Tony Pedregon Looks to Repeat at Houston

PEDREGON LOOKS TO KEEP FAMILY BRAGGING RIGHTS WITH HOUSTON WIN BAYTOWN, Texas -- When Tony Pedregon staged his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang against older brother Cruz in the Funny Car final at last season's Slick 50 Nationals at ...

PEDREGON LOOKS TO KEEP FAMILY BRAGGING RIGHTS WITH HOUSTON WIN BAYTOWN, Texas -- When Tony Pedregon staged his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang against older brother Cruz in the Funny Car final at last season's Slick 50 Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, history was made. It was the first time an NHRA professional category final round featured brothers in a head-to- head match-up. And for now, Tony has the family bragging rights.

He'll have to work hard, however, if he wants to keep them at the Pennzoil Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly Auto Parts, March 19-22 at Houston Raceway Park. The $1,700,000 race is the fourth of 22 on the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Not only will Tony have to worry about Cruz trying to avenge his loss from one year ago, but his oldest brother, Frank, is now also a competitor in the Funny Car ranks, driving the Jim Dunn-owned Dodge Avenger. He's well aware that the possibility of racing one of his brothers is now much greater.

"We've definitely increased the odds drastically by getting Frank in here," he said. "It's tough to have to race one of your brothers, and I don't take any personal satisfaction out of beating them or losing to them. That's my brother, that's the guy I grew up with. However, early in my career I learned that if I let that bother me, I couldn't be the same driver. One thing I've been able to do is prepare myself mentally to race Cruz and Frank and even John (Force, team owner). If I beat one of those guys I can't get out and jump, dance and yell like I would if I beat someone else. As a driver you just have to rely on your instincts in those situations. You have to get in there and try to win. It's like I'm the enemy during the race, but after it's over I hope we're both safe and believe me, I do hope that I come out ahead."

Pedregon would like nothing more than to improve on a slow start to the 1998 season with a win at Houston. He says there's nothing like returning to the site of a past victory to get the momentum churning.

"I'm not superstitious or anything, but it's a lot of fun to go back to a track where you won a race the year before," he said. "The track is good there and anytime you have a good surface like that, the way our cars are set up, I think they adapt well to those kinds of conditions. We hope to go out and do it again."

Pedregon is currently sixth in points, while his boss, seven-time NHRA Winston champion John Force is an uncharacteristic eighth. Pedregon says the team has been in a research and development mode early in the season. He anticipates the small step back they've taken, will produce one large step forward in upcoming races.

"I really don't believe either of us will be in a slump for too long," Pedregon said. "Everybody can say what they want, but it's like no one wants to acknowledge that we're still here. Hey, we're one and two for the last two years. I think it shows us a little disrespect for some of our competitors to lose their memories so fast.

"It's only three races into the season, still very early," he continued. "We don't have any excuses, but it's all about trying to develop an edge in performance. I have faith in this team's crew chiefs and in time we're going to be going in the direction we want to be. The learning we are having to do is under race conditions and that makes it tough, but I think the work we've done is just starting to show some positive results. We're going to be just fine."

GENERAL INFORMATION

* Schedule: Pro qualifying is at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. March 20. Qualifying continues at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. March 21. Pro Stock Truck qualifying sessions will be held on March 19 at noon and 3 p.m. Pro Stock Truck final eliminations will start at 11 a.m. March 21. Final professional eliminations start at 11 a.m. March 22. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 8 a.m. March 19.

* Tickets: Tickets are available for the Pennzoil Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly. Call Houston Raceway Park, (281) 383-2666, or Ticketmaster, (713) 629-3700, for ticket information. * On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of highlights and live final round coverage from the Pennzoil Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly on March 22 at 4 p.m. (CST). ESPN2 will show two hours of same-day qualifying highlights on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. (CST).

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force