Joliet: Pedregon Route 66 preview

TONY PEDREGON FIGHTING HIS WAY BACK TOWARDS THE TOP JOLIET, Ill. - The 2001 season started off pretty good for Tony Pedregon. Then it took a turn for the worst. After posting a runner-up finish at the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals in...

TONY PEDREGON FIGHTING HIS WAY BACK TOWARDS THE TOP

JOLIET, Ill. - The 2001 season started off pretty good for Tony Pedregon. Then it took a turn for the worst.

After posting a runner-up finish at the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., the 36-year-old suffered four straight first round losses, a very rare DNQ (did not qualify), then another first round loss. This was a performance uncharacteristic to the 12-time national event winner who had finished fourth is the standings last year and second in 1999.

Things may be on the upswing for the Chino Hills, Calif., driver who is coming off back-to-back wins in New Jersey and Kansas that bolted him back into the top 10 in the Winston standings and gives the team confidence and momentum to build on.

Pedregon will be looking for another strong performance in his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang and the opportunity to move higher in the standings when he competes at the fourth annual Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals, May 31-June 3, at state-of-the-art Route 66 Raceway. The $2 million race is the 10th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

To earn that first win of the season, and start the morale boost, Pedregon had to defeat the 10-time Winston champion John Force. Force is already the winningest driver in the 50-year history of the NHRA and is seeking a record-breaking 11th series title. To make things more complicated, Force is Pedregon's boss.

"After that first win of the year I got out of my car at the (end of the race track) and almost lost my voice," said Pedregon. "I was screaming and yelling so loudly and then I looked over and saw John standing there looking at me. He knows I really try not to celebrate to much. I think he found some humor in it and he couldn't believe that I was showing so much emotion. Then I calmed down and I was like, 'Oh, OK. Hi John.'"

Pedregon came to Force Racing in 1996 to drive a "test vehicle" for what has now evolved into a three-car team. That experiment has produced one of the most powerful hot rods in the ultra-competitive category. Pedregon made the quickest pass ever recorded in a Funny Car when he was the first driver to cover the quarter-mile in 4.779 seconds back in '99. Since then he has collected other accolades and has established himself as one of the leading drivers in the sport along with his two brothers Frank and Cruz.

Cruz is the only driver to deny Force a Winston title in the 90s, stepping up at the end of that season to capture the crown. Cruz now works as the commentator for ESPN on all NHRA event broadcasts. Frank is currently fourth in the standings and picked up his fourth career win earlier this year in Atlanta. Their father, who raced a Top Fuel dragster in the 60s, introduced all three brothers to the sport and is responsible for their competitive nature. It is this competitiveness that fuels T. Pedregon when facing team-owner Force during eliminations, as he displayed a week later at Heartland Park Topeka.

"I really do believe John and I have that kind of relationship," said Pedregon. "He knows the struggle I have been through the last few months and he knows I'm a warrior just like him. That's just the way I was raised and it has given me more character. I love a good fight...Our team has all the resources and personnel to be a winner...Now it is just a matter of getting back on track...My dad really raised my brothers and I tough. I used to get beat up the most,so I think I'm tougher then all of them."

-FR-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force