BAYTOWN, Texas -- Now that he has been mathematically eliminated from a Winston Championship chase won for the ninth time in 10 years by his mentor, John Force, Tony Pedregon's focus shifts this week (Oct. 29-31) from how many points he is...
BAYTOWN, Texas -- Now that he has been mathematically eliminated from a Winston Championship chase won for the ninth time in 10 years by his mentor, John Force, Tony Pedregon's focus shifts this week (Oct. 29-31) from how many points he is behind his boss to how many he is ahead of third place Whit Bazemore. Hoping to assure Team Castrol its third 1-2 finish in the last four years, Pedregon returns to Houston Raceway Park, the racetrack on which he has enjoyed his greatest professional success, as one of the Funny Car favorites in the third annual Matco Tools SuperNationals. Leading Bazemore by 154 points, the equivalent of seven competitive rounds, the 34-year-old resident of Chino Hills, Calif., can lock up second place for the third time in his brief career simply by doing what he's done in four of his last five Houston appearances -- put his Castrol SYNTEC Ford in the finals. "Last week, John won the championship by winning the O'Reilly Nationals (at the Texas Motorplex)," Pedregon said. "This week, we'd like to clinch second place by doing the same thing. John said he didn't want someone else to lose the championship, he wanted to win it and that's the way I feel about the race for second place. I don't want Bazemore to lose it; I want us to win it." Although he finished second to Force in Funny Car points in both 1996 and 1997, Pedregon wasn't considered a serious title threat until this year when he drove his SYNTEC-backed Ford to the quickest quarter mile in NHRA history (4.779 seconds), became the second driver to break the 320 mile per hour barrier and became only the seventh driver in the decade to lead the NHRA Winston point standings. Winner of the series-opening AutoZone Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Pedregon already has set personal single season records for victories (three), poles (four) and performance (posting top speed of the meet six times) while earning high praise from his boss. "Tony has a big future with this team," Force said. "He's worked hard as a mechanic and as a driver plus he paints the helmets, he puts the decals on the cars, he's done all our testing. Heck, he's set himself on fire for me. He's always there when I need him. When I step down, he's taking over." Unfortunately for Pedregon, Force's retirement is not imminent. Fortunately, the second generation driver is a very patient man in a very enviable position. In the four years since coming on board as driver of what was to have been a research-and-development car, Pedregon has reached the final round 21 times. This season, with victories at Pomona, Ennis and Denver and four runner-up finishes, he has been either first or second in points all year long. Now, with eight career victories to is credit, he hopes to claim his third win at HRP and put an exclamation point on a season in which he and Force have won 13 of 20 races including all three in Texas.
Matco SuperNationals Oct. 29-31, 1999 Houston Raceway Park Baytown, Texas
Houston starts: 8 Times No. 1 qualifier: 1 (1997 Matco Nationals) Final round appearances: 4 Event wins: 2 (1997 and 1998 O'Reilly Nationals) Won-Lost Record: 18-6 Best performances at Houston Raceway Park: 4.809 seconds, April 9, 1999 316.90 mph, March 22, 1998 Noteworthy: Tony was runner-up to mentor and teammate John Force in last spring's O'Reilly Nationals at HRP after winning the same event the two previous seasons.
DID YOU KNOW: Tony has qualified for 93 consecutive Winston Series races...after his first season with Team Castrol, Tony was named the 1996 winner of the AAA of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which identifies the future stars of the NHRA series....Tony is the youngest of three Funny Car racing brothers, each of them a winner within the last 12 months. Oldest brother Frank won the Labor Day U.S. Nationals last month at Indianapolis, Ind. Brother Cruz is the only driver other than Force to have won a series championship in the 1990s (1992)....crewman John Ferguson suffered a severely bruised elbow in a freak accident last weekend at the Texas Motorplex but will be with the team when qualifying begins Friday.