Reading preview (F/C)

Reading preview (F/C)
May 8, 1996, 12:19 PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Paul Kelly (818) 914-4761 CRUZ PEDREGON EYES VICTORY, LITTLE BROTHER AT READING MOHNTON, Pa. -- Cruz Pedregon may appear his usual tranquil self on the outside, but there's quite a tempest raging within ...


Contact: Paul Kelly (818) 914-4761


MOHNTON, Pa. -- Cruz Pedregon may appear his usual tranquil self on the outside, but there's quite a tempest raging within as he heads for the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals.

Pedregon has one victory this season in the McDonald's Pontiac Firebird. He set a stunning NHRA speed national record of 311.20 mph in July. He is second in the NHRA Winston point standings to John Force, who clinched his sixth title earlier this month at Indianapolis.

Those are impressive credentials for most drivers, but they're a mere footnote for Pedregon. His standards will forever remain high after he won the NHRA Winston title as a rookie in 1992, dethroning John Force. He also won an average of four races per year in his first four seasons.

"We're upset that we've only won one race and been in just two final rounds," Pedregon said. "That aggravates me. John (Force) has embarrassed us.

"We don't want to finish second to John Force let alone John's No. 2 car."

That is the source of Pedregon's irritation entering the 12th annual, $1,515,050 Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals, Sept. 12-15 at picturesque Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa. The race is the 16th event in the 19-event, $27-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1996.

Tony Pedregon, Cruz's younger brother, is third in a Castrol GTX Pontiac Firebird owned by Force, seven points behind Cruz. The brothers have swapped second and third three times since early July in the most exciting battle left in the category.

"It's a big deal," Cruz Pedregon said. "It's a very big deal because of the team thing. We're like a runaway train. We're going after them."

Reading is a good place for Cruz Pedregon to continue that aggressive philosophy. Pedregon, from Camarillo, Calif., won this event in 1992 and was runner-up to Force in 1994.


--Reign continues: John Force clinched his sixth NHRA Winston Funny Car championship with a victory in the Castrol GTX Pontiac Firebird earlier this month at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Only Pro Stock driver Bob Glidden, with 10 championships, has won more season titles. It was the earliest in a season that Force has clinched a title.

But there was little celebrating for Force, as his triumph came at the same event that NHRA Winston Top Fuel point leader Blaine Johnson died from injuries suffered in an accident during qualifying. Force often complimented the Johnson Racing team and mentioned that he was interested in buying a share of the team, which flourished without major sponsorship.

"It's really hard to get up when the pain is felt by everybody," Force said. "Everybody. You really want to get out and celebrate and yell and scream, but ... It's nice to win a championship, but how can anybody celebrate? You can't."

--Record pace: John Force tied NHRA records for most victories in a season, 11, and most final rounds in a season, 14, with his victory at the U.S. Nationals. Pro Stock driver Darrell Alderman first posted those numbers in 1991. Force also won 11 in 1993.

--Breaking the bank: John Force earned nearly $440,000 at the U.S. Nationals for winning the NHRA Winston championship, the event title, the Big Bud Shootout special event and for qualifying No. 1.

--Snake's new driver: Ron Capps will drive a Funny Car owned by Don "The Snake" Prudhomme next season.

Capps, from San Luis Obispo, Calif., won the Top Fuel title at the 1995 Northwest Nationals in Seattle. Prudhomme also will continue to field the Miller Racing Dragster for driver Larry Dixon in 1997.

--New deal: John Force signed a contract extension with Pontiac Motorsports that will keep him in Pontiacs through 2000.

"The performances of our Castrol GTX Firebird speak for themselves," Force said. "The aerodynamics of the car are very good. It works. Firebird bodies have run more 300-mph speeds than any other body style. And it's been the quickest.

"Not only that, but I like the looks of the Firebird. It looks like a hot rod."

Force switched to Pontiac at the start of the 1995 season.

--Stepping up: Dominant Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Tony Bartone recently has joined forces with Roger Dean of Roger Dean Chevrolet in West Palm Beach, Fla., to achieve his goal of driving a nitro-burning Funny Car in 1997.

Bartone has also secured Quaker State Oil as a major associate sponsor for his team, which has won six national events this year.

"Our goal is to take the team that has made us a dominant force in Alcohol Funny Car, along with the sponsorship of Roger Dean Racing and Quaker State Oil, and build the greatest Funny Car team in NHRA history," Bartone said.

Dean, one of the first mega-dealers in the United States, is also one of the largest automobile dealer groups in the world. Dean has previously been involved with Moroso Motorsports Park, the Palm Beach Offshore Grand Prix, and various NASCAR promotions.

--Quick: The Funny Car field at the U.S. Nationals was the quickest in NHRA history, with John Force No. 1 at 4.966 seconds in the Castrol GTX Pontiac Firebird and Richard Hartman No. 16 at 5.183 in the Geronimo Chevrolet Camaro.

The previous-quickest field came at the 1995 Western Auto Nationals presented by Slick 50 at Topeka, Kan., where Force led at 4.980 and Ray Higley was No. 16 at 5.240.

--That's the way, Ray: Ray Higley turned a few heads at the U.S. Nationals with an outstanding effort in the Red Line Oil Dodge Avenger.

Higley, 58, from San Marcos, Calif., produced a stunning career- best time of 5.004 seconds to qualify third. He then advanced to the semifinals, where he lost to eventual runner-up Al Hofmann.

Roland Leong is Higley's crew chief. The legendary Leong tuned and owned the famous "Hawaiian" entries and also has tuned for Don "The Snake" Prudhomme.

--Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. Sept. 13 and is followed by a night-qualifying session at 7 p.m. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. Sept. 14, with final eliminations starting at 11 a.m. Sept. 15. Sportsman competition starts at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 12.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals. Call Maple Grove Raceway at (610) 856-7812 for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets. To order tickets by phone from Ticketmaster, call (215) 336- 2000.

--On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 60 minutes of live final-round competition from the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals at 5 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 15. --On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics, driver biographies and video clips. -30-

Jack Durbin Motorsport News International (Moderators for "") Homepage

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