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MOTOR RACING MARTIN HENDERSON

Despite His Victories, Pedregon Can't Pull Away

May 09, 2003|MARTIN HENDERSON

After Tony Pedregon had driven his Ford Mustang to victory last week in Atlanta, a reporter suggested that Pedregon was dominating the funny car class of NHRA drag racing much as his boss, 12-time champion John Force, did in previous years.

"I had to disagree," the Chino Hills driver said. "It seems to me that if we win four out of seven races, we'd have a bigger points lead."

Seven races into the 23-race season, Pedregon holds a 108-point lead over Whit Bazemore, who has yet to win a national event for Don Schumacher's three-car team. Del Worsham trails by 165 points, and Gary Densham, Pedregon's teammate at John Force Racing, is 168 points behind.

"I don't have the luxury that John did," Pedregon said. "We're in a better position than they are, but 100 points doesn't make me sleep any better. It seemed like John would be ahead by 200 or 300 points with a start like this."

The success of the NHRA as a marketing tool means more teams with more money, and they have closed the gap that Force's three-car team had so long enjoyed.

Force, who has won 11 of his 12 titles in succession -- he had a spirited battle with Pedregon that came down to the last race of last season at Pomona -- is eighth this season, 317 points behind. Last week in Atlanta, Force got past the second round for the first time this season, losing in the semifinals to Worsham's teammate, Johnny Gray.

"Without a doubt, it was an indication of what's to come ... ," Pedregon said. "It's not from a lack of trying or lack of motivation. They've been so thorough in every aspect of getting their car to run better, when they get it together, it should be impressive."

But right now, Pedregon's crew chiefs, John Medlen and Dickie Venables, have their car figured out better than anyone else in the series. Still, Pedregon figures Force will play a critical role in determining the championship.

"John has the potential to take out the guys that I need to beat," Pedregon said. "Overall, our chances are good. That's not my overconfidence, but more my faith in my team and what we went through last year and what we developed."

He thinks it will take at least eight victories for him to clinch the championship. With his victory in Atlanta, Pedregon moved past his brother, Cruz Pedregon, in funny car victories with 23. Force leads with 106, the retired Don Prudhomme is second at 35, and the retired Kenny Bernstein, who raced funny cars before ending his career in a top-fuel dragster, is third with 30. That's classy company and Pedregon isn't quite sure he belongs.

"Even though I've won more races than Cruz, I view Cruz as a champion," Pedregon said of his brother, who won a title in 1992. "Force, Bernstein and Prudhomme have won championships.... And there's Tony Pedregon with no championships. I might feel like I belong in that group when I win a title."

He's off to a good start.

Motocross

The Chevy Trucks U.S. Motocross Championships roll into Glen Helen Raceway on Sunday with opening ceremonies at noon, and most of the anticipated 20,000 in attendance will be watching Ricky Carmichael, who won all 12 events in last year's perfect season. Each event consists of two motos, with the finish in each moto going toward determining the overall winner.

Carmichael won all 24 motos last season aboard his 250cc Honda.

So does the 23-year-old from Havana, Fla., feel more pressure than ever to keep the streak alive?

"Less pressure," said Carmichael, who finished second last week in Las Vegas and clinched his third consecutive AMA Supercross championship, supercross being the stadium version of motocross.

"That 24 in a row, I'm done with that," he said. "I'll just try to move on."

Any eyes that aren't on Carmichael will be on Yamaha rider Chad Reed, who finished the Supercross season with six consecutive victories. With eight overall victories in the 16-race series, he had two more than Carmichael, yet lost by seven points.

"We're a step above everyone else," Reed said of himself and Carmichael.

So can Carmichael go undefeated again?

"I don't believe so," Reed said. "Not if I have anything to do with it."

Several riders who missed the end of the Supercross season because of injuries will return -- Honda's Mike La Rocco and Nathan Ramsey, Suzuki's Travis Pastrana and Kawasaki's Ezra Lusk. Absent , however, will be James "Bubba" Stewart, the 17-year-old star from Haines City, Fla., who dominates in 125cc racing.

Stewart, in only his second professional season, had a spectacular crash on the third lap at Las Vegas and broke his collarbone and suffered a concussion.

*

A statue of Jeremy McGrath, who retired at the beginning of the Supercross season, has been commissioned by Clear Channel Entertainment and will be on display at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Pickerington, Ohio. Also being considered is a replica of the piece being displayed at Edison Field, where McGrath laid the foundation for his dominance.

NASCAR

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