Joliet: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon rides momentum into fifth Chicagoland Nationals. JOLIET, Ill. Over the last four years, nothing that has occurred at Route 66 Raceway would support the inclusion of Tony Pedregon on the short list of Funny Car favorites in this week's...

Pedregon rides momentum into fifth Chicagoland Nationals.

JOLIET, Ill. Over the last four years, nothing that has occurred at Route 66 Raceway would support the inclusion of Tony Pedregon on the short list of Funny Car favorites in this week's (May 31-June 2) fifth annual Chicagoland Dodge Dealers Nationals, tenth stop on the NHRA POWERade tour.

After all, the younger brother of 1992 NHRA Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon hasn't exactly dominated at the Chicago-area super track.

Apart from Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway, where he was beaten in the first round in his only start, Pedregon has a losing record only at Route 66, where he is a disappointing 3-5.

Nevertheless, the 37-year-old veteran suddenly has acquired a secret weapon, one that has transformed him and his Castrol SYNTEC Ford.

Coming off a convincing victory in last week's O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan., a triumph that propelled him into third place in NHRA POWERade points (behind teammates Gary Densham and John Force), Pedregon will tote a load of momentum into Route 66 for the 10th of 23 races comprising the sport's primary series.

As a result, the Chino Hills, Calif., pro is poised not only to reverse his fortunes in the Chicagoland Nationals, a race in which he has advanced to the second round just once in four years, but also to strongly challenge for the NHRA series title that eluded him in 1996, 1997 and 1999, years in which he finished second behind his boss.

"You can't measure the power of momentum," Pedregon said, "but we're going to ride it as far as we can. Last week at Topeka, I think we turned a very big corner. We knew we had a good car, but we just weren't getting the job done. Finally, we were able to put everything together and now I think we're really in a position to challenge (for the title).

"My Crew Chiefs, John Medlen and Dickie Venables, did a heckuva job in adapting to conditions. We got quicker and faster every round and that goes directly to the tune-up."

While the SYNTEC Mustang has been the quickest and fastest of the Fords in three of the last four races, it is Pedregon's driving skill that sets it apart from the rest of the pack.

Always a leader in average reaction time, the second generation racer was at the top of his game at Topeka where he left the starting line first in all four rounds. He used a significant starting line advantage to overcome a performance deficit in both the second round (against oldest brother Frank Pedregon) and the semifinals (against Force, who he beat for the fourth time in their last seven meetings) before letting horsepower carry him to a final round conquest of Tim Wilkerson.

"I'm not going to make any rash statements," Pedregon said, "because we came in here last year on a streak, too, and wound up losing in the first round. But I really do think that we're a much better team this year than we were last year and I expect us to continue to perform at a very high level.

"You have to do that every week if you hope to win a championship. That's one of the biggest things I've learned from John. If you'll look at his career in his championship years, I think you'll find that he avoids those negative streaks where you have two or three first round losses, maybe a second round loss or, like we experienced last year, a DNQ. He doesn't make those mistakes so if you're trying to beat him, you can make those mistakes either."

TONY at Route 66 Raceway....
*Other than Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway, on which he has raced just once, Route 66 is the only track on the circuit on which he has lost more rounds than he has won (3-5).

*Was eaten by brother Frank in the first round of last year's Chicagoland Dodge Dealers Nationals.

*Qualified third at both Route 66 events a year ago with best of 4.773 seconds, just off Whit Bazemore's track record 4.750.

TONY Highlights....
*Since 1995, has won more races (15) than any Funny Car driver other than boss and teammate John Force.

*Has won the last three final round meetings with Force two last year (at Englishtown and Topeka, Kan.) and one in 2000 (fall at Houston).

*Has won at least one NHRA tour event in each of the last seven seasons, the second longest active streak among Funny Car drivers.

*Has been runner-up for the NHRA Funny Car Championship three times in the last seven years (1996, 1997, 1999).

DID YOU KNOW?
In 1996, Tony was the first winner of the Auto Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award which identifies drag racing's rising stars ....when he's not driving the SYNTEC Ford, making appearances on behalf of sponsors or spending time with his two-year-old daughter, Cecily, Tony designs and paints custom helmets including those worn by John Force, Gary Densham, brothers Cruz and Frankie Pedregon, reigning Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein and former Pro Stock Champion Jeg Coughlin Jr.....when he won last week at Topeka, Tony became the only Funny Car driver other than Force to have won at least two NHRA national events in six consecutive seasons. Force has won two or more races in each of the last 13 seasons. After Tony, the next longest such streaks are five by Don Prudhomme (1974-1978) and Kenny Bernstein (1985-1989).

-jfr-

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham , Don Prudhomme , Tim Wilkerson , John Medlen