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Keeping Pace

TONY PEDREGON HOPES TO FINISH REGULAR SEASON STRONG WITH A MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS TROPHY IN HAND

The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series points leader with three victories this season, Tony Pedregon is ready to make the final regular season charge in his Wicked Quick/Q-Horsepower Chevy Impala


Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

CLERMONT, Ind. – Two-time NHRA Funny Car world champion Tony Pedregon loves the view from where he is sitting as he prepares for the world’s most prestigious drag race.

The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series points leader with three victories this season, Pedregon is ready to make the final regular season charge in his Wicked Quick/Q-Horsepower Chevy Impala and position himself as the top seed in his category for the six-race Countdown to 1, NHRA’s championship playoffs.

It’s a statement that Pedregon can make comfortably now. Two races ago there may have been a little hesitation. After suddenly splitting with longtime crew chief Dickie Venables just days prior to the race in Brainerd, Minn., Pedregon was faced with a rush of uncertainty for his race program. However, his team rallied behind new car chief Tony Shortall and the help of brother Cruz’ crew chief Rahn Tobler, and won the race in Brainerd. A semifinal finish at Reading followed. Crisis averted.

In a blur, Pedregon went from thinking his season might be over, to a deep second wind that has lifted his team’s determination to finish off what has been a stellar season. 

“We’ve had a little bit of drama,” Pedregon said. “It was a new challenge and some unchartered ground for me as a team owner. Anytime you have a change you have that fear of getting out of your comfort zone. But then we won Brainerd and that was probably the biggest emotional victory in my career. Now, the real work lies ahead.”

Pedregon will try to win a race that has so far eluded him during his successful career and solidify his position as the NHRA regular season Funny Car champion at the 55th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil at historic O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. The tradition-rich race, which will be held Sept. 2-7 and will be showcased during more than 10 hours of coverage on ESPN2 HD, is the final regular season race in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series before the top 10 fields in each pro category are set for NHRA’s six-race championship playoff, the Countdown to 1.

“At Indy there’s a lot at stake,” Pedregon said. “We want to have the points lead at the end of that event and get the 20 bonus points going into the Countdown because that takes some of the pressure off.  I haven’t won that race, so I think that would be a great way to finish off this regular season by winning that one. I am to the point in my career where I’d like to get that done. I do believe we have the potential to win it.”

Pedregon has watched both of his brothers win the event – Cruz on three occasions and Frank in 1999. He has been the top qualifier there twice, including last season, and has only advanced to the final round at the event one time, when he was runner-up to Whit Bazemore in 2001.

For a guy that’s won 43 races, two world championship titles and visited the winner’s circle at just about every track on the circuit, even he’s a bit perplexed.

“I am not superstitious at all,” Pedregon said. “I think the biggest challenge with that event is that it falls at a time of the year when you have warm conditions. With all the teams I have raced with over the years we have never really been a team that won races with a hot track setup. I believe at this time I have the best race car and the best chance I have ever had to get it done.”

Pedregon is well aware of the event’s history and status in the world of motorsports. He says he doesn’t lose any sleep over the fact that he has never won the race, but he admits it is a race that he would certainly love to win before he’s through.

“I really believe the ultimate for any driver is to win the championship,” Pedregon said. “But if you had to single out any one race, the U.S. Nationals would be the one. It has the most history, is the biggest paying and the most prestigious. It is our Indy 500.”

Neither of Pedregon’s top two championship rivals – Ron Capps nor Ashley Force Hood – have won the race either. In fact, only three drivers in the current top 10 – Tim Wilkerson, John Force and Cruz Pedregon – have celebrated a victory at Indy.

Pedregon says he and his team are going to employ the same race routine at the U.S. Nationals that has led them to wins at Chicago, Englishtown and Brainerd this season. He’ll also sprinkle in some strategy that’s geared just for the Big Go.

“My approach to this event will be the same,” Pedregon said. “I will rely on my experience. We want to pace ourselves because it is a very long week and the goal is to race smart. You have to have a good start on Friday in the first qualifying session. That run is very critical and really sets the tone for the weekend. If you can get solidly in the field, it takes some of the pressure off and you can start working on your race day setup. If you don’t do well on Friday, then it seems like you are behind the rest of the weekend.”

As for the Countdown to 1, which begins Sept. 18 at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, N.C., Pedregon says he will race every round like it’s his last one.

“Our strategy for the Countdown is the same philosophy we used in 2007,” Pedregon said. “You go into it like there is no margin for error on any run. We try to press the whole time and run as hard as we can and never hold anything back. We race wide open and full throttle and the rest is destiny.”


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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