SONOMA, Calif.- Tony Pedregon started the 2003 season the way he was looking to end the 2002 season - with a victory. Pedregon closed the '02 schedule with a loss to boss and teammate John Force in the semifinal round of the final race of the ...
SONOMA, Calif.- Tony Pedregon started the 2003 season the way he was looking to end the 2002 season - with a victory. Pedregon closed the '02 schedule with a loss to boss and teammate John Force in the semifinal round of the final race of the season. The loss handed Force his 12th NHRA Funny Car championship. Pedregon took the No. 2 spot and a lesson about consistency.
The loss motivated Pedregon and the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang team to work that much harder throughout the offseason. The work paid off so far. Pedregon kicked off the '03 season with a win in Pomona, Calif. and has since followed that with five others.
Most importantly, Pedregon has suffered through just one first-round loss (Seattle) and the consistency has earned Pedregon the Funny Car points lead following all but two of the first 14 events of the season. After slipping into third place of the standings following the third event of the season (Gainesville, Fla.) Pedregon came back to win the event in Las Vegas and has been at the top of the standings ever since.
Pedregon is aiming for winner's circle once again as the series makes its way to California's wine country for the 16th annual FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals, Aug. 1-3, at Infineon Raceway. Doug Herbert, John Force, Larry Morgan and Craig Treble are the defending winners of the $1.8 million event. It is the 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Pedregon has been the No. 1 qualifier (1997) and twice has been the runner-up (1997, 2000) but he has yet to snag a win in Northern California.
"Traditionally it is one of the better facilities that we go to for fans and racers," Pedregon said. "Especially with all of the upgrades they have made over the last couple of years. Infineon Raceway is in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and they have a lot of hard-core racing fans that attend all of the events. We are going to be at the mercy of the weather in terms of heat, but we are at sea level, right off the ocean and it can be cool and breezy too."
Pedregon may have grown up in sunny Southern California, but he doesn't discriminate when it comes to racing in his home state. A California race is still a California race.
"I love racing in California," Pedregon said. "I just love this part of the country because it is close to home and it is just a great place to race. I have lots of family members who can come to this race. I look forward to it every year."
This year, however, Pedregon wants to give the home state something to cheer about. He may be in the Funny Car points lead now, but he realizes his biggest challenge is keeping the lead away from the tough competition. Whit Bazemore is No. 2 in the standings, just 64 points away from Pedregon. While Pedregon has six wins, Bazemore and the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus team has made its way through the standings on two wins in six final round appearances. Bazemore averages three rounds per race.
"We learned a lot from last year," Pedregon said. "And I think it shows. We are a much better team than we were last year. We have plenty of incentive to keep improving too."
Winning the FRAM Autolite Nationals won't be an easy task. As if the Funny Car class wasn't tough enough already, the trip to Sonoma comes at the tail end of three consecutive race weekends. Known as the West Coast Swing, NHRA teams have been in Denver and Seattle and are now making their way to Northern California.
Pedregon said the best teams will rise to the challenge of consecutive races in the summer.
"This used to be the only time of year that we had three races in three weeks," Pedregon said. "But now we have Englishtown, Topeka and Chicago and Reading, Memphis and Chicago 2 as well. Every race is important and if any teams knows that, we do. It is important that we do well on not just one Sunday, but all of them. My approach is going to be to do what it takes to maintain the lead. I know we are more experienced this year and are able to use last year to keep us motivated."