Columbus: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon knows he can fly at Pontiac Excitement Nationals. COLUMBUS, Ohio Figuratively speaking, Tony Pedregon has flown at National Trail Raceway where, when he drove his Castrol SYNTEC0x2122 Ford Mustang to a track record-setting speed of ...

Pedregon knows he can fly at Pontiac Excitement Nationals.

COLUMBUS, Ohio Figuratively speaking, Tony Pedregon has flown at National Trail Raceway where, when he drove his Castrol SYNTEC0x2122 Ford Mustang to a track record-setting speed of 316.08 miles per hour two years ago, he was subjected to the same G-forces at acceleration as those endured by jet fighter pilots more than four times normal gravity.

Nevertheless, that isn't the "flight" that is most vivid in the 15-time tour winner's memory this week (June 14-16) as he prepares for the 38th renewal of the Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing Equipment.

In fact, his most memorable flight wasn't a figurative one at all. On the day after his 2000 victory at National Trail, during an open test session, Pedregon's Ford quite literally launched itself skyward and flew although not for very long.

"The video is pretty amazing," acknowledged the 37-year-old veteran. "Some spectator shot it and it shows all four wheels off the ground."

It isn't something he would like to replicate.

"If we do any more flying, I hope it's with all four wheels on the ground," Pedregon laughed. "All-in-all, it was a pretty unnerving experience."

At the time, Pedregon was testing a new Ford body and some new technology developed in the "lab" at John Force Racing, Inc., in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Unbeknownst to him, the experimental package also included a set of titanium exhaust headers which represented a significant weight savings. The problem, as it turned out, was that the headers were not durable enough to take the load to which they were subjected by a 7,000 horsepower Funny Car.

On acceleration, they folded up underneath the car and when they hit the asphalt, Pedregon literally was launched skyward. His car flew from the right lane to the left before crashing down just short of the guardwall.

"I thought for a minute that we were going to clear the wall," he recalled, "and then, for an instant, I thought, 'no, we're going to crash into it. Needless to say, we're not using titanium headers on these cars."

Of course, most experiments at Force Racing have a more predictable outcome. That's why the teams drivers are 1-2-3 entering the Pontiac Nationals, 11th of 23 events comprising the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

"That's pretty remarkable," Pedregon said. "For each of us to have won two races, each to have qualified No. 1 and to be 1-2-3 says a lot about the kind of operation John has put together here. The only thing I would change is the order. Right now, Gary's first, John's second and I'm third. We'll try to do something about that this week."

Ironically, Pedregon began the current season using the same basic engine/driveline combination that delivered 10 victories in 2001.

Force and Densham, on the other hand, started the season with an experimental new supercharger developed in the off-season by a consortium of Crew Chiefs that includes Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, John Medlen, Dickie Venables and the newest mechanical mind on the team, Jimmy Prock.

"The new setback blower (supercharger) obviously worked a lot better than the titanium headers," Pedregon laughed. John was in the finals at the first two races and Densham set the (NHRA national) speed record (at 326.87 mph)."

As a result, Medlen and Pedregon made the switch earlier than anticipated and won their first time out (at the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.). Since then, their Ford has outperformed Force's and it's done so with all four wheels on the ground.

TONY at Pontiac Nationals....

*Was the 2000 Funny Car champion, upsetting Jerry Toliver in the final round.

*Track speed record-holder at 316.08 mph.

*After qualifying only 10th last year, reached the semifinals before losing to Del Worsham.

TONY Highlights....

*Since 1995, has won more races (15) than any Funny Car driver other than 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 event in each of the last seven seasons, the second longest active streak among Funny Car drivers.

*This year has become the only Funny Car driver other than Force to have won two-or-more events in six consecutive seasons.

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

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 ....Tony's Father's Day will include time with two-year-old daughter Cecily and his fianc0x00e9, Andrea....when he's not driving the SYNTEC Ford, making appearances on behalf of sponsors or spending time with Cecily, Tony designs and paints custom helmets including those worn by Castrol teammates John Force and Gary Densham,, older brothers Cruz and Frankie Pedregon, reigning Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein and former Pro Stock Champion Jeg Coughlin Jr....Tony's father, the late Frank Pedregon Sr., was a standout Top Fuel racer on the West Coast in the 1960s and 1970s. The elder Pedregon was killed in a plane crash before seeing his sons win a single event. Between them, the brothers have won 41 tour events and one series title.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , John Force , Gary Densham , Jerry Toliver , Austin Coil , John Medlen