Gainesville: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon defends championship in Mac Tools Gatornationals. Castrol SYNTEC driver ready to put championship bid back on track. GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 13-16) The big X on the side of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang in which Tony Pedregon will...

Pedregon defends championship in Mac Tools Gatornationals.
Castrol SYNTEC driver ready to put championship bid back on track.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 13-16) The big X on the side of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang in which Tony Pedregon will defend his Funny Car title in this week's 34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., is beginning to feel like a bullseye to the 37-year old heir apparent to teammate and boss John Force.

That's because his performance over the last six months has identified Pedregon as the primary target in a Funny Car category that has become one of the most competitive in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Everyone, it seems, wants to take down the resident fast gun.

Of course, targeting Pedregon is simple. Beating him has proven to be a little more difficult.

Over the last eight races dating back to September, 2002, the Chino Hills, Calif., resident has lost just four times. His 23-4 record means that he's won 85.2 percent of the time.

For rivals, however, the most frightening realization is that the 20-time tour winner could as easily be 27-0. His four losses have been by a TOTAL of .068 of a second .002 to Tommy Johnson Jr. last October at Dallas, .048 to Force last fall at Las Vegas, .005 to Force last November at Pomona, Calif., and .013 to Ron Capps last month at Phoenix.

"There are no easy races anymore," Pedregon said. "Everyone loads up for us. But I think that brings out the best in this team. Still, I keep telling them that John's the guy they need to focus on," Pedregon joked. "He's the guy who's won the last 10 championships."

Second to Force in the driver standings four of the last seven seasons, Pedregon rolls into Gainesville as the race favorite even though he trails Capps in the current POWERade standings.

"We're not going to sneak up on anyone," Pedregon said. "They know that we have a good race car and they're going to come after us."

How good is Pedregon's SYNTEC Ford? Well, since it suffered a dropped cylinder in the second round of last year's U.S. Nationals, the slowest quarter mile time it has posted in eliminations is 4.974 seconds.

That's 27 consecutive competitive runs of 4.974 or quicker 18 of them quicker than 4.900. His average for those 27 runs is 4.851 seconds. The class average during the same eight events (for 226 quarter mile runs, excluding all double-digit times) is 5.485 seconds.

Can he sustain that performance at Gainesville? Probably. After all, he is the track record holder at 4.779 seconds, a time that was the quickest in history when he ran it back in 1999.

"Our goal is to remain consistent at a very high performance level," Pedregon said. "I think there is a tendency when you're in our position to be a little too conservative. Our goal is to race smart but to remain aggressive."

Although he trails Capps in the current Funny Car standings, Pedregon doesn't see that as a cause for concern.

"This is the best we've been in the points coming into the Mac Tools race, the Gatornationals," he said, "and it's just the third race of the year. It's going to be a long season. We're just trying to stay focused."

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Tommy Johnson Jr.