Brainerd: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon optimistic about title chances despite recent performance downturn Points leader fights back from three straight first round losses BRAINERD, Minn. (August 15-17) Tony Pedregon will have a proven chassis and a more aerodynamic Ford...

Pedregon optimistic about title chances despite recent performance downturn

Points leader fights back from three straight first round losses

BRAINERD, Minn. (August 15-17) Tony Pedregon will have a proven chassis and a more aerodynamic Ford Mustang body at his disposal this week when he tries once more to drive out of a mid-season slump that has threatened to undermine his bid for the 2003 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.

Before embarking on the recent Western Swing, consisting of stops at Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., Pedregon was veritably coasting toward a title that has remained just beyond his grasp since he signed on in 1996 to drive a second Castrol-sponsored Funny Car for 12-time series champion John Force.

In fact, the 38-year-old California had so dominated the tour that he won 23 consecutive first round matches and more than half of all the events contested in an entire calendar year.

Nevertheless, the bottom dropped out on the trip west and Pedregon limps into Brainerd International Raceway for this week's 22nd Lucas Oil Nationals nursing a narrow 44-point advantage over second place Whit Bazemore.

After losing in the first round in each of the last three races, Pedregon's Crew Chiefs, John Medlen and Dickie Venables, shelved plans to try and fix a mysterious glitch in the clutch. Instead, they opted for something a bit more drastic: a complete change of race cars.

They parked the offending Mustang after a first round loss two weeks ago in the Fram/Autolite Nationals and went into the attic of the Castrol SYNTECâ"' hauler to retrieve an older, but already battle-tested McKinney Corporation chassis.

To complete the metamorphosis, teammate and car owner John Force has opted to give up the first of the new generation carbon fiber Mustang bodies. The new body instead will go straight from the wind tunnel at Marietta, Ga., where it underwent testing earlier this week, onto the revived Castrol SYNTEC chassis

"We know this car is fine," Medlen said during the crew's overtime effort to make the conversion. "It ran 4.82 at Norwalk (Ohio) the last time we ran it. I'm sure we could fix (the problems in the other car), but we just don't have the time. We can't afford to risk any more rounds trying to figure it out."

The problem has been a frustrating study in the difficulty of campaigning a 7,000 horsepower race car on marginal tracks in summer heat.

The clutch controller, which determines at what point during each quarter mile run the various stages of clutch are applied, performed as programmed about half the time during the Western Swing. But it's inconsistency burned Pedregon at all three races.

Despite his recent swoon, the points leader remains upbeat.

"During any season, you're going to face some challenges," Pedregon said. "If you'll look back at John's championships, there were challenges even in those seasons where it seemed like he wasn't event tested. Championships aren't won when everything is going as planned. They're won by those who respond well to adversity. I think this team has that kind of personality."

"The past three races were a test and, despite the fact that we didn't perform like we wanted, we still have the points lead and still control our own destiny. I feel very good about this week."

"You wonder sometimes how many shots you actually get at something," he said, "(so) we're focused on trying to finish the unfinished business from last year (when he lost the championship by a mere 78 points, his fourth second place finish in his seven seasons with Team Castrol)."

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DID YOU KNOW?

In 1996, Tony was the first winner of the Auto Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award....when he's not driving the SYNTEC Ford, making appearances on behalf of sponsors or spending time with his three-year-old daughter, Cecily, Tony designs and paints custom helmets including those worn by John Force, brother Cruz Pedregon and Funny Car rival Tommy Johnson Jr....among Funny Car drivers, Tony has the second longest active qualifying streak at 56 straight races, second only to boss and teammate John Force, who has made the starting lineup at record 315 times....in a pre-season poll conducted by Louis Brewster of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.), Tony was named the favorite to win the 2003 POWERade title.

-jfr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , John Medlen , Tommy Johnson Jr.