BAYTOWN, Texas -- Although Tony Pedregon was schooled in Gardena, Calif., he traces his roots right back to Texas.

That's one of the reasons the Hispanic drag racing sensation, driver of the world's quickest Funny Car (the 4.779 second Castrol SYNTECâ„¢ Ford Mustang), feels so much at home at Houston Raceway Park, site of this week's Matco Tools SuperNationals and a track on which he has claimed two of his nine NHRA tour victories. It also is the track on which in 1998 he successfully debuted a Selena-themed version of the SYNTEC Mustang he drives for car owner and mentor John Force, to whom he has finished second in Winston driver points three times in the last four seasons. "The Selena promotion, in which we worked very closely with the (late singer's) family, was very special for me, personally," Pedregon said, "and the response of the fans in Texas was really gratifying. We have a lot of support in the Houston area and, really, in all of Texas even though most of those people aren't aware that my mom and dad (the late Frank Pedregon Sr.) really are from Texas. "My dad is from El Paso and my mother from San Antonio," Pedregon said. "I remember that (before we moved to California) we lived for awhile in an old ranch house (outside San Antonio) that didn't have (glass for the) windows. "I'm not saying that was a bad thing (because) for me and my brothers (Frank and Cruz), it really built a lot of character. At a young age, we were taught a work ethic that you really need in this world to make it, to be competitive, and I think that's the one thing that's brought us to this level. "Back then, we were just three kids who used to run around the house and pretend they were race cars," Pedregon continued. "We used to sit at the dinner table and get our forks and that little fork, the way it was shaped, that was a dragster for us. We would sit there and race our forks. My mom? It used to drive her nuts." It drove the Pedregon siblings, too, ultimately resulting in one of the most appealing success stories in drag racing history. All three brothers now have won races at the sport's top level. Furthermore, Cruz is the only driver other than Force to have won a Funny Car championship in the last 11 seasons (chasing down the perennial champion to win the title in 1992). Ultimately, Tony's goal is to follow his older brother's lead and win the Winston championship. In the meantime, he is happy to be able to contribute to the continuing success of Team Castrol. Winner of the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Columbus, Ohio, last June, he helped derail the 2000 title bid of upstart Jerry Toliver, who led the point standings through much of the first half of the season, when he beat the WWF driver in consecutive first round meetings last September at Indianapolis, Ind., and Reading, Pa. As a result, Force comes into the SuperNationals in a position to clinch a record eighth consecutive series championship and record-tying 10th overall.