Atlanta; Tony Pedregon returns to site of first FC victory

COMMERCE, Ga. -- Tony Pedregon, whose Castrol SYNTECâ„¢ Ford Mustang is the world's quickest Funny Car (at a quarter mile best 4.779 seconds), comes home this week (May 5-7) to the track on which he earned his first victory as a professional Funny...

COMMERCE, Ga. -- Tony Pedregon, whose Castrol SYNTEC™ Ford Mustang is the world's quickest Funny Car (at a quarter mile best 4.779 seconds), comes home this week (May 5-7) to the track on which he earned his first victory as a professional Funny Car driver.

His return to Atlanta Dragway, site of the 20th annual Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals, is one that always elicits mixed emotions.

Granted, the Georgia track was the first to yield a victory to the second generation driver but, in all fairness, it was a triumph Pedregon could scarcely enjoy. Racing against teammate and benefactor John Force in the 1996 final, he sped across the finish line and drove directly into a quandary.

"When I got out of the car," explained the 35-year-old Californian, "I wanted to throw my arms in the air and say, 'YEAH!' After all, it was the realization of a lifelong dream for me. To be able to win a national event at this level, you really want to jump out and celebrate. But I also had to take into consideration my boss.

"It's tough to look over at the guy who's given you the chance of a lifetime and see that look of defeat," Pedregon continued, "but the way he handled himself really showed me his character. That he let me have my time in the spotlight, even though it was painful for him, that proved a lot to me.

"I'm sure some of those memories will come back (this week)," he admitted. "Come Friday, though, when I get in the car and smell a little nitro and hit the throttle once, it'll be business and usual."

Unfortunately, Pedregon hasn't raced for a Southern Nationals championship since, a situation he hopes to correct when racing begins at 10:30 a.m. (ET) on Sunday.

Coming off a frustrating first round loss in last week's Moto1.net Nationals at Richmond, Va., Pedregon is hoping to regain his lost momentum at an Atlanta track that, more than any other, helped define Force's two-car team.

"The first (final round meeting) was the most difficult, not just for me, but for John, too," Pedregon said. "I don't know that he really knew until then the potential of having two cars out there."

Until that fateful final, Pedregon's career had been race-to-race. Hired to drive what Force perceived as a research-and-development car that would test concepts created by Crew Chiefs Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and John Medlen, he originally was scheduled to compete in only six or seven events during the 1996 season.

After Atlanta, though, there was no keeping Pedregon on the sidelines. Although Force didn't have enough sponsorship money to run the second car for the entire 19-race series, he opted to pay the cost of Pedregon's expanded schedule out of his own pocket and was rewarded with the first of three 1-2 finishes.

"It really evolved into a good thing," Pedregon said. "We have two cars, two drivers and two crews, but beyond that we're one team with one goal -- and that's to win the championship."

Tony Pedregon at......

Atlanta Dragway Commerce, Ga.

Times No. 1 qualifier: 0 Final rounds: 1 Wins: 1 (1996) Won-Lost Record: 8-3 Best Performances: 5.056 seconds, April 21, 1996 300.50 mph, April 21, 1996

LAST YEAR -- The No. 7 qualifier, Tony beat Dean Skuza and brother Cruz Pedregon before losing to Castrol teammate John Force.

DID YOU KNOW:

Since joining Team Castrol in1996, Tony never has failed to qualify. His streak currently stands at 102 consecutive races. That's second only to Force....Tony is responsible for painting one-of-a-kind driving helmets for Force, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Cory McClenathan, Kenny Bernstein and his racing brothers, Cruz and Frank ....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 won 154 rounds of racing. He most often has beaten Whit Bazemore, Del Worsham and Dean Skuza (12 times each).

The Race on TV: 90 minutes of same day coverage at 4:30 pm (ET), Sunday, TNN Starts: 4

SCHEDULE: Qualifying, 1:45 and 5:45 pm (ET) Friday; 10:45 am and 4 pm S(ET) aturday. Eliminations at 10:30 am Sunday.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , John Force , Cory McClenathan , Austin Coil , John Medlen