Dave Rieff and Tony Pedregon preview the 2017 NHRA drag racing season
FOX Sports opens its second season as home to the NHRA this weekend, with three hours of final-round coverage from the NHRA Circle K Winternationals airing live on the FOX broadcast network Sunday, Feb. 12 (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET).
In addition, FS1 provides NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing qualifying coverage on Friday, Feb. 10 (7 p.m. to 8 p.m.), Saturday, Feb. 11 (1 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET) and Sunday, Feb. 12 (2 a.m. to 3 a.m.).
Returning to the FOX NHRA booth are veteran broadcaster Dave Rieff, with two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon providing analysis and Bruno Massel, Jamie Howe, John Kernan and Amanda Busick reporting from the pits.
Rieff and Pedregon preview the 2017 season:
FOX Sports: What is the biggest NHRA on-track story heading into the 2017 season?
Pedregon: A lot of movement with teams, particularly in Funny Car, with tuner Jimmy Prock going back to John Force Racing after defecting to Force’s biggest competitor, Don Schumacher Racing. Will this give Force the firepower that he once had?
Rieff: Two things — Ron Capps returns as Funny Car champion. Finally, it all came together for Capps in 2016. Led by Rahn Tobler, the team didn’t let numerous difficult moments hold them back from claiming the ultimate prize; can they repeat? And movement in Funny Car – Del (Worsham) back with Chuck (Worsham), J.R. Todd switching classes. Jimmy Prock back to John Force Racing. Dean Antonelli makes the switch to DSR. You will need a program to keep up with the changes.
FOX Sports: Any driver surprise you with their performance in 2016; and are there new faces (or old faces in new places) for fans to keep an eye on and why?
Pedregon: The most impressive run in my opinion was the 3.82 run by Jack Beckman in Funny Car at the last race of the 2016 season. He will have different tuners, however, I do feel that we will see a Funny Car run in the 3.7 range in 2017. Also in Funny Car, the 335-mph run by Matt Hagan was unreal and may be hard for any team to top.
Rieff: A few —
— Obvious players come to mind — Fast Jack Beckman’s 3.82 ET; Matt Hagan’s 335-mph — INCREDIBLE. Top Fuel dipping into the 3.6 second range.
— J.R. Todd moving to Funny Car — In Scott Kalitta’s car no less. Will be interesting to see how he adapts. Driving a Funny Car seems to fit his driving style.
— Tanner Gray; I spoke with the kid after the first round of testing. Seems to be one of those young kids who doesn’t know driving a Pro Stock car is difficult. Reacted well, not only going quick and fast, but also when the car made moves. Seems to be a natural.
— Troy Coughlin Jr. — been a long time since his grandfather drove a fuel car. But based on how he handled the turbo/pro mod, I think he will be just fine. Look for Troy and Tanner to battle it out for the rookie of the year.
— My Top Fuel law firm of (Leah) Pritchett, (Clay) Millican & (Terry) McMillen. Can she win again? When will Clay hit pay day? And what does Terry have to do to get a bigger bite and challenge for a top 10.
— John Force — always. The sports winningest, most dynamic and perhaps bonkers driver is the reason Funny Car is what it is today … they need him to keep that pot stirred.
— The rest of team Force — Courtney/new sponsor, Robert Hight — he’s the first to tell you that he expects more.
— Alexis (DeJoria) — Rough year; how will she handle her return.
— Cruz (Pedregon) – ROUGH year, but (tuner) Aaron Brooks brings new expectations; can they be met?
— Erica Enders-Stevens & Jeg Coughlin — back to Chevrolet after one miserable season. How good can they be?
— Greg Anderson — had a championship year except for his teammate. It’s a long look back to title No. 4 (2010).
— Jerry Savoie & L.E. Tonglet — Pro Stock Bikes newest tandem could be tough to beat.
— Angelle Sampey & Cory Reed — new venture. Expectations?
FOX Sports: Which drivers are under the most pressure to perform this season?
Pedregon: Top Fuel drivers like Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence will see pressure in trying to dethrone Antron Brown. Pro Stock’s Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr. will have an opportunity to redeem themselves in familiar Chevy-powered cars after running for Dodge in 2016.
Rieff: Doug Kalitta, USAC champ is now the new face for longevity without a championship thanks to Capps; Steve Torrence called himself a championship player last year. Performance numbers didn’t agree with round wins though.
FOX Sports: Any new driver-crew chief combinations that stand out and why?
Pedregon: The Del Worsham (2015 Funny Car champ) move will be interesting as he will return as co-tuner and driver of his father’s Funny Car. They may not have backing for the entire season yet, but they have always been very resourceful. Rookie Troy Coughlin in Top Fuel should do well because the car he will drive performed very well last year with J.R. Todd driving. 17-year-old Tanner Gray showed some natural talent in testing, taking his father Shane’s place in Pro Stock.
— “Prock/Force – can they get the feeling again?
— Antonelli & John Medlen with Fast Jack – obvious reasons with the team’s switch. Dean and John work well together.
— Aaron Brooks & Cruz Pedregon – we need Cruz to be in there stirring it up again.
FOX Sports: The NHRA enjoyed some nice audience growth in 2016; what’s the key to keeping the momentum going?
Pedregon: The quality of drivers and competition are in place. The work is for the (television) production team to bring the stories and the racing to the NHRA audience and appeal to new viewers that find 330-mph, nitro-burning machines fascinating.
Rieff: Continue to deliver on Peter Clifford’s initiative to tell our story like no one else can. And that is something we will only continue to improve on in year two on FOX Sports & FS1.
FOX, NHRA set to wrap up successful first season live from Pomona
Rolling into this weekend’s final event of the season, the Auto Club Finals from Pomona, Calif., the inaugural season of the NHRA on FOX has delivered some of the largest television audiences in drag racing history, with four events topping one million viewers and four more eclipsing 750,000.
Through 23 events, average viewership of the NHRA on FS1/FOX is up 25 percent year-to-year versus ESPN/ESPN2’s 2015 numbers (650,000 vs. 521,000). And, perhaps more importantly, gains with younger viewers have been even more impressive, with Adults 18-49 posting a 50 percent increase and Adults 25-54 up 46 percent.
With three of the four professional categories still undecided, FOX Sports delivers a three-hour live broadcast on Sunday, Nov. 13 (4-7 p.m. ET) on FS1. One-hour NHRA on FOX Qualifying sessions air on FS1 on Saturday, Nov. 12 (12:30 a.m. ET) and Sunday, Nov. 13 (11:30 a.m. ET).
Dave Rieff hosts NHRA on FOX coverage, with two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon providing analysis and Jamie Howe, Bruno Massel and John Kernan reporting from the pits.
Offering perspective from his first year as a FOX Sports television analyst, Pedregon talks about his inaugural season behind the mic:
FOX Sports: So, your first year as a television analyst is about done -- grade your effort and tell me where you feel like you are now as compared to the first event of the season.
Pedregon: “On a scale of 1-10, I would give myself a 3 for the opening race (voices in my earpiece really threw me)... and that might be a little generous. At this point, maybe getting closer to a 7, but I am a perfectionist and I know I can get better. I see so many things that are interesting that I know I can find a way to bring to light.”
FOX Sports: Your brother, Cruz, nearly got airborne with a crazy wheel stand at Las Vegas. What was it like being in the booth, calling that action?
Pedregon: “Crazy spectacular. If I could call that again I would just say, ‘Imagine yourself in his seat.’ Everything had to go silent and from his perspective, he had to be thinking what's going to happen when I land.”
FOX Sports: On the track, whose performance surprised you the most this season?
Pedregon: “Antron (Brown) was not a big surprise, considering I believe they are the most well-balanced Top Fuel team. I thought Doug Kalitta might be able to pull it off, but the team didn't finish strong. I would say Capps is the biggest surprise. There were many teams that challenged throughout the year, but they managed to maintain the points lead nearly all season in a very tough category.”
FOX Sports: With a third Top Fuel title, where does Antron Brown start to fit in with the all-time nitro greats?
Pedregon: “In a category with drivers like (Don) Garlits, (Tony) Schumacher, (Kenny) Bernstein, & (Shirley) Muldowney, I would put him getting close to top five. I would rank him higher than some not mentioned if we are talking about sheer driver ability.”
FOX Sports: What will the big NHRA storyline(s) be heading into 2017?
Pedregon: “Even better TV ratings as our on-air chemistry continues to improve and everyone gets the first year under our belts. Another should be who can stop Antron. A few drivers have the performance, but can they elevate their game? Pro Stock will be much more interesting considering the growing parody in the class. Several teams can now challenge Greg Anderson and Jason Line, but they will be solid. Pro Stock Motorcycle will be fun to watch. And teams forming and merging, with strong fields at every event.”
FOX Sports: OK, one full season away from the track -- any desire to get back behind the wheel?
Pedregon: “It's hard not to think about getting behind the wheel, especially when I'm at the track every race. I just have to keep reminding myself I've done it plenty of times.”
To learn more about Pedregon and the entire NHRA on FOX broadcast team, please visit FOX Sports Press Pass for bios, photos and archived press releases.
Seven years later, Force, Pedregon officially bury the hatchet
It was one of the wildest off-track moments to ever take place at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, and seven years later, John Force and Tony Pedregon officially buried the hatchet – on national TV, no less – after their wild, name-calling, body-shoving spat at the 2009 event.
Pedregon had openly accused Force of deliberately losing his semifinal race with teammate Robert Hight so that Hight could advance to the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Exacerbating the situation was that Hight’s win knocked defending Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon -- Tony's brother -- out of the Countdown. Hight ultimately was able to win the championship from the 10th seed, the lowest seed that has even gone on to win a championship in the Countdown era.
The two shared a feel-good moment during this year's event, sealed with a trademark Force kiss on the cheek of Pedregon, who is no longer competing and is NHRA FOX’s analyst for the national broadcasts.
“Spark of Hope” announces its 5th Annual Charity Auction to benefit cancer research
The Andrea Pedregon Charity Foundation, Inc. “Spark of Hope” announces its 5th Annual Charity Auction to benefit cancer research at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center.
The live auction will be held at the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Cruz Pedregon’s Snap On hospitality area following the last pro qualifying run on Saturday, September 3rd. 2X Funny Car Champ/FOX Racing Analyst, Tony Pedregon, will emcee the event. Race fans are welcome and will find unique collectables from their favorite teams/drivers to bid on.
Foundation director Andrea Pedregon said, “The auction is always entertaining and ultimately raises money for a great cause I am very passionate about. This year we will honor my brother in law, 3X NHRA Top Fuel Champ, Larry Dixon, who was recently treated for throat cancer. He has always been a tough competitor and beating cancer was just another battle he successfully got through. For that, we are immensely grateful.”
Dixon was treated at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center. For more information regarding his story please visit http://bit.ly/2aWHfMr .
The Andrea Pedregon Charity Foundation “Spark of Hope” was established in 2010 and is best known for its projects and auctions. Funds raised go to children’s causes, children’s cancer research, melanoma and prostate & colon cancer research. To date, Andrea’s charity has donated close to $200,000. The foundation is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
For additional information regarding the auction, go to www.apcf.tonypedregon.com.
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