ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 12, 2000) - As far as racing families go, Frank Pedregon comes from one the best. During the early days of NHRA drag racing, his father Frank Sr. was a successful Top Fuel competitor in the 1960s and early 70s, a period in...
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 12, 2000) - As far as racing families go, Frank Pedregon comes from one the best. During the early days of NHRA drag racing, his father Frank Sr. was a successful Top Fuel competitor in the 1960s and early 70s, a period in which all three Pedregon brothers, Frank (b. 1962), Cruz (b. 1963) and Tony (b. 1965) developed a passion for fast cars and quarter-mile competition. Over the years, all of the racing Pedregon brothers have honed their driving talents by coming up through the ranks and now are respected competitors on the NHRA Winston championship tour.
Frank Pedregon got his start driving in drag racing's Federal Mogul categories. In 1998, he moved into the nitro category when he took a position driving for Jim Dunn's Funny Car team. Even though the program lacked the funds to compete full time with the better-financed operations, Pedregon scored back-to-back wins that same year at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, and the Sears Craftsman Nationals in St. Louis. Last year, in his first full season as a Funny Car competitor, Pedregon took the biggest prize of all by winning the 45th annual U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. He ended the 1999 campaign fourth in the Winston points standings, his best finish to date.
This year, Pedregon joined Del Worsham in the Funny Car class's most recent dynamic duo as driver of the blue Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird. So far in 2000, Pedregon has qualified for every event, and at Houston ran career-best numbers in elapsed time and top speed with a lap of 4.922 seconds at 311.05 mph. Last year at Englishtown, Pedregon advanced to the semifinal round before losing to brother Cruz.
The 31st annual Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals on May 18 -21 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., is the eighth race on the 23-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Qualifying highlights can be seen ESPN2 on Saturday, May 20, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern. Same-day television coverage of final eliminatons can be seen on Sunday, May 21, beginning at 9:30 p.m. Eastern.
How is the season going so far? "It's going a lot better than we probably could have planned. For having a new team like this, a new owner, a new driver, a new crew chief that's plenty capable, we're doing pretty well. I was comparing it to my Jim Dunn days where he is the best at what it takes in getting everybody to move in the same direction. Jim always felt that it would take us at least 10 races before we really felt good enough about each other to where we would start going rounds. This Checker Schuck's Kragen team on the other hand is actually ahead of schedule. I'm happy and I know the team is happy. We're taking it a little bit at a time, and just to even qualify with the competition as strong as it is is a big achievement. This class is getting to be as tight as Pro Stock. Everybody is so close that it's just a feat to make the field. We're doing that pretty solidly now, and at each race we're getting better and better. I'm just elated. It's only a matter of time before we start getting to the semifinals, and then to the final round and then hopefully we can win a race or two this year. That's pretty much our goal. To win a race would be exciting and I want to win with this team. I know we're capable or I never would have made the switch, but this program is headed right where we want it to go."
How difficult is it to qualify this year? "I never imagined it could be this tough. You want to qualify on your first or second attempt so that you sleep well on Friday night, and then maybe on Saturday start making moves to get ready for raceday. But on Saturday you're sitting in your car hearing those times start to drop, and you start wondering what you have to do to stay in. But that just makes drag racing that much more exciting, it makes everybody better and makes everybody work that much harder. "
It really seems that the fields are bunched a lot closer together. "The 90-percent rule has contributed to that because it's got the compression down, and we have a smaller window as far as the motors are concerned. Now with the extra downforce of the new Firebird bodies it's equaled the playing field. It's going to get tighter and closer as the season goes on."
How do you like working with the Worsham, Checker Schuck's Kragen team? "It's great. It helps that we have a two-car team. Anybody that doesn't have one now needs more testing to get up to speed. Working with Del (Worsham) is so good that we don't even know that he's our boss. He leaves us alone and let's us do our thing. He hired me as a driver because he felt that I could drive, and he hired Dave Fletcher because he's a good crew chief. Between rounds we have a little pep talk, share information from both of our previous runs and that's a plus. I hope we have many more years of working together. But we definitely want to give Del and Chuck (Worsham), Checker Schuck's Kragen and Pontiac a couple of wins before this season is over. That's our goal, that's why he hired us and he has a lot of confidence in us."
Can you give me an example of where the two-car team concept has helped? "Absolutely. Usually on our initial run, Dave does his own thing, Chuck does his own thing and then we compare notes after that. When Del ran his all-time best elapsed time at 4.89, I came back and ran my all-time best at 4.92 right in the same session. After he ran it gave us direction on what we needed to do to the car, and even if they were small little changes, both Firebirds were identically prepared. There's a little bit of each crew chief's personality in both cars, we bring the two together and I think that's why it works. It shows when the two cars qualify well how the concept works, and as the season moves ahead it's only going to get better."
What was it like growing up in a family of racers? "When I look back on those times it really makes me smile. I have a seven-year-old son, Conner that I'm always telling what it was like. Each brother is 11 months apart. In those days of the push truck, my mom would push dad (Frank Pedregon Sr.) off in the Top Fuel car and we would sit in the truck. All three of us just loved the smell of nitro, and we'd want to sit in the front seat but mom wouldn't let us. Our eyes would be as big as saucers the whole time my dad was racing, and everyday we would bug him about letting us race. We had no idea that someday all three of us would be living out our dreams and driving in the same class competing against each other. The competition never stops with us, but instead of fist fighting like we did in the old days, now we just argue about it over dinner. We live and breathe drag racing - that's all we talk about. We don't even know what we're having for dinner, but we know we'll be talking about drag racing."
Would you like to see your son race someday? "I'll handle it exactly the way my dad did. He told us that whatever we decided to do that we had better be good at it. That's what he instilled in us. He actually didn't want us to race because he knew the danger of it. Those guys were the pioneers, they had a lot of fires and accidents, but nowadays, with the safety procedures that are enforced by the NHRA, we don't worry about it as much. As far as my son goes, I'll support him at whatever he wants to do whether he wants to be a football player, or guitar player or a doctor. Anything he wants to do, he's a smart boy and does very well in school. He's seven years old and it will take him a few years, but whatever he wants to do I'll back him up."
What would you like to accomplishment in your racing career before you decide to hang it up? "The first thing I wanted to do was just to win a race. That would have made me the happiest guy in the world. After I did that, and won those two races in a row, my next goal was to win Indy. I did that in my second year with Jim Dunn. Now my goal is not only to win more races but to win a Winston championship. I'm going to live and breathe that until I get it done. Cruz (Pedregon) did it so we all know what it's like. I've already achieved most of the goals I set out to accomplish and now to win that championship is the next goal that I have."
The schedule and the weather start to heat up in the next few weeks. What's the game plan in the Checker Schuck's Kragen camp? "Now the pressure is on. We know that we can qualify good and run the big numbers, but now we're looking to step our program up to the next level - going faster, and running consistent fours instead of five-ohs. We can run five-ohs at will now, we can run in the fours and we want to be able to do that without hurting any parts. At the last race (Atlanta) I showed that I needed to be more consistent and it's time for me to step up as a driver. We're getting into the summer months where I do my best. We need to go some rounds and win some races. I smile when the pressure's on, maybe not outwardly, but I know that I am capable and this team is capable."
Do you feel that the new 2000 Firebird is a good summer racecar? "Absolutely. This is what we've been waiting for. Mother Nature's going to give us some 100-degree days where the sun will be beating down on the track, and that's where our Checker Schuck's Kragen Firebirds will be able to show their stuff - and believe me they will."