FORC(E)ING THE ISSUE,
DRO file photo
he best Funny Car racer of the past 15 years? Unless you’ve
been in the bubble room at Atascadero State Hospital, you
know it’s John Force. He’s won the Winston and
POWERade World Funny Car titles in (draw a deep breath) 1990,
1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001,
2002, and 2004, and if you know you’re stuff, you’re
aware that the brothers Pedregon were the only racers that
prevented him from 15 consecutive titles. Castrol teammate,
Tony Pedregon finally overthrew the boss in 2003, and 11 years
earlier, his older brother Cruz turned the trick aboard the
McDonald’s/Larry Minor Olds Cutlass.
The Tony P./Force points chase was good spirited fun when
compared to the 1992 points race between Force and his brother.
Tony was given his big chance with Force as the team’s
second driver in 1996, and after a couple of promising seasons,
finally beat the man. Force was the consummate professional,
he took it all in stride, lauding his young charge, and promising
to bounce back. Despite wanting to win the title, Force was
glad to see the Winston Funny Car title stay in the family
and things went on merrily from there.
Not so with Cruz.
Force has always been friendly with the Pedregons. Cruz,
Tony, and Frank Jr. were the sons of Frank Pedregon, who was
one of the most legendary fuel coupe, fuel altered, and fuel
dragster drivers in West Coats annals. Famed for setting the
rear tires on in his “Taco Taster” AA/Modified
Fuel Coupe, all agreed that if any of the “Flaming Mexican’s”
kids became drivers they’d have one helluva an act to
follow. And the chances were good that if they so desired,
they’d have no problem getting a ride. The Southern
California/L.A. racing community all knew each other and Force
naturally knew “the kids” and was a supporter
The trouble with Cruz was his car … The Larry Minor-owned
McDonald’s corporate-as-hell Olds Cutlass Funny Car.
Force always does his best work when he feels he’s being
pushed, when he’s put to the wall. His long-time crew
chief Austin Coil cited that when asked what separated Force
from a lot of the other drivers is that he gets stronger the
more formidable the opposition.
In 1992, McDonald’s was more than formidable; they
were the Microsoft of race car sponsorship. The multi-billion
dollar company could back Top Fuelers and Funny Cars just
from the change they found in their couch. Pedregon’s
cushion was made doubly comfortable because of Larry Minor,
the jolly-looking owner/driver who had ruled Top Fuel drag
racing in the mid-1980s with cars that were driven by Gary
Beck and, himself. I recalled seeing an entry form of his
at NHRA where he once listed his occupation as “potato
farmer.” Well, yes, that’s true … “potato
farmer” as in the owner/operator of Agri-Empire, reported
to me as the largest independent family potato ranch in the
United States. This definitely qualified as “formidable
opposition." And just the kind of chest bump that would
make an instant Roman Candle out of Force.
And as for Pedregon, he was a Funny Car rookie in 1992, and
hadn’t given Force much of a push up to the midpoint
of the season. The McDonald’s Olds ran well, winning
the Slick 50 Nationals in March, and was faithfully attended
to by Bernie Fedderly and later in the year, Larry Meyer.
But as late as July of that season, Pedregon was nearly 2,000
points behind the flying Force, who had won four of the first