Denver: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon becomes 'Animal' at Mopar Mile-High Nationals. MORRISON, Colo. There's something about Bandimere Speedway and the mountain air that transform drag racer Tony Pedregon into an animal. Twice in six career appearances, Pedregon has cast...

Pedregon becomes 'Animal' at Mopar Mile-High Nationals.

MORRISON, Colo. There's something about Bandimere Speedway and the mountain air that transform drag racer Tony Pedregon into an animal.

Twice in six career appearances, Pedregon has cast aside his rivals in the Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals like so many prey animals, driving his Castrol SYNTEC0x2122 Ford Mustang into the winners' circle in both 1998 and 1999.

This year, though, the 37-year-old resident of Chino Hills, Calif., will put a more literal face on his animal persona as part of a new promotion undertaken with Action Performance Companies, Inc.

If he returns to the podium for a third time, he'll share the spotlight with a real "Animal," the aptly-named wild man and erstwhile drummer for the Muppets, the lovable creatures created by Jim Henson Productions, Inc., who will be featured this week (July 19-21) on several cars competing in the 23rd renewal of the Mile-High Nationals.

"Animal" will ride across the hood and the rear quarter panel of Pedregon's specially designed-and-painted SYNTEC Ford which also features a Muppets logo on the roof hatch. Not unexpectedly, the green-and-black hybrid, will be reproduced by Action Performance in 1/24th scale for the collectibles market.

While Pedregon's Mustang may skew to a younger audience this week, an audience more in tune to the Muppets than to the mechanics, rivals aren't likely to be fooled by the "Animal" association.

They know that beneath the "too cute" exterior of the 2,375-pound Funny Car beats the heart of one of most potent machines on the planet, one which already has taken Pedregon to the winners' circle two times this season at Gainesville, Fla., where he won the Mac Tools Gatornationals, and at Topeka, Kan., where he won for the second straight time in the O'Reilly Summer Nationals.

Nevertheless, despite those two triumphs, a couple of semifinal appearances and two Budweiser No. 1 qualifying awards, Pedregon starts the second half of the season just third in points behind his two Castrol teammates John Force and Gary Densham.

"I think we underachieved in the first half," Pedregon said. "We let some opportunities get away and, if we're going to win the championship, we can't do that in the second half. The class is so competitive right now that you can't afford to make any mistakes. If you do, you start going backward in the points."

Runner-up for the championship three times in the last six years (1996, 1997 and 1999) each time to Force, Pedregon has lost his passion for second place.

That's why, instead of the number five, to which he owns the rights, having finished fifth in points a year ago, Pedregon's Ford bears the number 72, his pro number in the years before he was a threat to finish in the Top 10.

"We'll see what happens," Pedregon said of his latest title bid. "Right now, we're just No. 3 in our own pit area. So we definitely have some work to do. "I think (Crew Chiefs) John Medlen and Dickie Venables have a pretty good handle on the tune-up and Denver's always been a good track for us."

Even though he's raced in the shadow of his mentor for the last seven seasons, Pedregon has won more races during that time (15) than Whit Bazemore (12), Ron Capps (11) Del Worsham (9) and Densham (5), more, in fact, than anyone but Force.

That provides some substance to his title bid, that and the fact that he's beaten his boss in three straight finals and in six final rounds overall. Only one other driver has had more final round success against the sport's most prolific winner and that's Pedregon's big brother, Cruz, who has won eight of 20 final round meetings.

TONY at Mopar Mile-HIgh Nationals....

*Has won twice in six career appearances in the Mile-High Nationals (1998 and 1999).

*Lost to teammate John Force in the second round a year ago.

TONY Highlights....

*Since 1995, has won more races (15) than any Funny Car driver other than 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 years, the second longest active streak among Funny Car drivers.

*This year became the only Funny Car driver other than Force to win 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).


Tony won last week's "Night Under Fire" match race at Norwalk, Ohio, beating tour rival Whit Bazemore in the 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 ....when he's not driving the SYNTEC Ford Mustang, making appearances on behalf of sponsors or spending time with his two-year-old daughter, Cecily, Tony designs and paints custom helmets including those worn by Castrol teammates John Force and Gary Densham, older brother Cruz, reigning Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein and Top Fuel contender Cory McClenathan....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, all in the last 12 seasons.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Cory McClenathan , John Medlen