Millington: Tony Pedregon preview

Pedregon rides momentum Into O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals. MEMPHIS, Tenn. Coming off an impressive victory last Monday in the rain-delayed Lucas Oil Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa., Tony Pedregon is closing in on the dubious distinction of...

Pedregon rides momentum Into O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. Coming off an impressive victory last Monday in the rain-delayed Lucas Oil Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa., Tony Pedregon is closing in on the dubious distinction of becoming the best driver who never won an NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.

Entering this week's (Sept. 20-22) 15th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park, the 37-year-old Californian has 17 tour victories, all of them secured the last seven seasons in a series of Castrol-backed Funny Cars.

Should he coax the Castrol SYNTEC0x2122 Ford into the winners' circle just one more time, he would equal the victory total of Ed "the Ace" McCulloch.

For years, McCulloch singly has born the burden of having won the most NHRA POWERade Funny Car events WITHOUT claiming a championship.

While Pedregon isn't anxious to inherit that mantle, it isn't one he is likely to keep for very long. One of the brightest young stars on the circuit, the Chino Hills, Calif., resident is the most likely successor to Castrol teammate John Force, who has won 11 of the last 12 series championships including nine in succession.

Pedregon, who currently trails his car owner and mentor by 122 points, hasn't yet given up on the 2002 title although he understands the challenge he faces in making up six rounds of racing in only five events.

Pedregon cut his deficit by 77 points at Reading, where Force was upset in round one.

That scenario isn't likely to play out too many times down the stretch, however.

"John's car is running good," Pedregon said. "It just had parts breakage at Reading. That's not going to happen too often. We're not thinking about the championship right now. If we can chip away a little in the next couple of races, maybe we can make a race of it, but the big thing for us is to finish 1-2-3 as a team."

Those are the positions presently occupied by Force, Pedregon and Gary Densham, driver of the third Castrol Ford.

"Our immediate goal is to win another race or two before the end of the season," Pedregon said of the SYNTEC team he anchors with Crew Chief John Medlen. "Right now we have some momentum, but that doesn't mean anything if we're not able to capitalize on it."

Winner of more races the last seven seasons than anyone other Force and the only driver other than the reigning champ to have won more than one race in six consecutive seasons, Pedregon is seeking his first victory at Memphis where he was runner-up in 1996 and 1999.

Younger brother of 1992 NHRA Champion Cruz Pedregon, he is enjoying the best season of his pro career with four victories, one runner-up finish and four No. 1 qualifying awards.

Nevertheless, barring a miracle like that his brother pulled off in 1992 when he won five straight races in September and Octoger, he seems destined to finish second for the fourth time in seven years each time to Force.

"Obviously, second place isn't our ultimate goal," Pedregon said, "but to finish second behind John, who's won more races than anyone in the sport, how can you be too upset with that? To be a part of this team with John and Gary Densham, for me it's been like going to graduate school. When my time comes, I'll be ready."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon