Brainerd: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon's a prize fighter trapped in a 325 mph race car. BRAINERD, Minn. -- Of all the motor racing disciplines, drag racing is the one that most stringently discourages contact. Two drivers in separate lanes racing from Point A to Point B in...

Pedregon's a prize fighter trapped in a 325 mph race car.

BRAINERD, Minn. -- Of all the motor racing disciplines, drag racing is the one that most stringently discourages contact. Two drivers in separate lanes racing from Point A to Point B in the knowledge that, if either one crosses the boundary line between them, the penalty is automatic disqualification.

Nevertheless, every time he climbs into the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang, the hybrid Funny Car in which he has accelerated from zero to 325.69 miles per hour in just 4.7 seconds, Tony Pedregon feels like Oscar de la Hoya or, perhaps more to the point, like light heavyweight champion Roy Jones who he has called "the baddest man, besides Muhammad Ali, that ever walked this earth.

"I relate everything I do in a race car to boxing," said the 37-year-old challenger for the POWERade Funny Car championship. "You get two guys into the ring and, guess what, only one's walking out. Drag racing's like that two guys down the track, the winner advances; the loser goes home.

"It's about winning. It's between me or him and I'm going to do whatever I can (to get to the finish line first)."

In addition to the one-on-one aspect of each sport, Pedregon said that in both drag racing and boxing, it is important to learn to manage your emotions, especially your fears.

That's a lesson he was taught by boss, mentor and teammate John Force, the 11-time reigning NHRA POWERade Champion who is the Funny Car favorite in this week's (Aug. 16-18) 21st annual Rugged Liner Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

"Fear doesn't have to be a bad thing," Pedregon said, "if you're able to manage it. The key is to be in control and to use that adrenaline to your own benefit. In both sports, if you're overly emotional, you'll make mistakes. Control the fear. That's the key."

Pedregon isn't talking out of school. Although he never had a professional fight, he trained as a boxer for several years, primarily for the health benefits, and he isn't averse to hitting the speed bag every now and then when life gets especially frustrating as it has been since he moved strongly into position to challenge his boss.

He comes into BIR second in points, just 99 off Force's lead. However, he has been within 34 points (less than two competitive rounds) in a season in which he has won three times and in which he has earned three Budweiser No. 1 qualifying awards.

In fact, Pedregon has won more races the last seven seasons (16) than anyone other than Force. He also has become the only Funny Car driver other than Force to have won two-or-more races in six consecutive seasons.

The rub is that the resident of Chino Hills, Calif., still doesn't have a series championship to match that of older brother Cruz, who won in 1992.

He's been close, but had to settle for second place in 1996, 1997 and 1999.

Still, he thinks his current car is the best he's ever had. Certainly, it's the first one built especially for him. In the past, he simply adapted to chassis built to Force's specifications by chassis builder Steve Plueger.

Significantly, the new car was built at Force's request by McKinney Race Cars in Otterbein, Ind., and, when it took Pedregon to victory July 28 at Seattle, Wash., it made history as the first John Force Racing winner NOT built by Plueger.

"Steve Plueger obviously builds a great race car," Pedregon said, "because we won 15 races in them and John has won more than a hundred, but we wanted to see what else was out there. We're always looking for better ways to do things."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force