INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 19) -- NHRA POWERade Funny Car owner and driver Cruz Pedregon today announced major changes to his Advance Auto Parts Pontiac Firebird Racing team for the 2004 season. Highlighting today's moves were the signing of veteran nitro methane tuner, Wes Cerny, as well as the in-house promotion of Tony Shortall to the positions of co-crew chiefs.
The realignment of Pedregon Racing personnel will also add Kurt Elliot as assistant crew chief on the Quaker State Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car of 2003 NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon. Elliot will be working with the mechanically gifted Dickie Venables, who recently joined the team to handle the crew chief duties
"I'm very pleased with the direction our Advance Auto Parts team is headed," said Pedregon, the 1992 NHRA Winston Funny Car champion. "Being able to race with Tony is a life-long dream, and bringing someone on board with the talents of a Wes Cerny as our co-crew chief is the icing on the cake for our two-car team. The key is being able to gather so much information from two cars that we will learn at twice the pace. Joining forces with Tony and his team is the natural next step in our quest of having two championship contending teams.
"I've also promoted internally, appointing Tony Shortall to share the tuning responsibilities with Wes. Tony comes from the Alan Johnson and Dale Armstrong School of racing. He's been an excellent assistant and now his title will be co-crew chief. He's proven to me over the past season that he's ready to move into that position, and this is his chance to shine. He's so excited about being able to work with a guy like Wes and is looking forward to the opportunity."
Cerny grew up near Chicago before relocating to Southern California in the mid-1960s. He first rose to drag racing prominence in the early 1970s as part of the Walton-Cerny-Moody racing team, which campaigned a Top Fuel dragster driven by Don Moody. Building on that experience, he concentrated on engine development as the manager of Keith Black's engine shop for the next 14 years.
The lure of competition called again in 1991, when Cerny returned to the racetrack as crew chief of Roland Leong's celebrated Hawaiian Punch Funny Car driven by Jim White. Cerny tuned the car to four national event wins, including the prestigious U.S. Nationals, and set five national speed records, becoming the first Funny Car to break the 290-mph barrier in the fall race at Pomona, Ca.
Cerny's tuning prowess eventually led to stints with legendary drivers Kenny Bernstein, where he worked in the cylinder head department with crew chief Dale Armstrong when Bernstein broke the 300-mph barrier in 1992, as well as Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, assisting him during his "Final Strike" tour as well as aiding his successor, Larry Dixon before landing with Joe Gibbs' organization in 1998.
While working for Gibbs, Cerny tuned the Funny Car of Cruz Pedregon and Tommy Johnson Jr., and, in 2000, the Top Fuel dragster of Cory McClenathan. In each instance, he was successful, collecting numerous national event wins and elapsed time records and was named the Parts America Mechanic of the Year in 1998.
Moving to Schumacher Racing in 2001, over the next two years the versatile and talented Cerny tuned Scotty Cannon's Funny Car as well as Tony Schumacher's Top Fuel dragster. Upon his departure from Schumacher Racing in 2003, he worked with Top Fuel driver, Doug Herbert and accompanied Cruz Pedregon as a consultant. Armed with a wealth of experience, he looks forward to the challenge of a championship chase in 2004.
"The Funny Car class is going to be a very, very competitive," said Cerny. "There are a lot of good cars out there, and it is going to take strong performance and good runs every time down the racetrack. The teams that have that will end up in the top portion of the ladder at the end of the year, and the teams that can't develop the consistency will fall by the wayside.
"My responsibility will lie specifically with Cruz's car. However, we're going to run the cars together and trade information back and forth so we can gain the input from both, giving us more than one car's performance to look at on the computer screen.
"I'm sure we're going to have a bit of a 'Get Acquainted' curve early on. Hopefully we'll work most of that out during preseason testing. There are three places (Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas) available to test and we'll see enough different situations that we're hoping to have our bases covered for similar situations during the season.
"To be competitive, you have to pay attention to every detail. Everything must be in place. If you let anything slip by you on the car, it could be the difference to where you don't win races, so we intend to work very hard on all the details.
"I think Cruz and his brother, Tony are excellent drivers and we stand to get good feedback from both of those guys. Putting that all together is going to make us very competitive."
When the opportunity presented itself with Pedregon Racing of having a two-car operation, car owner Pedregon felt it would be a natural ascension to bring Cerny to Cruz's squad. He had stayed in contact with Cerny over the years since his pairing with the matter of fact Cerny in 1998 which made the decision easy for Cruz when the likelihood of reuniting arose.
"He's a calculated, smart guy that has a tremendous amount of experience and he's naturally aggressive. Those things are hard to find. He has a good understanding of how he wants things done and is very meticulous and so am I. Together we had a good run at Joe Gibbs Racing and won six races in a short period of time. At the time I was in a transition period wanting to form my own team. I've always known in the back of my mind if I could ever get back with Wes again, particularly with my own team that would be really neat and a great opportunity for myself.
"I'm bringing Wes on board with a two-car team and with that added information that he hasn't had in the past and identical type cars pitting right next to each other should be an ideal situation for him. He's bringing a wealth of information and a great addition to our team. He's going to work alongside one of the great, young talents in Dickie Venables. Venables is fresh off his championship season with Tony (Pedregon). To me, we have a great balance in the experienced veteran with Wes and younger enthusiastic group with Dickie."
Cruz Pedregon, who missed the top 10 in the POWERade Funny Car standings by just one position in 2003, released crew chief Rob Flynn from those duties, with the two amicably parting company.
"I enjoyed working with Rob Flynn, he's a great guy and gave it a good shot," said Pedregon. "I wish him well in his future endeavors. There's never a good time to make a change, but I felt it was necessary. We left on good terms and did go to a few final rounds and had a limited amount of success. We're now turning the page and looking forward to '04 with Wes Cerny aboard.
"I will be starting my third season with Advance Auto Parts stores as a sponsor. I've been building the team and going into our third year it's another step in the direction that we feel will equate to victories and competing for a championship. It's always been about that. Rome wasn't built overnight and certainly today's race teams, in particular Funny Car racing, you look across the pit area and you see the multi-car teams, but not only that, it's the talent. With a Wes Cerny and Dickie Venables on the team with their victories and experience behind them, I like the way we stack up against the competition. My job is three-fold -- getting in the seat and doing my job as a driver, making sure our cars have all the best equipment and third, the best people in place. I feel Wes was potentially the last piece of the puzzle to make that next step."
Advance Auto Parts, Inc. is based in Roanoke, Va., and is the second largest auto parts chain company in the nation. With over 2,500 stores in 39 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the company serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets. Additional information about the company, employment opportunities, services, as well as on-line purchase of parts and accessories can be found on the company's website at www.AdvanceAutoParts.com.