FUNNY CAR Frank Pedregon (Red Line Oil Pontiac Firebird) "A consistent car, Jim Dunn and the right-hand lane. That's what it took to win here today. The right lane was supposed to be the bad lane and we were in it all day. Even when we had...
Frank Pedregon (Red Line Oil Pontiac Firebird) "A consistent car, Jim Dunn and the right-hand lane. That's what it took to win here today. The right lane was supposed to be the bad lane and we were in it all day. Even when we had lane choice in the finals, that's the lane we wanted. If it weren't for all of my guys working so hard we wouldn't be here. We knew we had bracket-car consistency from the very beginning. We only took two qualifying attempts this weekend. We went out and fired a shot on Friday, ran a 4.96 and then parked it. We came back on Saturday, made another attempt, ran a 4.97 and parked it again until final eliminations today. Jim (Dunn) pretty much knew what he was doing. He's been a runner up here a few times and he deserves it more than anybody. This is the biggest race of the year and the one that everyone shoots for. Jim told me before the race that 'kid you keep driving this Firebird consistently, and I'll keep tuning it consistently, and together we'll win a race.' Sure enough he was right. We raced some tough guys to get here. In the first round we had Force, second round we had Tommy Johnson and it didn't get any easier after that. It's going to sink in tomorrow." Why does Jim Dunn do so well here? "He brings out parts for this race that I've never even seen before. He has a back room at his shop where he must have pulled out six sets of brand new heads. When we found out we were racing John Force, he took out a special motor that I didn't even know existed. There's one guy we want to beat, and it's because we respect him, and that John Force. Jim wants to beat that guy more than anybody because he's the guy we're shooting for. We're on a roll here and we're going to do some more winning. This is what drag racing is all about and we're just happy to be here.
Is this the biggest day of your drag racing career? "It definitely is. When I won two in a row last year that was pretty unique and I was on Cloud-9 with that. But still, nothing compares with winning the U.S. Nationals. It's the biggest race of the year and I'm almost speechless."
Did Cruz (Pedregon) say anything to you before the final? "No. When we're racing each other we try not to talk to each other. We'll hug and kiss and all that brotherly stuff later, but we save that for away from the track. One time he stuck his head in the car after the second round and told me to keep on doing what I was doing. Once in a while we give each other a pep talk but we usually don't need it. When we race each other, we go all out."
Is the right lane the only lane you thought about using all day? "Not really. We got stuck there in the first round because we didn't have lane choice. The rest of the day we didn't mind it because we felt it was the better of the two lanes. The way Jim tunes the car, and the way the track was taking us, we decided to stay there. We had lane choice in the final round. He told me to do my job and we should win this deal."
With all of the big names that lost in the first round did you feel that it shaping up to be a strange day? "We're all big names now! I think that maybe some of these crew chiefs get too hyped up for this race. You really have to have your stuff together and know what you're doing. You have to come out here and basically finesse this place. Those guys that didn't qualify didn't deserve to qualify. First of all you have to get qualified, and then you have to go rounds, and then if you put yourself in the right position, you just might win this thing. Jim Dunn's been around a long time and he's been runner-up here a few times. When he first hired me, even before I had my Fuel license, he said, 'kid, there's one thing I want to do and that's win Indy.' I didn't tell him that I was shaking already. But I knew we had a shot right today and we had to take it."
Cory McClenathan (MBNA/Pontiac) "This morning when the air went back to being cool, we changed our tune up and slowed down in the first couple of rounds. We ran 4.66 twice and the weather came back and got hot on us again. The crew chiefs had their work cut out for them. Wes (Cerny) kept telling me not to worry because it was going to get better."
When you saw some of the giants fall, did you feel that you were vulnerable? I was waiting for it to happen. When we got to the semi-final round, I was one car out of four that had ever even won a Winston National event. I thought that I had my work cut out for me. I keep telling people that it's one thing to race the heavy hitters week in and week out, it's another thing racing an unknown, someone you've never raced before. The Cowin team mowed right through that field and I tell you what, I was plenty nervous going into the finals.
We're you more nervous racing an unknown? "Exactly. I was up there on the starting line trying to decide whether or not to go in deep, or shallow, or play it safe. I decided just to go in and see what happened. I just have to thank the Lord. The guys came through for me, they did a great job, and the 4.61 might have been a little conservative, but we wanted to go from A to B. The goal was to get down the racetrack."
How big was this win? "This may have been my most important U.S. Nationals win. We have a new crew chief, Rick Cassel, and Jim Brissette's been here for a long time. For MBNA, Pontiac and all of our sponsors, it's great win. For Cory McClenathan, it's a very special day. Unfortunately, I've had my daughter with me for the last five races, but she has school tomorrow so she couldn't be here. I wish Brittany was here."
How does it feel to be back in the points chase? "I never would have thought this morning that at the end of the day we would be three rounds out of first place. All of a sudden we're just 60 points out of first place going into Reading with a pretty good hot rod. I think we might have something for the rest of the field. If we can keep running this consistent, and the driver can do his job, we just might be able to pull this off. One of these days I'm going to win the Winston championship. It might not be this year, but it's going to happen."
You started building a consistent race car early in qualifying. Was that the key here today? "I believe so. We wanted to be consistent first, and then Wes felt we could be more aggressive. We knew this car could run quicker. When those guys were running in the mid-4.60s and we reeled off the 4.57 and the 4.58, that told us that we could win this race. But everything changed this morning, so we went back to a different tune up. The air temperature heated up for the semi finals, and we knew Schumacher would be on his game but Wes said not to worry. When the car ran the 4.59 I knew we were for real. I did an okay job today, but the guys on the team were great. For them, this is a sweet win."