Pomona: Tony Pedregon preview

78-point loss to Force provides motivation for Castrol SYNTEC driver. POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 6-9) A funny thing happened to Tony Pedregon on the way to his familiar second place finish in the NHRA POWERade point standings, a position he has ...

78-point loss to Force provides motivation for Castrol SYNTEC driver.

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 6-9) A funny thing happened to Tony Pedregon on the way to his familiar second place finish in the NHRA POWERade point standings, a position he has occupied four times in the last eight seasons.

He got respect.

By extending boss and teammate John Force to the semifinals of last November's Automobile Club of Southern California Finals (before finally losing the race and the championship by just .005 of a second), the talented 37-year-old conjured up enough support to be named the 2003 Funny Car favorite in a pre-season poll conducted by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.) and summarized in last Sunday editions.

In drag racing circles, that's huge. After all, Force has won 12 of the last 13 championships and will launch his bid for an unprecedented 11th consecutive title as the defending champion in this week's 43rd annual K&N Filters Winternationals at the Los Angeles County Fairplex.

Of course, it wasn't exactly a mandate Pedregon edged Force by just two points (166-164) in the poll of 18 motor sports writers but it was significant nevertheless.

Now comes the hard part.

"While I appreciate the vote of confidence," Pedregon said, "as everyone saw last year, beating John isn't that easy. He's at his best when he's under pressure and all this has done is put him in a position where he feels like he has to prove himself all over again.

"That just makes my job a lot harder. On the other hand, if you beat the best, you want to beat 'em when they're at their best. I think this will insure that John will be at his very best."

Winner last season of a career high six events including three-in-a-row during his stretch run, Pedregon did nothing to jeopardize his position as Force's heir apparent when he coaxed the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang to a time of 4.77 seconds three weeks ago at Phoenix, Ariz.

That was the quickest time posted in three weeks of pre-season tests leading up to the Winternationals. It also was the quickest time ever posted at Firebird Raceway which, later this month, plays host to the season's second event, the Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals.

Of course, if the Chino Hills resident is to live up to his advance billing, his first challenge is to avoid the slow start that put him 127 points down to his boss after the first two races of 2002.

The significance of that lethargic start is lost on no one in light of Force's eventual 78-point victory, his narrowest escape in the last 10 seasons.

Although he was beaten in the first round of last year's Winternationals by three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi, Pedregon traditionally has performed well at the Fairplex where he previously has won both the season opener (1999) and the season finale (1997).

In fact, before last year's stumble, the 19-time tour winner had started three consecutive seasons by reaching the final round of the opening event. He hopes this week to start a new streak.

Pedregon last year led the Funny Car qualifying on a season high seven occasions and, at one point, closed the gap between himself and Force to just 11 points. But he couldn't close the deal. His goal this season is to finish the job.

DID YOU KNOW?
In a pre-season poll of 18 writers conducted by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Tony outpointed teammate John Force to earn the nod as the 2003 Funny Car favorite. Tony received 11 first place votes; Force five; Dodge teammates Whit Bazemore and Gary Scelzi one apiece....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, brother Cruz Pedregon, Cory McClenathan and Funny Car rival Tommy Johnson Jr....Tony owns the dubious distinction of having won more races than any other Funny Car driver who has not yet won a series championship (19).

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Cruz Pedregon , Tommy Johnson Jr.