TOPEKA, Kan. - Tony Pedregon was the runner-up at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka in 1996 - his second year of Funny Car racing and first with John Force Racing. He didn't get near the final round there again until 2001....
TOPEKA, Kan. - Tony Pedregon was the runner-up at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka in 1996 - his second year of Funny Car racing and first with John Force Racing. He didn't get near the final round there again until 2001. That year, Pedregon made up for it and won. He followed that up with a victory in 2002 as well.
Pedregon has the opportunity to complete the hat trick in 2003 by winning the Funny Car event in Topeka for the third consecutive year - something Pedregon has never accomplished in his career. Pedregon has come close twice, winning Houston in 1997 and 1998. But he managed just a runner-up finish there in 1999. Pedregon won back-to-back races in Denver between 1998-'99, but did not reach the final round in 2000.
"Hat tricks are a good thing, even in this sport," Pedregon said. "Getting the hat trick would be a great thing for this team because at this stage we have had success up to this point of the season and it is important for us to be able to continue that kind of performance. Of all the venues we race at, I am partial to Topeka because we have a pretty good record there."
With four victories to his credit in the first eight events of the season, Pedregon and the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang team heads to the 15th annual O'Reilly Summer NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol GTX at Heartland Park Topeka, May 22-25. Darrell Russell and Troy Coughlin also are the defending winners in their respective categories for the $1.9 million race, the ninth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Pedregon has been the Funny Car points leader following six of the first eight events of the season. He leads the category in victories (4), round wins (22) and joins fellow competitor Whit Bazemore as the only two drivers in the category without a first-round loss this season.
The race in Topeka may be in the middle of three consecutive race weekends for the series, but Pedregon is eager to be in Kansas.
"I like our chances of winning at Topeka again this year based off what we have done over the first third of the season," Pedregon said. "Topeka has a history of being one of the quicker and faster race tracks on the circuit. Our car performs better on the faster race tracks. We have managed to win at the other venues, but I think because of the cooler climates and the conditions available at Topeka, our car is capable of setting records and being one of the top qualifiers there. That facility was ahead of its time. We have real nice, new facilities on the schedule like Chicago and Las Vegas, but I think Topeka is every bit as good."
Pedregon has hopes of winning in Topeka for more than one reason. He has a 72-point lead over Bazemore, with Del Worsham and teammate Gary Densham also in the championship hunt.
"We've won four races and we don't have as big of a lead as you would think," Pedregon said. "People think we are dominating, but I think if we were dominating, our lead would be more than 200, not (less than) 100. If we have a bad race, Bazemore, Gary Densham or Del Worsham could turn the whole category around by winning a race. We are in a better position than anyone else right now, but the competition is there. Without a doubt, this is the best competition in Funny Car that we have seen in at least 15 years."
Pedregon also has motivation from 2002. He came up short in his bid for the 2002 NHRA Funny Car championship, losing to teammate and car owner John Force in the semifinal round at the season-ending race in Pomona, Calif. That has pushed the team to play to win more than ever before.
"Without a doubt last year was a learning process," Pedregon said. "We know all the feelings and the emotions of what it takes to win and lose a championship and that is one reason why we came into this season with high expectations. After coming so close, we know there is a lot of work involved before you even get close to earning a championship. That has made us a better team and it has made me a better driver.
"We are prepared for the adversity and everything else that we are going to encounter this year. I could almost touch the championship from where we were last year and I know this team can get there again."