the 1992 title).
"It all really started at Denver," Pedregon said. "That's the first time we ran this car. It's a different chassis (McKinney Corporation) than we had run before the first car I've had that was built specifically for me and it just seemed to fit with the rest of the package."
A week after finishing second to Del Worsham, Pedregon won at Seattle, Wash. And he's been winning ever since 10 times in the last 22 races; six times this season.
Indeed, it was largely because of Pedregon's success that Force opted to make a chassis change this season, commissioning a couple of McKinney chassis even after winning 106 times in cars built by Steve Plueger.
"There was nothing wrong with the Plueger car, obviously," Pedregon said, "because we won 15 races with it and John won 12 championships, but this car just seems to work better with the way John Medlen and Dickie (Venables) run our car."
In fact, Pedregon has gone to the finals in half the races contested since he last raced at Bandimere and has started almost half of them from the No. 1 qualifying position (11).
All of that will mean little, however, if he doesn't win the championship. After all, he's been close before, losing last years title by a mere 78 points after finishing second three other times since coming on board with John Force Racing in 1996.
"I think we learned some things last year. I know I did as a driver," Pedregon said. "We had finished second to John before, but every other time, it wasn't even close. We were second my first year and I think John was 600 points ahead of us. But last year we actually raced for the championship and I think that gave us a lot of confidence and enabled us to carry a lot of momentum into this season."
Nevertheless, Pedregon isn't quite ready to claim the title.
"I think what happens on the Western Swing (races at Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., on successive weekends) will go a long way toward deciding who's really going to be in contention. There are an awful lot of good teams out there and we know none of them are conceding the championship.
"We'll just stick to our game plan qualify first, then take whatever the racetrack gives you no more and no less. That's what you have to remember at Denver. You can't run 4.70s here. You have to accept that and just go as quick as conditions allow."
Simple as it is, that's a plan that could deliver a championship.