Chicago: Tony Pedregon Preview

JOLIET, Ill. -- Tony Pedregon literally was head-butted into a career in motor racing. One of the Funny Car contenders in this week's (June 2-4) third annual Prestone Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, Pedregon grew up in racing as...

JOLIET, Ill. -- Tony Pedregon literally was head-butted into a career in motor racing.

One of the Funny Car contenders in this week's (June 2-4) third annual Prestone Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, Pedregon grew up in racing as the son of the late Frank Pedregon, a drag racing pioneer who drove Top Fuel dragsters in the 1960s.

Nevertheless, as a teenager, the 35-year-old Californian was more interested in sparring than he was in speeding.

For six years he spent his leisure time at a local gym in Gardena, Calif., where he trained in both traditional boxing and kick boxing. During one bout, he was head-butted by a relatively unskilled opponent, opening a large gash on his forehead. It was a moment of enlightenment for a young man with classic good looks and the desire to keep them.

"I went home and told my mom, 'I've good news and bad news,'" Pedregon recalled. "'The good news is no more boxing. The bad news is I'd like to go racing.'"

Not that success on the dragstrip came overnight. Like his older brothers, Frank and Cruz, Tony found that the family name opened few doors.

"It really didn't help us that much," he said. "Being dedicated, making a commitment and having the desire is probably how we (all) wound up (on the pro tour). But it was a lot of hard work."

In fact, it wasn't until Cruz Pedregon won the NHRA Funny Car championship in 1992 that his younger brother got a reasonable opportunity to showcase his abilities. Ironically, it was John Force, the man from whom his brother had snatched the title, who offered him the chance of a lifetime as driver of a second Castrol GTX Funny Car.

    "I hired Tony because I wanted to find out everything I could about
Cruz, what made him tick," Force said.  "I didn't get a lot of information
on Cruz, but I did get a helluva race car driver.  We were only going to
run that car (in) six or seven races.  It was just supposed to be an R&D
car.  But once Tony got in it, we couldn't park it."

In his first season with Force (1996), Pedregon raced in seven final rounds, finished second in driver points and won his first title by beating his boss in the final round of the Southern Nationals at Atlanta.

He hasn't slowed down since. In fact, he's driven his Castrol SYNTEC Ford to the quickest time in Funny Car history (4.779 seconds) and has reached the finals in every fourth start (24 times in his last 94 races)

Nevertheless, he still hasn't gotten the Pedregon family its second championship, finishing second in Winston points three of the last four years. He knows, though, that his time will come. In the meantime, though the arena has changed, he's still in training.

"I treat this as a learning experience," he said. "Every day I'm in the classroom with the best teachers in drag racing -- John, his Crew Chiefs, Austiin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, and my Crew Chief, John Medlen. We have two cars, two drivers and two crews -- but we're one team with one goal, to win the Winston championship."

Coming off a runner-up finish in last week's Castrol Nationals at Ennis, Texas, Pedregon is hopeful that his car's early season inconsistency is a thing of the past. Although he's been to the finals three times in eight races, he has yet to win this year.

<pre> Tony Pedregon at...... Route 66 Raceway Joliet, Illinois

Starts: 2 No. 1 qualifier: 0 Final rounds: 0 Wins: 0 Won-Lost Record: 0-2 Best Performances: 5.032 seconds, June 4, 1999 295.92 mph, June 4, 1999

</pre> LAST YEAR -- After qualifying 10th, Tony lost in the first round to Chuck Etchells.

DID YOU KNOW: Tony is the Hispanic spokesperson for AAA of Texas 1996, 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 24 finals rounds....Tony paints custom driving helmets not only for himself and Force but also for Top Fuel drivers Cory McClenathan and Kenny Bernstein, Pro Stock points leader Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his racing brothers, Cruz and Frank.

The Race on TV: 2 hours of qualifying highlights, 8 pm (ET), June 3; 2 hours of race day coverage, 5 p m (ET), Sunday, June 4.

Schedule: Pro qualifying, 3:45 and 7:45 pm (ET) Friday; 12 noon and 5 pm (ET) Saturday; Finals at 11 am (ET) Sunday.

<pre> FUNNY CAR STANDINGS 1. John Force 677 2. Jerry Toliver 644 3. Ron Capps 600 4. Tony Pedregon 557 5. Jim Epler 423

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Jerry Toliver , John Medlen