Pedregon ready to take control
By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com
New Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon has confirmed what many have speculated for weeks, that he will leave John Force Racing, his home for the past eight seasons, to pursue owning and driving his own Funny Car.
"I won't be returning to John Force Racing," Pedregon said. "I've decided to start my own team, which I'm building from the ground up. I'll be the owner and the driver, and yes, I will be partnering with my brother Cruz and we'll share all of our information, so in that sense we'll be a two-car team. But we'll be two separate entities answering to two separate sponsors and when we face each other in competition, we'll race straight up."
Pedregon remained mum on which company will sponsor his new ride, saving the announcement for Dec. 4 at the PRI trade show in Indianapolis. But he did reveal several clues about the pending deal.
"We have a great sponsor that's returning after a long time away from NHRA drag racing," Pedregon said. "If there's one thing I've learned it's that to be successful you need the proper funding. We'll have that with this great company and I'm happy to say they are making a long-term commitment to our team.
"As far as what brand of car I'll race, I'm really not sure just yet. We're certainly exploring our options. Unfortunately, those options are pretty limited. We know it won't be a Ford because John Force Racing has the exclusive rights to the Mustang, so we'll pick the best of what we have to choose from and hopefully make a decision soon."
The final piece of the puzzle who will serve as crew chief is also a bit of a question mark, although Pedregon hopes to name his head wrench very soon.
"There is definitely a frontrunner for the job," Pedregon said, "and my No. 1 choice is a free agent, so to speak. But we're still going through that process. It has to be right for everyone involved.
"I know from experience it's crucial to have the right people in place. That's why getting a crew chief signed and on board is important in my mind. But it's not just the crew chief; every crew position on down to the bottom end guy is important. You need the whole package. This is an area where it will be nice to lean on Cruz's experience. He's been on his own for quite awhile now so he knows what to look for and I've personally seen plenty of talented people out there that I'd like to acquire. I think together Cruz and I will form a formidable duo."
Pedregon had a career season in 2003. Aside from winning his first world title, he won eight races in eight final-round appearances. He also secured the No. 1 starting position eight times. His biggest win of the year came at the fall race in Las Vegas where he defeated rival Whit Bazemore in a thrilling final round to lock up the POWERade title.
The 200-race veteran now has 27 victories and 21 runner-up finishes to his credit, all of which were earned during his eight-year tenure with John Force Racing. Originally hired as a test pilot for the 12-time champion, Pedregon soon became a legitimate threat to win every race he entered. He finished second in the points to Force on four occasions.
Recently, his former boss made several public pleas in the media in an attempt to dissuade Pedregon from leaving, but ultimately the pull of owning his own team and racing with his brother prevailed. Tony, Cruz, and their other racing brother, Frank, are the sons of drag racer "Flamin' Frank" Pedregon.
"To me, this is the natural progression of my career," Pedregon said. "It's something I've always wanted to do and John understood that, which is why he gave me his blessing and released me from my contract last week.
"We're parting as friends. John has offered his help and guidance and I've already taken him up on that offer several times. We had a great run together. I was loyal to him for eight years of my life and he provided everything I needed to be competitive and win. The Castrol Syntec Ford is a great car and whoever gets that seat will be a championship contender from the word go."
Pedregon, 38, is aware of the fact that he's taking the No. 1 designation away from John Force Racing. In drag racing, the top 10 drivers each year carry the number they earned into the following season.
"The 2003 championship was won with John Force Racing, period," Pedregon said. "It was won in one of John's Ford Mustangs. It was done with Castrol Syntec on the side of the car. Everyone at John Force Racing, Ford, Castrol Syntec, Auto Club of Southern California, all of the people involved with John's team should take exceptional pride in the accomplishment. That will never change.
"The No. 1 goes with the driver. That's the rules. I guess they figure the driver is the one who puts his life on the line. To me, no matter what, I will never forget how I got that No. 1. I'll think about John Medlen and Dickie Venables and all the guys on the crew every time I see the sticker on my car. We won the championship together. Believe me; it's been extremely hard for me to walk away from that group of guys.
"I'm sensitive to what's been said and I'm very concerned about what the fans think. I just hope people take a moment and try to see things from my perspective. I put my heart and soul into John Force Racing for eight years. John did for me and I did for him. It was a mutual deal.
"Life is about choices. I try to be positive all the time. To me, leaving John is full of positives. First, we're bringing a high-profile sponsor back to the sport. That's a big accomplishment for the NHRA in general. Second, a seat in a great car is opening up, which will give someone new the same chance I had eight years ago.
"John Force is a great champion and always will be. I don't want people to take sides between us. I just hope everyone realizes this move is very good for drag racing. This sport was built on competition. John and I will still race each other; I'll just be in a different car."
As for what level of performance he expects from his newly-formed team, Pedregon is extremely optimistic.
"I've always been the underdog," he said. "Even this year the odds were certainly stacked against us, especially in the beginning. I've paid attention to all the little details over the years. I don't just show up and drive. I'm not claiming I know everything but I believe I know what resources you need to be successful at this level.
"I set goals for myself and I achieved a lot of them with John. Now I'm going on to the next chapter. I'm a second-generation driver and I want to leave my mark on this sport. This is a huge challenge and I'm excited about the possibilities. I want to look back one day and say that I gave it my all, both as a hired driver, which I've already done, and as a team owner and driver.
"This was never about winning the championship and then leaving. It just worked out that way. This has been a long-term goal of mine and the timing of this opportunity coming right after I won the championship is just a coincidence.
"You see this in sports all the time. How many assistant coaches of [former San Francisco 49er's coach] Bill Walsh have branched out to coach their own teams? How many of them have gone on to win the Super Bowl themselves? It does happen. It's the natural progression of business and drag racing is a business.
"Challenges are what motivate people. This is the next challenge."
This story is copyright 2003 National Hot Rod Association. It may not be reprinted or retransmitted in any form without the express written permission of NHRA.com.
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