Madison: Tony Pedregon preview

Feast or famine for Pedregon at Sears Craftsman Nationals. MADISON, Ill. For defending Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon, it's been feast or famine at the Sears Craftsman Nationals, the $1 million NHRA drag racing event contested this week (June...

Feast or famine for Pedregon at Sears Craftsman Nationals.

MADISON, Ill. For defending Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon, it's been feast or famine at the Sears Craftsman Nationals, the $1 million NHRA drag racing event contested this week (June 28-30) for the sixth time at Gateway International Raceway.

The youngest of the three racing Pedregon brothers twice has taken his Castrol SYNTEC Ford to the final round at Gateway International. In three other appearances, he was eliminated in the very first round.

"The important thing, I think, is that we've been to the final round two of the last three years," Pedregon said, "and that our SYNTEC Mustang this year is the best car we've put on the track in my seven seasons (with John Force Racing, Inc.)."

Indeed, Pedregon already has won this year at Gainesville, Fla., and Topeka, Kan., thereby becoming the only Funny Car driver other than Force to have won at least two tour events in six consecutive seasons.

If he successfully defends his Sears Craftsman title, he would equal his personal record for victories in a single season. Moreover, he would move even more prominently into contention for a POWERade points championship for which he has been runner-up on three different occasions 1996, 1997 and 1999.

"Since I started driving (Funny Cars), this is the most competitive field I've seen. Five different drivers have won at least two races (this year)," said the 37-year-old resident of Chino Hills, Calif. "The secret is not to make the big mistake. I think if we can stay in contention through the Western Swing (Denver-to Seattle-to-Sonoma, Calif., on consecutive weekends, starting in July), we have a good shot at the championship."

Ironically, the biggest obstacles standing between Pedregon and the $400,000 POWERade Champion's bonus are teammates Gary Densham and John Force, the only drivers ahead of him in the current Funny Car driver standings.

"For each of us to have won two races, to have qualified No. 1 and to be 1-2-3 says a lot about the kind of operation John has put together here," Pedregon said. "The only thing I would change is the order."

Although he was not a factor in the first two races this season, Pedregon put himself in contention when he won the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville last March.

However, he really came into his own over the last six races. During that span, he qualified No. 1 at Bristol, Tenn., and Englishtown, N.J., No. 2 at Houston and Atlanta and posted top speed of the meet at Bristol, Atlanta and Topeka, Kan.

Moreover, he has outqualified his teammates at five of the last seven races, a trend he hopes to extend at Gateway.

"My Crew Chief, John Medlen, has a pretty good handle on the tune-up right now," Pedregon said. "The only thing that's a concern is the new Goodyear tire. We started the year with a tire that was safer but a little less forgiving, especially in the heat. Now, they've just changed the tire compound again so we're back to square one."

Even though he's finished second in Funny Car points three times, Pedregon has raced for most of the last seven years in the shadow of his boss and mentor, which is why many are surprised at the fact that he has won more races during that time (15) than Whit Bazemore (12), Ron Capps (11) Del Worsham (9) or any other driver but Force.

It's a statistic in which he takes great pride, that and the fact that he's beaten Force the last three times they've met in the final round. It's a streak he'd love to extend at the Sears Craftsman Nationals.

TONY at Sears Craftsman Nationals....
*Is the defending Funny Car Champion. Beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the 2001 finals despite a slower quarter mile time. Tony was clocked in 5.006 seconds, Johnson Jr. in 4.989 seconds. The difference was Tony's .468-.531 starting line advantage.
*Runner-up to teammate John Force in 1999.

TONY Highlights....
*Since 1995, has won more races (15) than any Funny Car driver other than 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 event in each of the last seven years, the second longest active streak among Funny Car drivers.
*This year became the only Funny Car driver other than Force to win two-or-more events in six consecutive seasons. *Has been runner-up for the NHRA Funny Car Championship three times in the last seven years (1996, 1997, 1999).

* * * *

Tony won last week's "Night Under Fire" match race at Norwalk, Ohio, beating tour rival Whit Bazemore in the 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 Mustang, 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 Castrol teammates John Force and Gary Densham,, older brothers Cruz and Frankie Pedregon, reigning Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein and Top Fuel contender Cory McClenathan....Tony's father, the late Frank Pedregon Sr., was a standout Top Fuel racer on the West Coast in the 1960s and 1970s. The elder Pedregon was killed in a plane crash before seeing his sons win a single event. Between them, the brothers have won 41 tour events and one series title, all in the last 12 seasons.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Cory McClenathan , John Medlen , Tommy Johnson Jr.