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Interview with Tony Pedregon- The Force Years

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In this week’s interview, Speedway Media catches up with two-time Funny Car champion and current NHRA on FOX commentator, Tony Pedregon.

We picked up with Pedregon as he discussed his years with John Force Racing, close finishes, racing with Force, making a name for himself and numerous other topics regarding his 1997 to 2002 years in NHRA Drag Racing.

SM: In our last interview we talked about your 1996 season when you were hired by John Force to drive for his Funny Car team and how you got your first win that year at the Southern Nationals in Atlanta, out-racing Force in the final round. You recalled telling him after the win that he had “created another winner,” but also said that it created some awkwardness. When the 1997 season rolled around, had the awkwardness worn off enough that the two of you were comfortable having conversations about anything or was your relationship strictly racing related?

TP: “No, I think after I won that first race (Atlanta, 1996), it (me winning) was a little bit of a shock (to John Force),” Pedregon said. “I don’t know if anyone would have anticipated the feeling when I won. The feeling for me was great. That was the opportunity of a lifetime for me. For John (Force, Pedregon’s former Team Owner), it was a matter of him just having a better understanding of what he was building, adding another driver, etc. The idea was to build an R&D program to help him win and be more successful.”

“I don’t know if he (Force) understood all the things that came with it. After the ego fell off, he was able to leverage that. He was able to go back and say ‘Look, I built another program, this is a winner.” I was younger, somewhat marketable. I just wish he would have known that at dinner that night.”

SM: Did you think it was hard for Force to realize that he had something with you that he could build on?

TP: “Yeah, I don’t think it had set in,” he added. “It was not the most pleasant dinner, to be honest with you. (The) dinner was in Atlanta and there used to be this steakhouse called BT Bones. There were so many of us and I kept looking over, his close friend he grew up with, I was sitting next to him and he said ‘Boy, he’s not happy.’ I was young and I was thinking at least I won the race. Those are the things you go through. It was the start of something good, kind of broke the ice.”

SM: Entering the 1997 season, I recall us talking about you finishing second in points in 1996. As you entered the ’97 season, were there any discussions with your team about how to finish one spot better? I assume that a championship was the goal for you in ’97.

TP: “Not really,” Pedregon said. “It (winning the championship) took a few years. I think I understood my role with John. To be honest with you, John had the stronger car. We grew into a team that could win two to three races. John’s car was just more consistent. When we would race, they would set John’s car up to win under any circumstance.”

“I remember in those early years, that was the kind of position I accepted when I worked for him. I think I was a good teammate, good player. I understood my role, but what happens over time is that changes. Just like anything else, people change. John would tell me if you guys get out there, I’m going to let you go. Whether he really meant it or was telling me to keep me mentally in the game, I think it was a little bit of both.”

SM: Do you think him saying that was an intimidation factor?

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Drag-Racing Mystery: Frank Pedregon and the Fiat with the Flaming Tires

1965-sacto-taco-taster-frank-pedregon-vs-bob-hall-copy-1587393557.jpgWhether it was Scott Injection or just soaking the tires in gasoline, Pedregon's trick was never fully explained.

Before burnouts became popular, Flamin' Frank Pedregon stole the show in the 1960s at iconic Southern California drag strips such as Lions Drag Strip in Los Angeles. 

Fans thought of Pedregon as a mechanical magician for his unique shtick of igniting the tires on his Fiat coupe front-engine dragster and making them smoke all the way down the track.

"It was truly unique in the way it looked and the way the tires burned going down the track—it was the one and only car that went down the track like that," his son Cruz Pedregon, a two-time NHRA Funny Car champion, said. "It really became a fan favorite as he raced a lot." 

But even Flamin' Frank didn't know for sure how he did it. Or at least he kept the secret recipe to himself.

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Racing four-wide offers challenges and opportunities for drivers

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Photo NHRA - In advance of the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, two-time NHRA Funny Car champ and current NHRA on FOX analyst Tony Pedregon offers a driver’s-eye perspective of what goes on in four-wide competition.

With two four-wide races now on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, including this weekend’s first four-wide at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, drivers will have to put even more of a premium on their preparation for the process.

The Four-Wide rules advance the first two finishers of each “quad” into the next round, so it’s not uncommon to see a driver who might have aborted his run in a two-wide scenario stay after the run in the four-wide configuration still with hopes of finishing at least second.

In advance of the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, two-time NHRA Funny Car champ and current NHRA on FOX analyst Tony Pedregon offers a driver’s-eye perspective of the event.

Whether you like the concept or not, racing four cars at a time adds a different dynamic for a driver that has become accustomed to having to face just one opponent at a time.

From the onset, it’s pretty electric when one suits up and straps in and starts only to hear more than one other car start up and start to cackle. You have to trust that your crew chief has factored in how long the other cars run so that it doesn’t change your timing in doing a burnout and backing up. 

The most challenging part of four-wide racing is rolling forward for the staging procedure. Pre-staging can be routine, but if you’re in Lane 2, you now find yourself looking across a series of lights that represent each driver’s lane. The tendency for that driver is to look at the light farthest to the right, but at Four-Wide that would be the driver in Lane 4. Sounds easy but still seems to confuse some. Check out the video at right that we filmed at last year's Four-Wide race in Charlotte.

Once pre-staged, no one will like to stage first because it would put you at risk of building unwanted temperature in the engine, clutch, or even running low on fuel if someone is taking their sweet time, whether they are doing it intentionally or not. And once a brave soul does roll in to stage, the others seem to rush in to be second or third into the stage beams. Read Full Story

 

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