What a turnaround it has been for Cruz Pedregon.
The two-time NHRA Funny Car world champion started off the season by getting past the quarterfinal round of eliminations only once over the first seven weeks. His fortunes have changed over the past two races with a final-round appearance at Kansas and a win at the NHRA’s last drag race at Englishtown, New Jersey.
Heading into this weekend’s Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, the 50-year-old is all of a sudden the hottest driver in the division.
“I think the races as they have unfolded, we have just finally found the sweet spot, so to speak, in the setup of the car,” said the Toyota Camry driver. “We had to just go through what we had to go through to get things ironed out. And as painful as it was and embarrassing at times, when you make changes like as dramatic as we have made as far as engine components like cylinder heads, the clutch management system and the clutch itself, we went from a five-disk unit to a six-disk unit, it just took time to iron all those bugs out.”
After beating points leader Robert Hight, Tim Wilkerson and Ron Capps at Kansas, Pedregon made a pass of 4.126 seconds (301.33 mph) to beat Del Worsham in the final round at Englishtown. It was the 35th career Funny Car victory for Pedregon, who won his first ever drag race in 1980 behind the wheel of a 1953 Kenworth truck. He later raced in the Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks before making his Funny Car debut in 1991.
He has also worked as an announcer, serving as a color analyst for ESPN in 2001 and picking up the microphone again recently. The older brother of Tony Pedregon, also a two-time NHRA Funny Car champion, explained he had no formal training for the television work. It was more a matter of paying attention to what his favorite commentators did.
“I’m just a fan of sports,” he said. “I’m a Howard Cosell fan and Steve Evans and of the people I’ve really looked up to, Chris Economaki and different people like that that have been in whatever sport it’s been, boxing or auto racing and everything in between.
“I’m just a fan, and I didn’t even finish school to be honest with you. Don’t recommend that to anyone, but I kind of came up the hard way, the school of hard knocks I guess you could say, and just kind of worked out that way for me I guess.”
His recent surge has worked out for him as well. He has moved up from 12th to eighth in the Mello Yello point standings, and currently holds a 70-point advantage over Tim Wilkerson, who holds the 11th spot.
While it’s early in the season, Pedregon admits to thinking about points, although he never will admit it when the television lights come on.
“I always get nervous,” he said. “When they ask me about it, I just kind of play it off. When you’re at the track in race mode, the best thing to do is keep your eye on the task at hand. I have to be honest; I was looking at the Internet between races. And I was getting nervous, I’ll be honest with you. I was like, we have got to make a move here and do it fast, because the last thing you want to do is get close to that cutoff time and be fighting it out. I’ve been there before and it’s not the greatest feeling in the world, especially if you don’t make it.”comments powered by Disqus