Indianapolis: Tony Pedregon preview

Mac U.S. Nationals may hold key to Pedregon's Powerade title bid Points leader trying to end series of near-misses at biggest race INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Aug. 29 - Sept. 1) Although he's not an enormous hoops fan, Tony Pedregon can empathize with...

Mac U.S. Nationals may hold key to Pedregon's Powerade title bid

Points leader trying to end series of near-misses at biggest race

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Aug. 29 - Sept. 1) Although he's not an enormous hoops fan, Tony Pedregon can empathize with Reggie Miller, the Indiana Pacers' shoot-the-lights-out guard, who once again is hopeful that this will be the season he finally gets an NBA championship ring.

Like Miller in his sport and the Cubs' Sammy Sosa in his, Pedregon remains an unfulfilled superstar in NHRA POWERade drag racing.

Although he's driven the Castrol SYNTEC0x28a7 Ford Funny Car to 25 victories in the last eight years, more than any driver other than boss and teammate John Force, the 38-year-old Latino is beginning to attract more attention for what he hasn't done than what he has.

That's a little disconcerting to a driver who has won at least two tour events every year since 1996; who's won six times each of the last two seasons; and who's started from the No. 1 qualifying position 23 times.

Nevertheless, Pedregon acknowledges that the absence of the two biggest prizes in the sport a POWERade championship and a victory in the world's most prestigious single event, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals (contested this week for the 49th time at Indianapolis Raceway Park) are the reason he still doesn't consider himself on a par with older brother Cruz, the 1992 series champion and a three-time winner at Indy.

"Right are wrong, it's a reality that you're measured by winning championships and by winning the U.S. Nationals," he said. "Even if you struggle in every other race, winning Indy seems to make up for it."

While Pedregon hasn't directly won the Labor Day classic, he's watched while both of his brothers have done so (Cruz in 1992, 1994 and 1995 and Frank in 1999) and while his boss has reached the winners' circle four times in the last 10 years.

As for the youngest of the three Pedregon brothers, he's had his chances.

Last year, he was the No. 1 qualifier for the U.S. Nationals but slowed from a best-of-eliminations 4.879 in round one to a losing 5.239 against Dean Skuza in round two. The year before, after qualifying a surprising seventh, he breezed through the first three rounds (positing quick time of each session) before being upset by Whit Bazemore in the final.

Combine those disappointments with the fact that he's lost twice in the final round of the companion Budweiser Shootout bonus race (1997 and 1999) and has been runner-up to Force for the series championship four times in the last seven seasons and one can understand why the Chino Hills, Calif., resident might be somewhat frustrated.

Pedregon insists that he isn't.

"I'm a very optimistic person," he said. "We've had chances where we weren't able to capitalize, but I believe you can learn from adversity and what you learn makes you better when you have next opportunity."

That said, Pedregon knows that this year's U.S. Nationals has more personal significance than any other because of its championship implications. For the first time in his career, Pedregon comes into IRP as the Funny Car points leader although his margin over Bazemore, a two-time Indy winner (1997, 2001), is just 61 points three rounds.

"As a team, we control our own destiny," Pedregon said. "Because of its history and tradition, Indy is the biggest race of the year but, in terms of the championship, it's just another event. That's how we'll treat it. We're not going to change our strategy for one race."

DID YOU KNOW?

In 1996, Tony was the first winner of the Auto Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award....when he's not driving the SYNTEC Ford, making appearances on behalf of sponsors or spending time with his three-year-old daughter, Cecily, Tony designs and paints custom helmets including those worn by John Force, brother Cruz Pedregon and Funny Car rival Tommy Johnson Jr....among Funny Car drivers, Tony has the second longest active qualifying streak at 57 straight races, second only to boss and teammate John Force, who has made the starting lineup at record 316 times....in a pre-season poll conducted by Louis Brewster of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.), Tony was named the favorite to win the 2003 POWERade title.

-jfr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Tommy Johnson Jr.