Tony Pedregon, driver of the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang Funny Car, fresh off of his season opening win at the Winternationals in Pomona, Ca., is hoping that his quick start to the 1999 NHRA season is not short lived. Pedregon, teammate to NHRA...
Tony Pedregon, driver of the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang Funny Car, fresh off of his season opening win at the Winternationals in Pomona, Ca., is hoping that his quick start to the 1999 NHRA season is not short lived.
Pedregon, teammate to NHRA legend John Force, sees his fast start to the 1999 season as a huge advantage. But he knows that being on top of the points ladder just makes the target on your back bigger. In the past Tony has been the one chasing Force, but now, Pedregon, sitting atop the Funny Car Points standings is in the unfamiliar spot -- looking over his shoulder at the competition, his two older brothers and his boss.
TONY PEDREGON - Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang Funny Car -- GOING INTO THE FIRST RACE OF THE SEASON THERE ARE ALWAYS A LOT OF UNANSWERED QUESTION. HOW CONFIDENT WERE YOU AND THE TEAM GOING INTO THE WINTERNATIONALS? "I would say that the preparation was there. The amount of time and work we put into the whole effort including the time we put into developing the new Mustang body we wanted to debut really helped. I know one of the goals this year was to get off to a quick start where in the past we had never gotten off to a one. John's deal is different. They start the season and, boom, they jump out into the points lead. For myself, going on my fourth year of being here, I have never gotten off to a good start. I think the investment of time and effort that we have put into focusing on the aerodynamics and starting off the season fast is paying off. Towards the end of last year the car was running where we liked it. We were running 4.80's at 310 mph. This year, as far as mechanics we have not changed much but the new body definitely helped us."
HOW MUCH BETTER IS YOUR NEW MUSTANG COMPARED TO LAST YEARS? "It's hard to say. We have not put the car in the wind tunnel to see what we have gained in downforce, but I will say this, that track in Pomona was not the greatest. One problem we did not have all weekend with either my car or John's was tire spin. John's car set top speed of the event at 314 mph and I think we ran 311 mph in the finals. For us to come away from the weekend not having that be an issue and having to fight with getting grip is a big plus. We can focus now on the clutch application or fuel applications and not have to fuss with the aerodynamics. My seat of the pants feel is that we have a very stable car. I can feel it stick to the track. I have to say that all the work that Roush did with the body and the time and effort that the Ford people have put into this program is paying off. That's just basing it off of one race, but I am confident in the performance we have gained."
YOU GUYS ARE RUNNING THROUGH THE EARLY ROUNDS LAST WEEK AT THE WINTERNATIONALS. YOU ARE IN YOUR GROOVE AND YOU GET TO THE FINALS WHEN IT STARTS TO RAIN WHICH CAUSES THE FINAL ROUND TO BE POSTPONED FOR ANOTHER DAY. HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOU AS A DRIVER? "Fortunately I have been in that situation before. One thing you can't predict is waking up at 4:30 in the morning, wired, and thinking about the guy you are going to race. Mentally, on Sunday night, I wanted to go through the same ritual I do on Saturday nights. I went to dinner with my family and planned on being in bed early. In the morning, I get up and eat my cereal, go to the track early, just like it's a race day. "I will say this, we did have an oil leak before the final round and I wanted to run it when the clouds were misting. Your adrenaline is flowing and I had just come off of running a 4.88 et in the semifinals and mentally you feel like the advantage is yours. Mentally I just wanted to run it. I lobbied the NHRA guys to stick around until whatever the curfew is so we can run this race. To tell you the truth the conditions actually favored (Gary) Densham because the colder it got and the more moisture there was in the air the more likely the cars were to smoke the tires We were prepared to go to the starting line with an oil leak only because we did not have enough time to figure out where it was coming from. The delay did however get us the extra time we needed to put a new motor in it. "When we got to the track on Monday I thought it was going to take a while for the track to be ready to run on. But, the next thing I know, I'm sitting in the lounge finally able to stomach some food and the NHRA officials came in and said get in the car we are going to run them right now. Before you have time to relax, and I think that's when a driver can let his emotions affect him and open him up to making a mistake, we were in the car ready to run."
WHAT WERE YOUR CONCERNS RUNNING ON A FRESH TRACK? "I think that track conditions were better on Monday. Our car went out about a hundred feet and our tires started to shake and rattle and I had to feather the throttle just a little bit. Earlier in the day, I was watching the other cars and not one car ran down the track without smoking the tires, so I conditioned myself to any little thing I felt I was going to react and I did."
HOW DO YOU THINK JOHN FEELS KNOWING THAT THE GUY HE IS WRITING A PAYCHECK TO EVERY TWO WEEKS IS THE GUY HE IS NOW CHASING IN THE POINTS? "I think John understands the business. I was in the press room on Monday and answered all the questions and was waiting for the one guy to ask me what it felt like to be in the points lead. And sure enough, it came up. I have been around long enough to know that this is only the first game of the year, so to say. It's like a boxer who has to fight 23 rounds and wins the first round. By no means can you relax after that. I have enjoyed it, but, I've landed and now that it's over, we need to concentrate on the next round. The hard part is going out to do it again. I will say this, John was very supportive after he got beat. I don't know how he does it. I know what it is like to lose and whether you lose to a total stranger, your brother, or your own teammate, or the guy you hired, it's hard. However John deals with it he has done it in a very positive way. He is like a coach to me, he comes over and we talk about strategy and every scenario that could happen. A lot of times he is afraid that he is putting things into my head and I have to remind him that he is the guy that's been there. I have done this for a little while compared to the time and success he had. Without John's support it would be even tougher for me. I kind of feed off of his energy and his support. Bottom line is that we work as a team. I view myself as kind of the other running back of this football team -- just give me the ball and let me run with it. Then there is John who is the Terrell Davis who has just won the Super Bowl. I want advice from that guy."
HOW MUCH OF A MOMENTUM BOOST IS THIS WIN FOR YOU AND THE TEAM? "Quite a bit. We have a relatively new crew and our biggest asset, besides all the backing we get from Ford and Syntec, is the relationship I have with my crew chief John Medlen, this is the fourth year I have worked with him and I really believe it takes that chemistry. It is not something that you get in a year or two and maybe not even in three, it takes a long time. Just look at the relationship that John and Austin Coil have developed over the years and the success they have shared. To be able to have accomplished getting off to a good start is great, but now we have to make sure we are consistent. It's not about winning races right now, but rather being in the late rounds consistently."
WITH THREE PEDREGON'S (CRUZ AND FRANK) RACING IN THE FUNNY CAR CLASS THIS SEASON, IS THERE ANY SPECIAL INTER-FAMILY RIVALRY GOING ON BEHIND THE SCENES? OR IS IT JUST BRAGGING RIGHTS THAT ARE UP FOR GRABS THE NEXT TIME THE FAMILY IS ALL TOGETHER FOR DINNER? "The family pride is up for grabs that's for sure. We are a close family and I like to see Cruz and Frank them to do well. But, if I have to race Cruz or Frankie, all bets are off. When you are growing up it's your brothers, sisters and family that condition you to be competitive. So when people ask me what it is like to race Cruz I have to explain to them that it is just like racing Chuck Etchells or anyone else. I know he is trying to take my head off so my state of mind is the same. I want them to do good, but if I have to race them, all bets are off."
IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO MAKE A NAME FOR YOURSELF IN DRAG RACING. BUT, IT IS PROBABLY EVEN MORE DIFFICULT TO MAKE A NAME FOR YOURSELF WHEN YOU HAVE A LEGEND SUCH AS JOHN FORCE AS A TEAMMATE. IS THIS YOUR YEAR TO MAKE TONY PEDREGON BECOME KNOWN AS MORE THAN JUST JOHN'S TEAMMATE? "I certainly hope so. But, I understand that this is John's team. I know that if I do what I am supposed to do I believe that I have a competitive edge on the next guy. When I put my helmet on that is my focus. I don't like to worry about points or where John is going to end up. They could go on a winning streak, but there is no guarantee that he can go on and win the number of races that they have in the past. My attitude is that if I go out and do what I know how to do the pieces will fall into place. Is it my year? I am kind of curious myself. I would certainly like to find out but I will be patient. There is no doubt about it, John is the most popular guy out there so I don't feel like I have to compete against him. I believe that one of these days my time will come and what it is going to take is hard work and just pouring my heart into it and if I can't win it I want John to be the next person in line. I don't want it to be Cruz, nothing personal, but I don't gain any satisfaction in seeing anyone beat him, even myself. We treat this as a business. I know Cruz is doing the same thing. If I didn't think this way I would not be at the level I am. This is not about going out and having fun, it's gone way beyond that."