Cruz Pedregon’s role with his drag racing team sounds much like the old phrase of chief cook and bottle washer.
As the driver, crew chief and team owner, Pedregon does a little bit of everything for the Snap-On Tools Toyota team. Despite the heavy workload, the two-time NHRA champion is coming into this weekend’s Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway as the one of top drivers in the Funny Car class.
“It’s very fulfilling, but I’ve had the same role since 2010,” said Pedregon, a 32-time national event winner. “I’ve had different guys titled crew chief. It’s not that I want all the credit, but there has been a lot of concern when we lose guys to other teams that the car is going to change direction or will fall off performance-wise.
“I’ve tried to tell them that I make the calls and nothing is going to change, that we’re going to keep on keeping on. There is a lot of work, a lot of hours, but it’s very gratifying. I didn’t ask for this position, but I’m having the time of my life.”
Up until the last race at Englishtown, N.J., the 49-year-old driver and former ESPN analyst also had the NHRA Mello Yello points lead. He scored early wins at Las Vegas and Houston, and rode that momentum into his current third-place in the stadnings.
“I do believe in momentum in that our car seems to perform well no matter which part of the country we’re in, whether it’s sea-level conditions or we’re up in altitude,” he said. “The hot tracks and the cooler tracks, they all take a different set-up. “We’ve maintained that performance throughout the process. I wouldn’t say we’ve hit our stride, but we’ve had our good races. At Englishtown, I feel like it was our best performance in 3-4 races even though we came out of there with a second-round loss.”
Pedregon, whose championships came 16 years apart in 1992 and 2008, said the pair of early victories takes a lot of pressure off himself and has everyone on the team motivated.
“It’s really a confidence-builder. That allows you to not be so careful and it gives you a little more pep in your step,” he said. “The car, as a result, benefits from that. We go into these races now knowing we can win. My guys are pretty excited and the bonus checks don’t hurt either. Wins are definitely get-well medicine.”
It appears to be shaping up to be another down-to-the-wire battle for the Funny Car championship. There have already been five different Funny Car drivers with the points lead through the first nine races.
As for how he will race at Bristol, Pedregon, who won his first drag race driving a 1953 Kenworth truck, explained the team is still experimenting with new parts and pieces.
“We’re not in championship mode at this point in time,” he said. “We are trying different things and putting new twists and wrinkles into the system so we can enter the Countdown with the best race car we can possibly race. Whether it’s a new clutch set-up, a new blower, every once in a while I have to remind the guys, especially the younger guys who want to stay the same as we’ve been doing it, that some of these cars are catching up to us and why not make changes which can put us a little ahead of these guys.
“But, we have a good group of guys, a good mixture of young guys and veterans. When it comes to making that first qualifying run on Friday, these guys have their heads down and are in attack mode.”
So far, the aggressive strategy has worked. He commented the only first-round loss of the season at Topeka was the result of a broken piston. It wasn’t something they were experimenting with, just a broken part.
Now comes Bristol, which sits at higher altitude than most tracks, and a place victory has eluded him. He has reached the final round only once, in a 2007 loss to John Force.
“It’s always fun to race there, but it’s a challenge with the altitude in the Eastern Tennessee hills,” he said. “It’s a great track, coupled with the heat and altitude, makes it a little more challenging than other places to race. But, we look forward to it. You’re going to see some good racing and some points-switching. I’m looking forward to getting busy and getting the show on the road.”