Indianapolis: Tony Pedregon preview

CLERMONT, Ind. -- Older brother Cruz won in 1992. Oldest brother Frankie won last year. Now, a newly-supercharged Tony Pedregon is poised to join his siblings as Funny Car Champion of the most prestigious event in drag racing, the Labor Day...

CLERMONT, Ind. -- Older brother Cruz won in 1992. Oldest brother Frankie won last year. Now, a newly-supercharged Tony Pedregon is poised to join his siblings as Funny Car Champion of the most prestigious event in drag racing, the Labor Day U.S. Nationals contested this week (Sept. 1-4) for the 46th time.

Indeed, the key to Pedregon's latest bid at Indianapolis Raceway Park, which begins with a single pro qualifying session on Friday, is the integration of a new SSI supercharger of the type that has powered Castrol teammate John Force to three straight victories on the NHRA/Winston tour.

Although the second generation pro enjoyed a modicum of success with a new supercharger developed by Tim Gibson at Bill Miller Enterprises, the fact that he and Force were using different "blowers" and different clutch set-ups made it difficult for the Castrol Crew Chiefs to share information.

In fact, it was Austin Coil, the architect of all nine of Force's Winston Funny Car Championships, who mandated the switch to the SSI unit because "right now, every time I wind up trying to help (John) Medlen (with the tune-up), I just make it worse."

With the new blower in place, Pedregon was one of the five quickest Funny Car drivers in last week's open test session at IRP. As a result, the 35-year-old resident of Chino Hills, Calif., came out with renewed confidence in a Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang that has posted the quickest quarter mile time in drag racing history (4.779 seconds).

"We didn't have a good race at Brainerd (two weeks ago in the Colonel's Truck Accessories Nationals)," Pedregon said. "We struggled with some engine problems in qualifying and I pushed the lights in the first round of eliminations.

"The good thing about racing, though, is that it's not that long before you have a chance to redeem yourself. The past is past and we're now clearly focused on Indy."

A finalist in 26 of his first 100 starts for Team Castrol and John Force Racing, Pedregon has yet to reach the semifinals at the U.S. Nationals, one of the few races on the tour in which he does not enjoy a winning record (4-5).

However, that statistic is somewhat misleading.

Although the nine-time tour winner hasn't enjoyed enormous success in the Labor Day classic, he has performed well in the companion event -- the Big Bud Shootout which on Sunday provides the top eight Funny Car drivers (based on a year-long qualifying format) a shot at a $100,000 top prize.

Twice in the last four years, Pedregon has reached the final round of the Shootout. Both times he has come up just short, most recently losing to Ron Capps in last year's final when his SYNTEC Ford, the only car to break the 5.00 second barrier in both the first and second rounds, suffered an ill-timed clutch failure.

Winner earlier this year of the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Columbus, Ohio, Pedregon has been the Funny Car runner-up in four other events including the August 6 FRAM/Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calif.

Tony Pedregon at...... Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Ind. Starts: 5 Times No. 1 qualifier: 0 Final round appearances: 0 Wins: 0 Won-Lost Record: 4-5 Best Performances: 4.919 seconds, Sept. 3, 1999 315.05 mph, Sept. 3, 1999 LAST YEAR in the U.S. Nationals -- The No. 6 qualifier, Tony beat Jerry Toliver in round one but lost to Bob Gilbertson on a hole shot in the quarterfinals LAST YEAR in the Big Bud Shootout -- Quickest and fastest in the first two rounds, Tony lost to Ron Capps in the final when the clutch failed.

DID YOU KNOW: Tony is responsible for painting one-of-a-kind driving helmets not only for himself but also for Jeg Coughlin Jr., Cory McClenathan, Kenny Bernstein and teammate John Force 1996, his first year with Team Castrol, Tony earned the AAA of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which identifies the sport's future stars ....Tony is one of only three drivers to have accelerated a Funny Car beyond 320 mph (along with John Force and Tommy Johnson Jr.) his brother Cruz, who won the 1992 Winston Championship, Tony got his professional start driving Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars for California potato farmer Larry Minor.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying at 6 pm (ET) Friday; 10:30 am and 4 pm (ET), Saturday; 10:45 am and 4 pm (ET), Sunday; Big Bud Shootout at 12 noon (ET), Sunday; U.S. Nationals eliminations, 11 am (ET), Monday.

The Race on TV: Coverage of the Big Bud Shootout bonus race, 4-6 pm (ET), Sunday, Sept. 3; Coverage of U.S. Nationals finals, 11 am-1 pm (ET) and 4-6 pm (ET), Monday, Sept. 4, all on TNN.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Tim Gibson , Jerry Toliver , Austin Coil , Tommy Johnson Jr.