By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 18, 2002
GAINESVILLE -- Tony Pedregon's Funny Car victory at Gatornationals lifted several spirits.
Team owner John Force, who sought his 100th career victory, had reason to cheer after losing in the first round. Pedregon and his family in Texas, who are mourning the death on Thursday of his grandmother, La Pedregon, had reason to smile.
"I think I salvaged the day for John," said Pedregon, younger brother of 1992 Funny Car champion Cruz. "And losing my grandmother has been tough on all of us, so this should help."
Pedregon got lucky in Sunday's final round. His Ford Mustang dropped a cylinder shortly after the start, but just as Pedregon was about to give in, the cylinder came back up. In the next lane, Gary Scelzi smoked the tires, allowing Pedregon to recover.
He won with a pass of 5.090 seconds.
YOUNG AGAIN: Darrell Alderman's Pro Stock victory was the 28th of his career, but first since 1997. The 52-year-old, whose 6.927-second run beat Jeg Coughlin by .013, was a runner-up five times the past two seasons.
"I was getting to the point were I thought, 'I'm too old; I'm washed up,' " said Alderman, whose first win came in Gainesville in 1989. "I guess an old man can still win one of these things. It's really sweet."
Craig Treble's Pro Stock Bike victory came on a new bike, one he rode for the first time during testing Thursday. He beat two-time series champion Angelle Savoie by .014.
"The last time we won it was with a brand new bike, so I guess we need to buy a new bike every week," said Treble, who took the points lead. "We didn't know what would happen the first time we popped the clutch, but it was awesome."
LONELY AT THE TOP: For the second time in three races, Ron Krisher entered Pro Stock eliminations as the top qualifier, but failed to advance. Krisher, who set track records in qualifying, fouled at the start, handing the first-round win to newcomer Mark Whisnant. FIRST-ROUND FUN: Three-time Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney beat Rhonda Hartman-Smith in the first round, the first matchup between two women since Phoenix in 2000. In Funny Car, Ron Capps eliminated Tommy Johnson Jr. in the first head-to-head meeting between the Don Prudhomme Racing teammates.
"Everybody on the team said it wouldn't be different than any other race, but it was," Johnson said.
BAD TIMING: Veteran Funny Car driver Al Hofmann of Umatilla and owner Jim Dunn parted ways before eliminations, and Dunn could not find a replacement in time for the first round.