TOPEKA, Kansas -- Tony Pedregon probably is the best drag racer never to have reached the winners' circle at Heartland Park-Topeka, site this week (Sept. 29-Oct. 1) of the 12th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals, 19th race in the NHRA's 2000...
TOPEKA, Kansas -- Tony Pedregon probably is the best drag racer never to have reached the winners' circle at Heartland Park-Topeka, site this week (Sept. 29-Oct. 1) of the 12th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals, 19th race in the NHRA's 2000 Winston Drag Racing Series.
The 35-year-old Californian, youngest brother of four-time Topeka winner Cruz Pedregon, is the track record holder for Funny Car speed at 318.99 miles per hour. He's been the No. 1 qualifier (spring, 1997). Furthermore, in six Kansas appearances as a member of Team Castrol, he's qualified no worse than fourth.
He's gone to the finals (1996). He's covered the concrete-and-asphalt quarter mile in as few as 4.889 seconds (1999). The last two years, his Castrol SYNTECâ„¢ Ford Mustang has been the fastest Funny Car on the grounds (314.46 mph in 1998 and the aforementioned 318.99 last year).
Unfortunately, he keeps running up against some guy named Force. John Force.
In four of his five previous appearances in the Advance Auto Parts Nationals, the Chino Hills, Calif., pro has run afoul of the nine-time reigning Winston Champion -- in the second round (1995), in the semifinals (1997 and 1999) and in the finals.
Not even in 1997 when he guided his hybrid Ford to the second quickest run of eliminations (4.944 at 310.13 mph) was he able to catch a win light. That's because Force was driving his national record-holding Castrol GTXÂ® Ford to a time of 4.943 at 313.15 mph in the other lane.
It's the source of considerable frustration for the second generation pro who takes comfort in the knowledge that almost everyone else in the Funny Car division, from his two brothers right down to 2000 championship contender Jerry Toliver, shares his pain.
In his career, Pedregon is only 6-32 against Force. That's a winning percentage of only 15.8%. However, that's better than Whit Bazemore (3-21), Del Worsham (4-25) and Gary Densham (1-20) and on a par with Ron Capps (4-19), Jim Epler (4-17), Dean Skuza (5-16) and Al Hofmann (13-40). A relative newcomer, Toliver still is only 3-7 against Force.
"If you have to beat John to make a living, you're not going to do very well," Pedregon said. "And it doesn't really make any difference who you are. Like everyone else, we just have to go out there and do the best job we can and if it comes down to me and John, we'll take our best shot, just like we always do."
Although he's won only six races against the champ, three times he's beaten his boss in all-Castrol finals (at Atlanta in 1996, Pomona, Calif., in 1997 and Houston in 1998). He'd like to add Heartland Park to that list.
Owner of the quickest quarter mile clocking in Funny Car drag racing history at 4.779 seconds, Pedregon was the second (after Force) to break the 4.80 second and 320 mph barriers.
A winner earlier this year in the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Columbus, Ohio, Pedregon is coming off a strong showing in the Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa., just two weeks ago in which he reached the semifinals before losing a narrow decision to Capps.
DID YOU KNOW:
Tony is the Hispanic spokesperson for AAA of Texas ....in 1996, his first year with Team Castrol, Tony earned the AAA of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which identifies the sport's future stars ....although he's in only his fifth full season on the pro tour, Tony already has raced in 26 finals rounds. That's 26 finals in 102 starts to Team Castrol, more finals than anyone in the1999 Top 10 except for teammate John Force....Tony has won an NHRA national event in each of his first five seasons with Team Castrol and John Force Racing.
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying at 2 pm and 6 pm (CT) Friday; 11 am and 4 pm (CT) Saturday; Finals at 10 am (CT) Sunday.
The Race on TV: TNN (The National Network) will provide 90 minutes of coverage beginning at 4:30 pm (ET/PT) on Sunday, Oct. 1.