Memphis: Tony Pedregon preview

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The similarities between drag racing and boxing probably aren't apparent to the casual observer. However, one of the NHRA's most marketable young stars, 35-year-old Tony Pedregon, credits his ...

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The similarities between drag racing and boxing probably aren't apparent to the casual observer. However, one of the NHRA's most marketable young stars, 35-year-old Tony Pedregon, credits his status as one of the Funny Car favorites in this week's (Oct. 6-8) 13th annual AutoZone Nationals to two things: (1) the opportunity provided by his boss and teammate, nine-time Winston Champion John Force, and (2) lessons he learned in the ring. "I took up boxing in my twenties because it really kept me active and taught me discipline," said the nine-time tour winner from Chino Hills, Calif. "At the time, I wasn't racing but I didn't like just going home after work and putting my feet up. I really enjoyed going to the gym. "When I finally got the chance to drive, I realized that the mentality of a boxer is really a lot like the mentality of a drag racer," he said. "It's all about controlling your fears and your emotions and channeling that adrenalin. We all have fear. We all get emotional. But if you can find a way to control those things and not let them control you, it can be very rewarding." Pedregon, whose Castrol SYNTEC™ Ford Mustang is the world's quickest Funny Car (at 4.779 seconds) as well as one of the fastest (322.81 miles per hour), expects to do well at Memphis Motorsports Park where he was runner-up to Tommy Johnson Jr. in 1999 after qualifying No. 1 and posting top speed of the meet. "We've struggled mechanically this year," Pedregon said, "but last week our car finally started performing like we knew it could. Unfortunately, we're no long a contender for the championship but we are within striking distance of third place and, with a break or two, we could go to second." The second generation pro likens his situation to that of a fighter behind on points with only a few rounds remaining. "We need a knockout," said the youngest brother of 1992 Winston Champion Cruz Pedregon. "We need to win one or two of these final races not just to move up in points but to lay a foundation for next season." Pedregon, second in Winston driver points three times in the last four seasons (1996, 1997 and 1999), won earlier this year in the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Columbus, Ohio. He has been runner-up in four other events, twice losing the final to his mentor. With his drag racing schedule, Pedregon no longer is a regular at the gym. However, when he gets frustrated, he still likes to work out the aggression on the heavy bag or the speed bag. "We're like a hungry prizefighter," Pedregon said of his SYNTEC team. "It's the late rounds and all we can do is come out swinging." The original winner of the AAA of Southern California Road to the Future Award which identifies the sport's stars-to-be, Pedregon has gone to the finals 26 times in his first five seasons with Team Castrol and John Force Racing.

Tony Pedregon at......

Memphis Motorsports Park, Memphis, Tenn.

Starts: 4 Times No. 1 qualifier: 1 (1999) Final round appearances: 2 (1996, 1999) Wins: 0 Won-Lost Record: 9-4 Best Performances: 4.939 seconds, Oct. 10, 1999 311.63 mph, Oct. 11, 1998 LAST YEAR -- After qualifying on the pole, Tony beat Cory Lee, Ron Capps and Al Hofmann before losing to Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round.

DID YOU KNOW: Tony is responsible for painting one-of-a-kind driving helmets not only for himself and Force but also for Pro Stock Champion-to-be Jeg Coughlin Jr., Top Fuel drivers Cory McClenathan and Kenny Bernstein and his racing brothers, Cruz and Frank ....Tony has won at least one NHRA national event in each of his first five seasons with Team Castrol.....Tony is the Hispanic spokesperson for AAA of Texas....Tony has been a Funny Car finalist in two of his four career appearances at Memphis Motorsports Park (1996 and 1999).

The Race on TV: Speedvision coverage will begin at 5:30 pm (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 8. Qualifying coverage at 8 pm (ET) on Saturday, Oct. 7. NHRA Heat pre-race show at 5:30 (ET) on Thursday, Oct. 5.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (Central Time) on Friday; 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. (CT) Saturday. Final Eliminations at 11 a.m. (CT) Sunday.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Ron Capps , John Force , Cory McClenathan , Cory Lee , Tommy Johnson Jr.