Tony Pedregon at the Castrol Nationals

ENNIS, Texas -- With the bulk of local media attention focused on teammate John Force and his bid to tie Bob Glidden's record for career victories on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour, Tony Pedregon has become the "forgotten champion" of the...

ENNIS, Texas -- With the bulk of local media attention focused on teammate John Force and his bid to tie Bob Glidden's record for career victories on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour, Tony Pedregon has become the "forgotten champion" of the Castrol Nationals, contested this week (May 26-28) for the fifth time at Texas Motorplex

Last year, when he drove his Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang to a Funny Car victory worth $140,000, the second generation pro was the toast of the town.

This week, back to defend his title, he's just toast, shuffled to the shadows while the spotlight shines on Force and his quest for win No. 85.

It's a situation with which the 35-year-old Pedregon is not unfamiliar.

In four-plus seasons as driver of the second car in the Force Racing stable, the Chino Hills, Calif., driver quietly has put together a portfolio that includes 23 final round appearances, eight victories and the quickest quarter mile clocking in history -- 4.779 seconds.

Yet despite the fact that he's reached the final round in every fourth start for Team Castrol (23 times in 92 races) and finished second in driver points three of the last four years, Pedregon still toils in relative obscurity.

As the youngest son of the late Frank Pedregon, a 1960s-era Top Fuel dragster driver, he always has had to battle to retain his own individuality.

First it was with his older brothers, Frankie and Cruz. Now it's with his boss and mentor.

Nevertheless, Pedregon knows that time and patience are his biggest allies.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," he said of his association with Team Castrol. "All the best parts and pieces and the chance to work on a daily basis with Crew Chiefs like John Medlen, Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly.

"And John is a great teacher and teammate; a great motivator. The most important thing I've learned from him is how to deal with the mental aspects of the sport. Mind games are a big part (of drag racing) because success is so closely tied to focus. Any distraction can throw you off your game."

In the midst of an 18-race victory drought, the longest of his brief career, Pedregon will be clearly focused when racing begins this Friday.

"We feel pretty confident coming back to Texas," said the 1996 winner of the AAA of Southern California Road to the Future Award. "To be honest, Texas is like a second home for me. My mom is from San Antonio and I've won more races here (three) than in any other state, even California.

"So if we're going to get back in the winners' circle, there's no place that offers us a better opportunity."

In addition to his 1999 victory in the Castrol Nationals, a triumph that included a $100,000 No Bull bonus from the series sponsor, Pedregon has been to the final round three times at Houston Raceway Park, winning the spring race in 1997 and 1998.

<pre> Tony Pedregon at......

Texas Motorplex Ennis, Texas

Total starts: 8 Castrol Nationals starts: 6 Times No. 1 qualifier: 1 (1996 O'Reilly Nat'ls) Final rounds: 1 Wins: 1 (1999 Castrol Nationals) Won-Lost Record: 12-7 Castrol Nationals record: 7-2 Best Performances: 4.872 seconds, Oct. 23, 1998 **322.81 mph, April 25, 1999 **event record

</pre> LAST YEAR -- Tony qualified seventh, then beat Tim Wilkerson, Dale Creasy, Cruz Pedregon and Dean Skuza to win the race and a $100,000 No Bull bonus from Winston.


Tony is responsible for painting one-of-a-kind driving helmets not only for himself and Force but also for Pro Stock points leader Jeg Coughlin Jr., Top Fuel drivers Cory McClenathan and Kenny Bernstein and his racing brothers, Cruz and Frank ....Tony is the Hispanic spokesperson for AAA of Texas...although he's in only his fifth full season on the pro tour, Tony already has raced in 23 finals rounds. That's more than anyone in the1999 Top 10 except for teammate John Force....Tony was runner-up to Force for the Winston Funny Car Championship in 1996, 1997 and 1999.....Tony has the second quickest quarter mile of the current season at 4.830 seconds. Force has been quickest at 4.826.

<pre> Funny Car Points: (seven of 23 races completed) 1. Jerry Toliver 589 2. John Force 559 3. Ron Capps 528 4. Tony Pedregon 465 5. Jim Epler 389

</pre> The Race on TV: Same day coverage of final rounds, 4:30 pm (ET) Sunday, TNN

Schedule: Qualifying at 2 pm & 7:30 pm (ET) Friday; Noon &  5 pm (ET)
Saturday.  Finals at 11 am (ET) Sunday.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Ron Capps , John Force , Bob Glidden , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Tim Wilkerson , Jerry Toliver , Austin Coil , John Medlen