Gainesville Pedregon to Defend Gatornationals Title

Pedregon Eager to Defend Gatornationals Title GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Cruz Pedregon has fond memories of his last visit to Gainesville Raceway. Simply put, Pedregon and his Interstate Batteries/Hot Rod Pontiac Funny Car dominated the 1998 ...

Pedregon Eager to Defend Gatornationals Title

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Cruz Pedregon has fond memories of his last visit to Gainesville Raceway. Simply put, Pedregon and his Interstate Batteries/Hot Rod Pontiac Funny Car dominated the 1998 Gatornationals.

During that event, Pedregon:

.Set the national NHRA Funny Car elapsed time record at 4.873 seconds and collected a $50,000 bonus from MBNA.

.Won the Gatornationals, ending a 30-race winless streak dating to July 1996.

.Produced the quickest elapsed times in each round of eliminations, including impressive runs of 4.898, 4.886 and 4.885 seconds, before beating John Force with a 5.747 in a tire-smoking final round.

.Earned the first of his 12 No. 1 qualifying positions for the season.

It's safe to say Pedregon, crew chief Wes Cerny and the rest of the Joe Gibbs-owned team are looking forward to returning for this year's edition of the Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 19-21.

"We had a great race last year," said Pedregon, "and it will be good to get back to Gainesville. We weren't even in the top 10 (in points) when we got there last year and we left in third place."

Pedregon is in better shape points-wise entering this event. Although he began the 22-race schedule by not qualifying for his second consecutive Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., he rebounded well at Phoenix, reaching the finals before losing to Force. Pedregon is sixth with 107 points, 89 behind No. 1 Force's 196.

"Looking at the big picture, we are ahead of where we were at this time a year ago," added Pedregon. "At Phoenix, we qualified No. 2 with a 4.96 on our first run, which was right where we needed to be. We came back Saturday and ran 4.888, which left us second going into eliminations."

Cerny tuned the Interstate Batteries Pontiac to consistent times during competition. Cruz clocked a 4.896 to beat Mitch McDowell, a 4.946 to beat Jerry Toliver, and a 4.918 to beat Whit Bazemore. In the finals, Force uncorked the quickest and fastest run of the weekend, 4.843 seconds at 317.87 mph while Pedregon slowed to a 5.095 when his engine dropped a cylinder.

"We left Phoenix knowing we'd made good strides in the standings," Pedregon said. "We won some rounds. To stay in the championship battle all season, we know we need to get to the final four as many times as possible.

"The name of the game is to score those points. Force only won three races last year, yet he won the championship because he didn't lose many times in the early rounds."

Pedregon won four times in '98, adding victories at Atlanta (also over Force), Sonoma, Calif., and Houston. He lowered the elapsed time record to 4.807 seconds during his win at Houston (Nov. 2).

"When qualifying begins at Gainesville, we want to make our first run really count," Pedregon said. "It's important because you don't want to get behind. You always want to try to qualify well on the first run so you can get more aggressive and go for the No. 1 spot on the second run. That way you can work on your (Sunday) race setup during Saturday's runs.

"We are looking forward to qualifying. We've made some upgrades to our Pontiac body (since the Phoenix event), which we feel are going to help us as far as down force goes. Wes and the guys have been working with Pontiac on the changes."

Pedregon will be ready for Gatornationals qualifying Friday and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday's eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Cruz Pedregon At A Glance

1999 Funny Car Record Standing: 6th, 107 points Round Record: 3W -1L Quickest ET: 4.888, Phoenix Fastest Speed: 311.20 mph, Phoenix Wins: 0 Runner-up: 1 - Phoenix

Career Funny Car Record First Season: 1992 Best Season Finish: 1st, 1992 Wins: 21 (fourth in all-time Funny Car victories) Runners-up: 19 Last Win: Nov. 2, 1999, Houston Last Final: Feb. 28, 1999, Phoenix No. 1 Qualifier: 29 times Last No. 1 Qualifier: 1998, Pomona II Quickest E.T.: 4.807 seconds*., 1998, Houston II Fastest Speed: 319.60 mph, 1998, Houston II

Personal Age: 35 Birthdate: Sept. 19, 1953 Residence: Camarillo, Calif. Family: Wife - Sharon

*national elapsed time record

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Jerry Toliver