Tony Pedregon's Chevrolet Closing in on First Winner's Circle Visit COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 3, 2004 - A recent surge in performance would indicate that it's only a matter of time before Tony Pedregon's Quaker State Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car makes...
Tony Pedregon's Chevrolet Closing in on First Winner's Circle Visit
COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 3, 2004 - A recent surge in performance would indicate that it's only a matter of time before Tony Pedregon's Quaker State Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car makes its first visit to the NHRA winner's circle. The 2003 NHRA POWERade champion climbed into the new Chevrolet for the first time just three races ago at the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac, and the results have been astounding for the Dickie Venables-tuned Monte Carlo. In his brief tenure in the 2004 Chevrolet, Pedregon has captured a pair of low-qualifying efforts at Atlanta and Chicago, qualified second at Topeka (Kan.) and recorded career-best numbers in e.t. and speed with a run of 4.716 seconds at 331.28 mph. The next stop on the tour is the 40th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing at National Trail Raceway where the 39-year-old Pedregon is a two-time winner (2000, 2003) and the defending event champion. In addition to driving his nitro-powered Monte Carlo, Pedregon will return to the storied Ohio strip for the first time with the job description of "team owner" stamped on his already impressive resume.
What does it feel like to go 331 mph in a Chevy Monte Carlo?
"It's a great feeling and a difference in acceleration you can definitely distinguish. The Monte Carlo is so much more pleasant to drive, and from a driver's perspective, you can see better than the old design. Because of the improved aerodynamics, it's quieter inside, the Chevrolet drives better and the frontal downforce has made the car easier to steer. But you can tell when the car is moving. We knew that's what we were shooting for in Chicago - a mid to low 4.70. We weren't sure what the track would take and we pretty much threw everything we had at it, and it all worked. You could hear the motor revving up, and really, it was a picture-perfect run. We're learning that the aerodynamics are different on the Monte Carlo, so we'll shift some weight forward to make it even easier to drive. The new body compliments a lot of the things we've been developing in the engine department. We'll continue to press, continue to take that information and make it useful, and then we'll go to the next race and hope things come together."
Is the new race team progressing the way you'd expected?
"Yes, it has. We've seen the potential there, without a doubt. I still have to take into consideration that we're a new team, and as impatient as I have a tendency to be, at this stage of the season, I would say that there may have been a couple of missed opportunities, but that's just part of the growing process. Coming off the Chicago event, and the 331 mph top speed, there aren't too many teams that take lightly the fact that a new program has come into the series, that has access to GM technology, and the new Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car, and is a threat to win races. It's great for drag racing because our sport is built on competition, and a large number of quality teams only fuels that competition. We're a new team, with Quaker State as a major sponsor, and we've just introduced the Monte Carlo into our program, which is without a doubt, a very important part of our recent performance."
After your recent performance, do expectations on the capability of your program change?
"This business is no different than any other business in terms of some of the challenges we've been presented with. Like any other start-up company, there have been little glitches, but you put all of these things in the right perspective. Probably, in terms of performance, we've surprised a lot of people. It hasn't surprised us though. This is something we knew we could do. Now we just need to figure out how to win, and I really believe that's around the corner."
It must have been quite a scramble putting the team together at the end of last season.
"At the time, getting everything ready to go by the Winternationals was our biggest challenge. Over the years I've paid attention to the business side of drag racing. This is a stage in my career that I hoped things would eventually evolve to - being a team owner - and Quaker State was the big reason I did it. Quaker State is a very reputable company, and they didn't want to just invest for a year or two. They're interested in a long-term investment which is the only thing I was interested in. But other companies, like Snap-on Tools, Bendix Brakes, Fram, some that I had already been affiliated with and some that I hadn't, especially GM. When I started my Funny Car career, there was involvement with GM when we raced the Pontiac Firebird, so it's kind of neat that everything's come full circle there. Without those partners, it would certainly have been more difficult to do, and I don't know if we would have had the depth we do have. One of the things that was very important to me, I wanted to make an impact, I wanted to make a good impression right from the start. I thought that was very important to do and I'm confident we've accomplished that."
What are some of the key components of being a successful team owner?
"The backing and our sponsor partners are a big part of that. The chemistry is another important aspect. When I say chemistry, I mean a combination of management, crew chief, personnel and our sponsor partners. Quaker State and what they do on the engineering side with their product is a crucial part of that. When you look back on our most recent performance, we came close to setting the national record in Atlanta and Chicago, and a big reason for that is the new Chevy Monte Carlo body. GM has invested a lot in the engineering and development of the Monte Carlo, and has come up with a body that is aerodynamically, as good, if not better than what the competition has. At the first part of the year we were racing with a five-year-old design that we tried making upgrades to. But the performance of the new Chevrolet speaks for itself, and it's really a culmination of all of those things together that equals success on the racetrack for us."
What are some of the goals you've set for the team this season?
"To be competitive. Initially to be in the top 10 was probably a modest goal that we had set out to accomplish, and that's being realistic. It would be easy to say that we'd like to race for a championship, and maybe our goals have shifted. Now that we're in the top 10, I think it's only human nature, and it reflects the competitive side of us, so now the goal is to be in the top five. The potential is there, we just need a little bit of time to achieve that. You get used to winning, everyone wants to win, and we all talk about winning races and winning championships, but at this point, we've been able to stay in the top 10. We're in an era in Funny Car where the competition is better than it's ever been. Across the board, the quality of the competition has been elevated and that's probably the biggest reason that maybe our goals were modest - because I know what we're up against. We've worked past that and now we've gained some confidence here in the last few months - that's an important part of it. Dickie Venables is a new crew chief and it's essential for him to have that kind of confidence, and it's there. He knows it, I see it and it makes me feel better. The respect for the competition is still there, but our goals have changed. We went from top 10 and now we want to be in the top five. If we can break into there, then we'll take a look and see what we can do after that."
You're the defending champ at Columbus. Is there any information from last year applicable to this time around?
"Unfortunately there's not. One of the things we were deficient on was race data. We started from nothing, so we only have the information from the tracks we've raced on. But we've already encountered tracks with high temperature and high humidity. I think regardless of what the conditions will be at Columbus, I like our chances. We've come a long way in a short period of time, and I think we're very capable of winning. We have a good solid team and the outlook is good for any racetrack we go to. There's a little bit of a comfort zone when you've won a race where you're competing, and right now we're probably more motivated than ever."
Are you prepared for the summer and the conditions you're going to encounter?
"I think so. The new design of the Monte Carlo will give us a lot more latitude. We've been racing at tracks where we've been lowering the wing, that's where the 'less drag and more downforce' has been an advantage for us. We really haven't had to adjust the spoiler, but we have a lot of room to do that and those are the tracks where the new Chevrolet will benefit us. At the same time, what we do with the setup on the car, and our clutch combination, and our fuel combination, are all going to work fine. We have a very forgiving setup with the ability to adjust to a variety of conditions."
Do the two teams share information?
"Going into this partnership we knew that would be one of the benefits of being teammates, and it now it looks like it's starting to pay off for both Cruz's (Pedregon) car and my car. They have full access to all of our data and information, and vice-versa. Two is always better than one."
Is there any pressure trying to duplicate what you accomplished last year, or do you reconcile that with the fact you are a new team?
"The goal for me at this point is to win a race. I haven't been the type of person that looks too far ahead. I never did that when I won the championship. I have a long-term vision that I think about, but short- term is the more important focus for me; and that would include the next series of events beginning with the Columbus race. Once we can manage to win a race, I think at that point, the ability to continue that will be imperative. Without a doubt, the new car has performed with two low-qualifying efforts and we were No. 2 at Topeka. We didn't do that by accident. It's undeniable that we have the talent and the resources, but I know what we're up against. We're up against super teams that are established and have been for a lot of years. For me to even be competitive with them, and to be outperforming most of them, is a good sign for our program, very positive and an indicator that we're moving in the right direction Right now, the next goal for us is to win, and after we win a race, the hard part becomes trying to repeat that. I've always believed if you can win one or two then you can get on a little bit of a roll. That's the way we did it last year, and there's no reason why our focus would change as a team or as a driver."