The sport of drag racing is taxing in so many ways and to become a champion requires one's strength of character, commitment, courage and coordination to put it altogether.
Tony Pedregon has all of that and two Funny Car championships to prove that he has what it takes to be a winner and champion. It was only five short years ago that Pedregon won his second title. How times have changed.
Pedregon is currently 18th in points after four events and has not won a single round of racing so far this year. Last season, he missed the Countdown (out of the Top 10) and eventually ended up 12th - his worst season since he became an owner/driver and also was actually his lowest finish as a full-time driver in Funny Car.
In 2010, he made the Countdown but placed ninth which had been his low point since being a full-time Funny Car driver. To be fair, that accomplishment still gave him 15 straight Top 10s in his career. The prior season saw him sixth in the point standings at the end of 2009, garnering three wins in the process. In 2008, he was able to win four meets which gave him fifth overall in the standings and he was only one round away from finishing third.
It has been a slow but steady fall from being a champion to being an also-ran. It' not like he doesn't know how to win. When he was with John Force Racing, he finished second four times before finally winning the championship in 2003.
Then to prove he wasn't lucky to be driving a car for Force, he started his own team along with his brother Cruz and proceeded to grab four #1 qualifier spots and was eighth in points. In '05, he was seventh in points, had two event wins and then followed that up with a fifth place finish in the point standings. Of course, the following year, he won an emotional championship as a car-owner and driver. By the way, after winning the '07 championship, Cruz won the '08 title giving the Pedregon brothers back-to-back championships (source - Press Enterprise).
Ah, but those days are long gone and Tony's wins and successes have been lean, to say the very least. Yes, Cruz was able to finish third in the points last year but that was after his 11th and 12th place finishes in the two prior seasons.
Mired in the back
In Tony's last attempt at Las Vegas, the week before last, the first round resulted in him boiling the hides off the starting line and having to watch as his brother Cruz laid down a stout 4.14 ET at over 309 mph. Mainly due to his qualifying exploits and a tendency for going for it, Cruz has been able to hold down ninth so far.
But Tony is mired in 18th place and there aren't a lot of positives to look at. He had a DNQ (did not qualify) at the Gator Nationals and in his other three qualifying efforts, his best was 11th overall at both Phoenix and Las Vegas. Phoenix was his best effort when he cut a light and had half a tenth on the reaction time, laying down his best speed of the year at 304 but it wasn't enough as 'Fast' Jack Beckman went around him for the win light. Tony qualified with a 4.14 ET - his best of the year.
No one can question Tony's abilities or desire. His experience and skills are as good as anyone's but it takes more than just knowledge and talent to win in the NHRA. Will he move back up the ranks to respectability? Can he glean enough off his brother Cruz to help him perform better? Or is he at the end of a grand and hugely successful career?
Competition in Funny Car is as competitive as ever and there are many excellent teams to climb over to get to the top. After quite a fall, questions remain as to whether two-time champ Tony Pedregon can rise again.
Sources - NHRA , Pedregon Racing, John Force Racing
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus blogged about every type of racing for several years.
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