Phoenix Preview Funny Car

PEDREGON READY FOR VICTORY AT CHECKER SCHUCK'S KRAGEN NATIONALS CHANDLER, Ariz. - Frank Pedregon was one of the first drivers to exit Pomona Raceway's front gates on Sunday during NHRA's 2000 season-opener. But not by choice. As he rolled...

PEDREGON READY FOR VICTORY AT CHECKER SCHUCK'S KRAGEN NATIONALS

CHANDLER, Ariz. - Frank Pedregon was one of the first drivers to exit Pomona Raceway's front gates on Sunday during NHRA's 2000 season-opener.

But not by choice.

As he rolled his machine through the waterbox and initiated his pre-race burnout in preparation for a first round match with nine-time series champion John Force, everything seemed normal. When Pedregon stopped his Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird amid a cloud of white tire smoke and attempted to put the car into reverse, he quickly realized something was wrong.

"The pin that holds the throttle stop cable got twisted during the burnout, and hung up a little so that the blades wouldn't completely close and the revs on the engine were up just a bit," said Pedregon, 37, from Phillips Ranch, Calif. "When that happens, you can't get the car in reverse. I tried blipping it once or twice to see if it would free up, but there was nothing I could do. It was really frustrating. All I could do was take it down the track and get out of John's way."

Force singled to a first round victory, while Pedregon headed back to the pits and immediately began to focus on the next race.

"We're learning, and some of these lessons can be tough ones," Pedregon added. "I am glad that we got in the show, but I wanted to give John a race."

The hard-learned lesson has provided Pedregon and his new team, led by crew chief Dave Fletcher, with early motivation to produce better results at the 16th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Feb. 24-27, at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix. Pedregon is among Funny Car favorites for the $1.5 million race, the second of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Pedregon's optimism that better results will be gained in Phoenix stems from the excitement generated by his new teammates. Pedregon drives one of two entries fielded by Worsham Motorsports. Del Worsham drives the other Checker Schuck's Kragen Firebird.

Pedregon, who has earned three career victories in cars prepared by Jim Dunn during his two-year Funny Car career, anticipates even more drag racing success with his new situation.

"The entire purpose of this team is to run two cars, gather a ton of data and win some races," said Pedregon, one of three Funny Car driving brothers in NHRA. "So far, our team has really blended well. The Worshams added this team to win races, not just to be a B-car for research and development. This is a great opportunity."

Pedregon knows how to make the most out of a great opportunity. Last season he was consistent during each of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series events and finished a career-best fourth in the final points tally. His season highlight was a victory at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

"We exceeded our expectations last year, no question," Pedregon said. "We were hoping to get into the top six. That was the goal at the beginning. Finishing fourth was a great bonus. Winning at Indy just capped the year. I applaud Jim Dunn and the team for the season we had in '99." Pedregon and Dunn parted ways following the season. Veteran Al Hofmann stepped in to drive Dunn's Mooneyes Pontiac, just as Pedregon accepted the new ride with the Worsham family. After spending time with the two-car team, Pedregon is pleased with his decision. He says he and fellow team driver Del Worsham have a lot in common. "Del and I are sort of similar in that we both know how to service and prepare the car as well as drive it," Pedregon said. "We both were raised in the sport in a similar fashion: Our fathers made us learn to work on the car before they let us drive it. I think that's going to make our team really strong over the long run." In the short term, Pedregon and his new team will continue to work out the early season bugs. They'll also continue to maximize their efforts toward qualifying. Pedregon says the competition is fierce, and securing a spot in the 16-car field is going to be a chore at every event. "The only scary thing about this season is there's about 20 other cars out there that are capable of qualifying in the top 16," Pedregon said.

At Pomona, the list of Funny Car non-qualifiers included some big names: Cruz Pedregon, Scotty Cannon and Cristen Powell, among others.

"You're going to have to be good as soon as you unload the car or else," he added. "There's going to be some good cars going home early at every event." Pedregon hopes he's around to see the sun set in Phoenix, trophy in hand.

FORCE AT PHOENIX: Nine-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champion John Force, who was upset in the season opener by teammate Tony Pedregon during the second round, will look to rebound with his first victory of the season as he chases Bob Glidden's record 85 NHRA wins. Force, who has 81 career wins, has won at Phoenix five of the last six seasons, including last year.

TOLIVER IS LAST & FIRST: By winning the season-opening event at Pomona Raceway, Jerry Toliver added the title: 'First Funny Car Winner of the 21st Century.' Toliver, driver of the WWF Racing Chevy Camaro, secured the title of 'Last Funny Car Winner of the 20th Century' by claiming the '99 season-ender last November, also at Pomona.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , John Force , Scotty Cannon , Bob Glidden , Cruz Pedregon , Jerry Toliver , Cristen Powell