|Cruz Pedregon came from behind to beat John Force in the 1992 Dallas pedalfest final.
When Cruz Pedregon thinks about racing at Texas Motorplex, one particular Funny Car shootout comes to mind.
He dials it back 20 years to his rookie season when he got on a roll and took out the circuit’s hottest nitro gunslinger at the time – John Force. As Pedregon prepares for round No. 2 in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the two-time world champion remembers his winning performance that day in the Lone Star State.
“Without question, one win stands out, and I’m smiling now, it really was my first win there in Dallas, which was against John Force in the  final,” Pedregon said. “The championship was on the line, and you talk about pressure, man.”
That win was the last of a strong run of five consecutive victories for the young rookie driver that sealed his first world championship title and in the process took it at the last instant from Force, whose points lead was so large by midseason that his team went into test mode.
“I was under so much pressure there that I actually went on to relax,” Pedregon said. “I said, 'You know what? I’m going to go the other way.' Then at the line, we both smoked the tires, and we ended up winning the round, and it was a crazy race. They still play it on highlights; fans still talk about it 20 years later, so that one stands out without question. But they are all important,and they all mean a lot, but that one there sticks out.”
Pedregon, the defending winner of the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals, will be seeking more dramatic finishes this year as he comes into the event fifth in the points standings. Bob Vandergriff Jr. (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle) join Pedregon as defending event winners. The Sept. 20-23 race, which also will showcase the weather-delayed NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout in Funny Car, will be televised on ESPN2HD.
Pedregon is a three-time winner at Texas Motorplex, the sport’s first supertrack featuring an all-concrete racing surface, built by former Funny Car driver Billy Meyer. Last season, Pedregon dominated the event from qualifying through eliminations, and his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry was incredibly quick despite the intense heat wave that hovered over the track the entire weekend.
“It means a lot, especially since we won there last year in really difficult conditions, extremely hot,” Pedregon said. “I love the Dallas fans; it feels like it is a second home for us, and we really like running there. It is a challenging track when it is hot, any track is. Hot, cold, in between, we are going to be ready for it.”
Pedregon hasn’t won this season to add to his 29 victories and is one of only two drivers in the Funny Car Countdown to not have won a race. However, he has showed flashes of brilliance with four No. 1 qualifying efforts, one runner-up finish, and three semifinal showings. He hopes to get on a roll like he did in his 2008 title run.
“It depends on the weather, but I have always said this, the Snap-on Toyota runs very fast when it is hot, so me personally, I’m hoping that it is on the warm side because the setup we used last year for it worked well, but again, we can’t control that,” Pedregon said. “One of the challenges we’ve had this year is to really perfect all of the setups to run any kind of track, so I think we are close.”
Pedregon will be challenged by points leader Ron Capps, who won the playoff opener in Charlotte, and Mike Neff, who moved to second in the standings with a Charlotte runner-up finish. Seven-time Motorplex winner and 1992 nemesis Force will be in the hunt, as will Force’s 24-year-old daughter Courtney, who won her first race in only her 15th start in Seattle. Others to watch include Auto Club Ford driver Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Tim Wilkerson, Johnny Gray, and Jeff Arend.
In Top Fuel, five-time Motorplex winner Tony Schumacher holds the series lead in his U.S. Army dragster, but Charlotte winner Shawn Langdon has the momentum in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Texas natives and local fan favorites Spencer Massey, Steve Torrence, and Brandon Bernstein are in the Countdown and will be looking to score a hometown victory. Playoff top seed Antron Brown, Morgan Lucas, Doug Kalitta, and defending winner Vandergriff are also among the pre-race favorites.
In the 200-mph Pro Stock class, Tennessee Mopar driver Allen Johnson continues to be at the top of the standings, but his lead is only three points over defending event winner Line. Charlotte top qualifier Vincent Nobile has emerged as a title threat, along with three-time season winner Erica Enders, of Houston. And you can never count out past champs Greg Anderson, Mike Edwards, and Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Andrew Hines has the Countdown momentum in Pro Stock Motorcycle after winning the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus and the playoff opener in Charlotte. His Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate, Eddie Krawiec, continues to lead the points standings after posting a runner-up finish in Charlotte. Together, they have won all 11 bike races this season, with Krawiec taking six and Hines five. Other challengers in the two-wheel category are the Lucas Oil Buell team of Hector Arana Jr. and Hector Arana Sr., GEICO Suzuki rider Karen Stoffer, and past world champs LE Tonglet and Matt Smith.
* SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 and 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23. NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout rounds are scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 22, at 12:45, 2:30, and 4 p.m.
* TICKETS: For tickets for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals, call 800-MOTORPLEX (668-6775) or log on to www.texasmotorplex.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 22, and three hours of eliminations coverage at 8:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 23.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where some of the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 10 a.m. on Sept. 20, and eliminations begin at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 21 and continue through Sept. 23.