Topeka: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon goes for two straight at O'Reilly Summer Nationals. TOPEKA, Kansas Tony Pedregon's need for speed brings him back to Heartland Park-Topeka this week (May 24-26) where his Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang could become the first Funny Car to...

Pedregon goes for two straight at O'Reilly Summer Nationals.

TOPEKA, Kansas Tony Pedregon's need for speed brings him back to Heartland Park-Topeka this week (May 24-26) where his Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang could become the first Funny Car to break the 330 mile per hour barrier.

Despite predictions of a 330 mile-an-hour Funny Car speed this year from no less an expert than 11-time series champion John Force, Pedregon remains somewhat skeptical, despite his car's strong performance over the last month.

"I don't know about 330," Pedregon said as he prepared to defend his championship in the 14th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX . "We've run 325 this year and (teammate) Gary (Densham) has run 326, but that's a long way from 330.

"Of course, it all depends on conditions," said the 37-year-old Californian. "If it's cool, on a perfect run, it could happen and Topeka is one of the tracks that could handle it. But we're not even thinking about that.

"We've set speed records at two of the last three races and it didn't get us to the winners' circle."

Although he won earlier this year at the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., and even though he set track records at Bristol, Tenn. (4.844 seconds, 322.34 mph) and Atlanta, Ga. (325.69 mph) and is the only Funny Car driver to have broken the 320 mph barrier in each of the last three races., Pedregon trails Castrol teammates John Force and Gary Densham in the current NHRA POWERade point standings.

With just 14 races remaining, he knows it's time to make a move if he hopes again to challenge his boss for the championship.

Three times in his seven years with Team Castrol, Pedregon has finished second in points behind Force (1996, 1997 and 1999). However, over the last two seasons, he has lacked the consistency needed to mount a serious bid.

Even though he won two races in 2000 and three a year ago, the veteran from Chino Hills, Calif., finished only fifth each time. Last year, he virtually was out of contention before he got to Heartland Park, having suffered through a series of six consecutive early season races in which he failed to win a single round.

This year, he's in a much better situation. He presently is fourth in POWERade points, just 120 back of Densham. A year ago, he came to Heartland Park tenth in the standings and more than twice as far off the lead.

"You can't do that and expect to win a championship against the kind of competition that we have in the Funny Car class right now," Pedregon said. "We know we have a good race car but it's what we're able to do with it starting this week that will determine whether we're a contender or a pretender this year."

Pedregon, who has won more races the last seven seasons than any Funny Car driver other than his boss, returns to Heartland Park as the track speed record holder at 324.83 mph.

At the time he posted it, that was the fastest speed in Funny Car history. Now, it's just eighth fastest, a measure of how quickly fortunes turn in the sport.

"This is a team that's ready to win," Pedregon said. "I know we won earlier this year at Gainesville, but we've had a car the last three races the was as good as any out there. I feel like everything's coming together for us here at Topeka. It's a track that seems to handle our particular combination (the one used by all three of the Team Castrol Fords) very well. That said, we've got to go out and get the job done."

TONY at O'Reilly Summer Nationals....

*Defending champion at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX, a race in which he beat boss and teammate John Force in the 2001 finals to claim his only victory at Heartland Park-Topeka.

*Track record holder for Funny Car speed at 324.83 miles per hour.

*Runner-up to Force at 1996 race at Heartland Park-Topeka.

TONY Highlights....

*Since 1995, has won more races (14) than any Funny Car driver other than boss and teammate John Force.

*Has won the last three final round meetings with Force two last year (at Englishtown and Topeka, Kan.) and one in 2000 (fall at Houston).

*Has won at least one NHRA tour event in each of the last seven seasons, the second longest active streak among Funny Car drivers.

*Has been runner-up for the NHRA Funny Car Championship three times in the last seven years (1996, 1997, 1999).

DID YOU KNOW?
In 1996, Tony was the first winner of the Auto Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award which identifies drag racing's rising stars ....when he's not driving the SYNTEC Ford, making appearances on behalf of sponsors or spending time with his two-year-old daughter, Cecily, Tony designs and paints custom helmets including those worn by John Force, Gary Densham, brothers Cruz and Frankie Pedregon, reigning Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein and former Pro Stock Champion Jeg Coughlin Jr.

- www.johnforceracing.com

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham