Sears Point: Tony Pedregon preview

SONOMA, Calif. -- In what is looking more and more like a two-car race to the Winston Championship, Tony Pedregon is not yet ready to concede the title to either Jerry Toliver or John Force. "If we can string together a couple of...

SONOMA, Calif. -- In what is looking more and more like a two-car race to the Winston Championship, Tony Pedregon is not yet ready to concede the title to either Jerry Toliver or John Force.

"If we can string together a couple of wins, we could jump right back into contention," insists the 35-year-old veteran who, in three of the last four seasons has finished second in points behind Force, the nine-time Winston Funny Car champion who is both his teammate and mentor.

Entering this week's (Aug. 4-6) 13th annual Fram/Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway, Pedregon the closest driver to the leaders, 204 points behind Force and 236 behind Toliver. That's roughly the equivalent of 10 rounds of racing in the NHRA championship series.

"I didn't say it would be easy," laughed the driver of the world's quickest Funny Car, a Castrol SYNTEC™ Ford Mustang that has covered the standard quarter mile in 4.779 seconds, quicker by .008 of a second than Force has gone in his Castrol GTX® Ford and quicker by .052 of a second than Toliver has gone in his WWF Pontiac.

"Realistically, if we're going to catch them, we're going to have to start this week," Pedregon said. "I think our chances of winning (at Sears Point) have been greatly enhanced by the new Ford Mustang bodies that debuted at Denver. In the past, we've had traction problems at Sonoma, especially in the heat and particularly downtrack.

"We had the same basic conditions last week at Seattle and with John winning the race, our cars obviously handled the heat much better than in the past. I think we're ready for whatever the track and the weather throw at us," said the nine-time tour winner from Chino Hills, Calif.

Last month, after beating Toliver in the final round of the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at Columbus, Ohio, Pedregon seemed poised to make a run at the leaders. In three subsequent races, however, the second generation driver was victimized by mechanical problems which twice took him out of competition in the very first round and which last week sent him to the sidelines in round two.

"I'm a very positive person," Pedregon said. "I don't let those things keep me down for very long. We have a really good race team. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in (Crew Chief) John Medlen and I expect us to win some more races."

One of three Funny Car racing brothers competing at Sears Point this week, Pedregon revels in the family rivalry.

"When we were growing up, we fought all the time," he said of his relationship with brothers Cruz and Frankie. "Now, we're still fighting, but it's with our race cars. We all got to this level in different ways but it mainly was through hard work."

Frankie Pedregon, runner-up to Force last week at Seattle, is the reigning U.S. Nationals Funny Car Champion. Cruz Pedregon, who has organized his own team after several productive seasons as a "hired gun," is the only driver to have wrestled the Winston Championship away from Force in the last 10 seasons (1992).

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Jerry Toliver , John Medlen