Points leader defends championship in CARQUEST Northwest Nationals KENT, Wash. (July 25-27) -- Most sports fans would not equate drag racing with the concept of "depth," a term more closely associated with the traditional ...
Points leader defends championship in CARQUEST Northwest Nationals
KENT, Wash. (July 25-27) -- Most sports fans would not equate drag racing with the concept of "depth," a term more closely associated with the traditional stick-and-ball sports.
Nevertheless, drag racing is every bit as much a team sport as football or basketball or baseball and, make no mistake, if Tony Pedregon goes on to win the NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship this season, it likely will be because of the depth of talent that supports the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang he drives for John Force Racing.
That depth manifested itself in most dramatic fashion a year ago when Pedregon won the CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Pacific Raceways despite the fact that he was racing for the first time in seven years without Crew Chief John Medlen.
One of the sport's most innovative mechanics, Medlen took a one-race leave of absence last July to undergo a minor medical procedure and, without hesitation, he turned his responsibilities over to Dickie Venables, who responded with a spectacular debut.
Pedregon not only won the race, he qualified No. 1, posted the event's quickest quarter mile time (4.848 seconds) and set a track speed record (315.19 miles per hour).
That was an enormous confidence-builder for the 38-year-old Californian who'll have both Medlen and Venables backing him up this week when he defends his title in the 16th renewal of the Northwest's biggest auto racing event.
"I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive going in," Pedregon said of last year's race, "not because I didn't think Dickie could do the job, but because he never had been (in that position) before, running the car on his own. But I don't think anyone could have responded to the pressure much better than he did.
"I think that race was probably the key to what we've been able to do since then. Medlen and Dickie just seem to have developed the kind of partnership that Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly (Co-Crew Chiefs on Force's national record-holding Castrol GTX Ford) have had throughout John's championship seasons."
Indeed, Pedregon has lost but one first round race in his last 24 starts, has won six times already this season and has put himself in position to become the first driver in 11 seasons to supplant Force atop the Funny Car standings.
Nevertheless, the 25-time tour winner is taking nothing for granted.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us," Pedregon said. "You look at the season we've had and you'd expect us to have a little bigger cushion than we do (124 points over second place Whit Bazemore). That just shows the quality of racing in the Funny Car class right now.
"Whit's not going to go away and right behind him is Del Worsham. Plus you've got Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. and, really, anyone who qualifies anymore can take you out. There aren't any 'easy' rounds."
One of the biggest motivators for Pedregon, however, is the man who presently occupies the No. 4 position in the point standings.
"I've said all year long that John was having a few problems but that he would be back in the (points) race before the end of the season," said the Chino Hills, Calif., driver. "Well, look where he is now. The important thing for us, though, is that we still control our own destiny (in the championship race). We can't worry about what John is doing. All we can do is do our own jobs the best we can. If we do that, everything will work out fine."