by Kevin McKenna, National DRAGSTER Senior Editor
Tony Pedregon’s turbulent 2009 season has included the departure of long-time crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Kurt Elliott, a much publicized top-end skirmish with former boss John Force, and a violent body-destroying engine explosion in Memphis, yet with two events remaining, the street-wise and battle-ready Pedregon somehow finds himself in contention for a third Full Throttle Funny Car championship. He currently is just 48 points behind leader Robert Hight and 35 behind second-ranked Ashley Force Hood with two races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship.
“When I look at where we are, I wouldn’t use the word surprised,” says Pedregon, who has three wins this season, including a memorable victory in Brainerd that came just days after the departure of Venables and Elliott. “I think most people are more surprised than I am. That being said, I do feel that we are fortunate that after three [recent] first-round losses, I’m still even within two rounds of first place. In that regard, I would say that I’m a bit surprised.
It’s been a season of highs and lows for Tony Pedregon. (Above) he was overcome with emotion after winning in Brainerd just days after losing his crew chief and assistant crew chief. (Below) The team has a setback in Memphis a few weeks ago with a body-tossing blower explosion.
Rahn Tolber, left, and Tony Shortall have gamely stepped in to help keep Pedregon’s Funny Car in the championship hunt.
“Make no mistake, this has been a tough year,” he said. “Financially, it has been very challenging to keep up with some of the other teams. I think that says a lot about our team and people that have stuck with me. We do not have a lot of depth, but there is a lot of loyalty and determination and a lot of untapped talent here. That has made the difference in the second half. When Dickie and Kurt left, I think most people expected that we’d fall out of contention. That wasn’t the case. [Crew chiefs] Rahn Tobler and Tony Shortall along with the guys who stayed and knew our routing, were able to re-focus and carry on. I called on them in Brainerd to dig deep and they have. The people who stuck with me are our biggest asset.”
Despite the upheaval, Pedregon is nothing if not optimistic as he prepares for next weekend’s NHRA Las Vegas Nationals, and why shouldn’t he be? Pedregon has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with three wins and two runner-up finishes. He also fondly recalls the 2007 Las Vegas event where he nearly clinched his second NHRA Funny Car championship. At that event, Pedregon came into the event locked in a multi-way battle for the top spot. In a bizarre twist of fate, all of his rivals lost early while Pedregon went on to win the event. As a result had to do little more than qualify for the final race in Pomona in order to secure the title.
“Based on what happened in 2007, I know the possibility exists for a repeat [championship],” Pedregon said. “One of the reasons why I’m so optimistic that that there are so many good cars in the class right now. We can’t rely on ourselves to beat either Ashley or Robert and I’m not going to try and go after either one of them. Our goal is simply to qualify and earn as many points as possible. Robert is very strong right now but he’s not untouchable. The same goes for Ashley. They are both very good but so is Del [Worsham] and so is Tim Wilkerson and so it Jeff Arend. Any one of them could win one of the last two races. That being said, going into Las Vegas I feel like we have a good opportunity to get to the final and if we can do that, we have a fighting chance.”
With his close ties to the Palms Resort and Casino and his love for competitive poker, Pedregon doesn’t need many addition reasons to look forward to the two annual stops that the NHRA Full Throttle tour makes in Las Vegas, but his career stats, which include three wins and two runner-up finishes at the famed Strip, certainly help add to the track’s appeal.
“Sure, I have a good history in Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean a lot,” said Pedregon. “I’m not superstitious but maybe I should be. What matters now is what happens this year. If I do have an edge, it’s that I’ve got experience. I’ve been in this situation several times before and I know what it takes to get it done. Now, we just have to execute. This sport has a tendency to mentally weigh on you. It can make you better or worse. I just need to rely on that experience and use it to my advantage.”
With his mind firmly focused on the job at hand, Pedregon won’t allow himself to look too far into the future. However, he does acknowledge that if he were to somehow claim a third championship, it would rank as the greatest achievement of his career.
“That would be an amazing thing and I hope that is the case Sunday night in Pomona,” he said. We have put in our time an paid our dues but I’m really not thinking that far ahead. For now, the game plan is to make the final Vegas and get close. If I can go to Pomona and still have a fighting chance, I’ll gladly take it.”
The Texas Muscle Car Club roars into the Texas Motorplex this Sunday November 1. Rescheduled from October 13, gates will open at 8:00am. Racers will be $30, spectators are $12 and children 12 & under are free.
For more information about the Texas Muscle Car Club Challenge visit tmccc.org
Saturday October 31 marks the end of the season for the Texas Motorplex O’Reilly Bracket Racing Series. Gates will open at 9:00 am with Junior Dragster Time Trials beginning at 10:00 am and the Bracket Time Trials kicking off at 12:00pm (noon). The race for the points leaders culminates at this event with the champions being crowned at the Texas Motorplex Racer Appreciation Banquet. Admission for this weekend is $10.00 for Adults and children 6-15 are $5.00.
ENNIS, TX (Oct. 24, 2009) — Alex Hossler (left) won his career-first National Guard ADRL Pro Extreme event in memorable fashion, crossing the eighth-mile finish line at the Texas Motorplex with his 1970 Camaro on fire after posting a 3.73-seconds pass at 202.48 miles per hour to beat Quain Stott in the final round of the LenMar Motorsports ADRL World Finals V.
Also earning National Guard Minuteman trophies at the final event of the National Guard ADRL’s year, but the first points-paying opportunity of the 2010 season were new class champion Khalid Al-Balooshi in Pro Nitrous, Extreme 10.5 racer Chuck Ulsch, Scott Gray, who also won his first Pro Extreme Motorcycle championship earlier in the day, and Cary Goforth with his first official Extreme Pro Stock win. Morgan Benfield of Virginia Beach, Virginia also won her first Junior Minuteman in the exhibition Pro Jr. Dragster class.
“How’s that for a spectacular finish?” Hossler asked upon climbing from his car after stopping on the track where safety crews sprayed the engine with a fire extinguisher. “It banged the blower right when we crossed the line, but it lasted just long enough to get the job done.”
Hossler and Stott left almost simultaneously, but when a 3.75 at 205.57-mph pass flashed across Stott’s scoreboard, it translated to a .021 margin of victory for Hossler, who hails from Canton, Illinois.
The Pro Nitrous final was close, too, but only because Al-Balooshi (right) had an off-the-pace .191 reaction time attached to a record-setting pass of 3.81 seconds at 196.42 mph that easily eclipsed the 3.98/184.88 combination assembled by veteran Charles Carpenter.
It marked Al-Balooshi’s career-first National Guard ADRL event title, though earlier in the day, he also won the National Guard ADRL’s championship-deciding Speedtech Battle for the Belts when Al-Anabi Racing teammate Burton Auxier was disqualified from the final for leaving .004 before the green light flashed.
“It is good for the Al-Anabi team,” said Al-Balooshi, who calls Doha, Qatar, home. “Very exciting to win.”
The World Finals V Flowmaster Extreme 10.5 final offered a measure of payback for Ulsch (left), who faced off against Spiro Pappas for the second time in one day after Pappas stepped up to win the Pro Nitrous Speedtech Battle for the Belts final. The Clarksville, Maryland-based driver didn’t miss the opportunity, either, taking a holeshot win in his supercharged ’68 Camaro over Pappas’ turbocharged 2009 Pontiac GXP entry.
Leaving with a .021 reaction to a .115 in the opposite lane, Ulsch put together a 3.94 lap at 201.46 mph that beat out the 3.92 at 193.27 that delivered Pappas a new elapsed time record, but a runner-up finish.
“That feels good! I’m glad I was able to do my job and help my teammates get the win,” Ulsch declared. “I owed him that one!”
Like Balooshi, Pro Extreme Motorcycle winner Gray (right), from Ocala, Florida, doubled up from his earlier Speedtech Battle for the Belts triumph, running 4.21 at 170.67 mph aboard his ’08 Suzuki to down Lance Hines in the World Finals V final.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in that it’s happened,” Gray said of his two-timing win. “After winning the Belt I kind of relaxed because we had accomplished what we came here to do, which was win the championship, but maybe that’s what helped me win tonight, too. I wasn’t too uptight about what was happening.”
The Extreme Pro Stock final came down to a classic Ford versus Chevy match, with Goforth’s 2008 Cobalt coming out on top over the ’09 Mustang of Scott Hintz in his National Guard ADRL debut. Goforth (left), from Holdenville, Oklahoma, ran low ET of the meet for the class with a 4.06 win at 177.23 mph over 4.151 at 173.65 by Hintz.
“This feels so good,” Goforth said, hoisting the National Guard Minuteman trophy high after his first official Extreme Pro Stock win, though he did win last year at Rockingham, North Carolina, when the class was in its introductory exhibition stage. “This is for my team, for the guys on my team, who worked so hard to put me here today.”
Televised coverage of the Speedtech Battle for the Belts will air Sunday, Nov. 8 at 3 p.m. Eastern on the Versus network, with coverage of the LenMar Motorsports ADRL World Finals V to follow two weeks later on Sunday, Nov. 22, also at 3 p.m. Eastern on the Versus television network.
The weekend forecast calls for sunshine and hot times at the ADRL National Guard World Finals, presented by LenMar Motorsports at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, TX. Action kicks off on Friday with the Battle of the Belts, crowning the 2009 Champions in all classes, and continues Saturday, with eliminations beginning at 3:00 pm.
Action under the lights both nights is capped off by a Monster Truck grudge match between legendary Bigfoot and Snakebite.
NEW PARKING and Traffic Plan
Due to this weeks’ rains, parking for all spectators will be shifted to the new LOT C, located north of the pits and the race track, instead of the customary parking lot along Hwy. 287.
Follow signs to Gate 20 access LOT C. Access to Lot C is from two directions. If arriving from I-45, after you leave Ennis, look for the reader board sign and the Ennis Police cars at the edge of the Motorplex property, under the cell tower. This is Cooke Road, a County road.
Proceed around the Motorplex property to the entrance to Lot C. Parking is $10 per carload.
NO trailers, big rigs, etc. This parking is for passenger vehicles only.
If arriving from I35E, you will be directed to U turn as usual, proceed to the western edge (Waxahachie side), following the signs to GATE 20, then down the road next to the pits, around the Motorplex, to Gate 20 and Lot C. NO trailers, big rigs, etc. This is for passenger vehicles only.
Platinum parking for $20 is also available. Enter Gate 7, off of hwy. 287 at the blue VIP building to access this parking.