Pomona II: Season finale preview

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PEDREGON BROTHERS LIVE UNLIKELY LEGACY, DO EXTRA DUTY AS TEAM OWNERS AND COMPETITIVE DRIVERS POMONA, Calif. -- Fans of the sport remember "Flamin'" Frank Pedregon from his 1960s heyday -- a man who wowed with his fiery hi-jinks on the track ...

PEDREGON BROTHERS LIVE UNLIKELY LEGACY, DO EXTRA DUTY AS TEAM OWNERS AND COMPETITIVE DRIVERS

POMONA, Calif. -- Fans of the sport remember "Flamin'" Frank Pedregon from his 1960s heyday -- a man who wowed with his fiery hi-jinks on the track and died much too young in a plane crash. And while the life of a father inevitably influences that of his sons, no one could have predicted that Flamin' Frank's children -- Frank, Cruz and Tony - would someday each own independent teams and drive their own NHRA POWERade Series' Funny Car entries down the quarter-mile.

And yet, each has developed into a threat on and off the track and their pull is growing stronger. Cruz and Tony, both former POWERade Series world champions who will finish in the Top 10 in the POWERade point standings this season, have joined efforts to form a true two-car team after beginning on their own. Frank, who advanced to the final round at both Indianapolis and Dallas this season at the helm of his independent operation, plans to continue his drag racing career while exploring opportunities as NASCAR's first Hispanic team owner through its Drive for Diversity program.

All concentrate on promoting opportunities for minorities while balancing responsibilities at the track and in the office.

The three will compete in the 41st annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on Nov. 3-6, in what promises to be the most riveting Series' final in drag racing history. The $1.7 million event is the final of 23 races in the $50 million POWERade Series.

"I think we all want to in one way or another be like our dad was," said Tony, driver and owner of the Q-Racing Chevy Monte Carlo. "Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in not so good ways. During our childhood, the racecars had blowers on them that smelled like nitro, and that's a pretty strong lure for kids.

"My dad didn't really encourage us to race. I think he probably discouraged it. But we liked it so much we at least attempted to do it. He taught us to work for it. There's a level of dedication required to be successful."

Their father died in a plane crash a few years after he retired from drag racing, when the boys were teenagers. Although the brothers took somewhat different routes to get there, driving professionally -- using hard work and team work to be successful - was always in the plan.

While experiencing the same strict learning curve with day-to-day office requirements like hiring, firing and making their operations financially feasible on a relatively individual basis, Cruz and Tony recently took their partnership to a new level.

"Tony's car definitely has come on late," Cruz said. "We came on in the middle of the year. With all of that information and all of that success, before it was like it didn't matter if Tony's car ran good or if mine ran good, because we didn't share information anyway. We look around at the other teams, and the multi-car teams that are really, truly acting (as one unit) are more successful."

They may have taken a cue from Tony's old boss, 13-time Funny Car world champion John Force. Force, a main player in the hottest Funny Car points chase in NHRA history, also fields two other entries in addition to his own Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang -- an Auto Club Ford Mustang piloted by his son-in-law Robert Hight, and a Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang driven by Eric Medlen, a former crew member for Force.

In 2003, Tony became the first driver other than his former boss to win the Funny Car championship since 1992. One year after his debut, Cruz became the only Funny Car driver other than John Force to win a title in the 1990s.

"My brother's dreams are probably complete because they're team owners and have won a championship," Frank said. "My dreams are coming true, but I still want to win a championship."

While Cruz and Tony take advantage of any opportunities to speak with and motivate minority populations -- the family is Hispanic -- Frank hopes to expose NASCAR-oriented sponsors to straight-line racing, and vice versa, while bringing diversity to the sport.

"NHRA has been diversified for a long time," said Frank, who hopes to move up from partial to full-season POWERade Series competition in 2006. "My brothers and I are involved, as well as Antron Brown (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and others. We have a pretty good representation of diversity, and we're excited about that. NHRA Drag Racing is healthy as it is, and it just gets better."

NHRA'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE BATTLE DESTINED FOR DRAMATIC END

Rarely does an NHRA title depend on the final rounds of the year -- especially when three drivers have legitimate shots at the Series' most coveted crown.

This weekend, however, the conclusion of the closest Funny Car points race in NHRA history will come to a close and a victory for Gary Scelzi, John Force or Ron Capps. Going into Pomona, Scelzi, who could join Kenny Bernstein as the only drivers to win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, leads the category by two points over Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps. Force, defending and 13-time world champion, is 28 points behind the leader, in third place.

Pro Stock Motorcycle teammates Andrew Hines, the defending world champion, and GT Tonglet have the best chance of winning the title on their Screamin' Eagle Vance and Hines Harley-Davidsons, but NHRA's winningest female, Angelle Sampey, is in mathematical contention as well.

The world champions of the Top Fuel and Pro Stock classes have already been determined. Tony Schumacher claimed his third career title in the sport's fastest category by making a qualifying pass in his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster at Las Vegas. Greg Anderson earned his third consecutive Pro Stock title in Las Vegas as well, by qualifying in the top half of the field in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTO. However in those categories, points battles will still be intense as drivers will be racing hard to improve their positions in the top 10.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2 p.m. on Nov. 4, and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Nov. 5. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. on Nov. 6, followed by the first session of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

TICKETS: For tickets, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets are also available at Ticketmaster, ticketmaster.com, and nhra.com

-nhra-

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