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Pedregon upbeat after emotional (and painful) week
McDonald's Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon escaped serious injury when his car became engulfed in flames Sunday (Oct. 5) during his final-round match against John Force at the NHRA Pennzoil Nationals in Memphis. After exiting the burning inferno through the car's roof hatch, Pedregon was airlifted to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis where he was treated for a second degree burn to his right index finger. He was released from the hospital on Sunday evening. The fiery accident in Memphis ended one of the most difficult and painful seven days in Pedregon's career. The week before at the Sears Craftsman Nationals in Topeka, Kan., Pedregon failed to qualify for the second time in his career. On Monday (Sept. 28) he had an emergency appendectomy. And during Sunday's eliminations in Memphis, Cruz was feeling ill all day with a fever and soreness from his recent surgery. "I've been through a lot in one week, but nothing was going to stop me from driving in Memphis," said Pedregon, who won the semifinal round against Ron Capps as a result of a quicker reaction time. "I am proud of our team for maintaining a positive approach. To get to the final round after what we've been through is a real tribute to the character of every crew member." Pedregon, who is resting at his home in Camarillo, Calif., recalled the final-round match in Memphis. "The car left strong and everything felt good," Pedregon said. "Just before half track, the car started to shake and I pedaled it. I knew then the race was over. I was ready to shut the car off, but out of the corner of my eye I saw that John was having trouble. I pedaled it once more, but this time the tires went up in smoke. After that second pedal, the engine revved up and fire immediately came into the cockpit. There was no warning. "I couldn't see a thing, but I did everything to slow the car down. I hit the parachute button, closed the fuel lever, opened the fire bottles and had my hand on the brake. My body said to get out of the car, but my head said to stay cool, get the car stopped, unbuckle the belts and then get out. I was literally on fire and had no choice but to slam into the concrete wall to stop the car. My big concern was not to hit the wall too hard and get knocked upside down. "I've been in these fires before, but this was the worst. I was on fire from half track to well past the finish line. That's a long time to be engulfed in smoke." Mike Green, the McDonald's Top Fuel crew chief, who is currently overseeing the tune-up on Pedregon's car, said that when the tires went up in smoke, the engine revved up, pushed a gasket out and started an oil fire. Green also said that the incident was not caused by a rod failure, the complete engine was intact. By reaching the final round, Pedregon moved from sixth to fifth in the NHRA Winston Funny Car point standings. It was also his fourth final-round appearance of the season.