POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 9, 2003) -- In a battle of brothers and National Hot Rod Funny Car champions past and present, Cruz Pedregon found out Sunday in the opening round of the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals that he is an ...
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 9, 2003) -- In a battle of brothers and National Hot Rod Funny Car champions past and present, Cruz Pedregon found out Sunday in the opening round of the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals that he is an outstanding teacher.
Younger brother Tony Pedregon, who said Cruz "taught me to forget about emotions on the track," outran Cruz in their head-to-head match-up at Pomona Raceway in the last of 23 races in the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Cruz Pedregon, the No. 16 qualifier, was first off the starting line with a .036-second reaction time to his brother's .058 and covered the quarter-mile in 5.690 seconds at 174.08 miles an hour in his Advance Auto Parts Pontiac Firebird. However, Tony, the top qualifier, outran him with a 4.722/320.28.
"It was great racing Tony, but not in the first round. We would have preferred to do it in the final round," Cruz Pedregon said. "We were aggressive, but he has had the best driver-car combination the whole season. It was a tough draw."
It was one Pedregon ended up with after an unfortunate incident in the final qualifying session. He had the Advance Auto Parts Pontiac on a strong run, a 4.82-second effort that would have lifted him from the No. 16 to the No. 7 starting position. However, he was struggling with a spare car in which he didn't feel completely comfortable, and it veered toward the center line and clipped the markers. The run was disqualified, leaving him on the bump and paired against his brother.
The owner/driver of Pedregon Racing, the 1992 NHRA Funny Car champion, narrowly missed a top-10 finish. He ended up one place out of 10th. However, he was among the top 10 for eight consecutive races before missing the fields at Dallas and Las Vegas, each by seven-thousandths of a second.
"We won some by inches, and we lost some by inches," he said. "We made a decision either to wait until the end of the season to make some changes on the Advance Auto Parts car or take it up a notch and risk maybe not qualifying at a race or two."
Recalling his final-round appearances at Denver and Reading, Pa., and his No. 2 start at Seattle, Pedregon said he was proud of his surge in the second half of the year. "We've had a solid season," he said. It included a career-best elapsed time (4.796 seconds, Oct. 5 at Reading, Pa.) and speed (321.73 miles an hour, Sept. 28 at Joliet, Ill.).
"This is a good time for us. I've had two solid years under my belt (since spending 2001 in the NHRA broadcast booth for ESPN), and it's all coming back to me. We're starting to find the right engine combination. It's a combination that will run up front, and we'll be working on that in the off-season. Actually, I haven't really had an off season in years."
This time will be no different. The team expects to announce at the Dec. 4-6 Performance Racing Industry Show in Indianapolis that it will expand to a second car with a yet-to-be named driver. In addition, Pedregon said he will receive two new Murf McKinney chassis, ones he calls "latest, greatest, state-of-the-art." The team also plans to complete its move into a new 7,500-square-foot shop in Brownsburg, Ind., by early December.
Pedregon said he expects his Advance Auto Parts team to benefit from the extra two weeks before the start of the 2004 season. The NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series schedule traditionally begins at the first of February, but next season the first race, the Winternationals, will be Feb.19-22 in a return to Pomona Raceway.
"We're going to organize and do quite a bit of testing. We'll make 10-20 runs. It's not like we're going to make real big changes, but we'll work on being more consistent. We have our team intact, and we're not going to have to start from scratch again. We've laid the foundation, and we'll see where it goes," he said.
Advance Auto Parts, Inc. is based in Roanoke, Va., and is the second largest auto parts chain company in the nation. With approximately 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.
Cruz Pedregon, the 1992 NHRA Funny Car champion, and his brother Tony, who clinched his first NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series title Oct. 26 in Las Vegas, are the only two drivers besides John Force to win the championship since 1990. Cruz is the only driver besides Force to win the title in the 1990s.
Cruz has 22 career victories in 44 final-round appearances. He has won 270 of 443 professional elimination rounds.
Although Cruz entered the final race of the 2003 season one place out of 10th in NHRA Powerade points, he had beaten seven of the top-10 drivers at least once this year in elimination rounds. He is 1-1 against brother Frank and 0-2 against brother Tony. He was eliminated by Tony in the NHRA season finale but hadn't faced his younger brother since the ninth race of the season at Topeka (a 15-races interval).
Cruz has set and reset his career-best elapsed time and speed records this fall. His quickest time on the quarter-mile was 4.796 seconds (Oct. 5 at Reading, Pa.), and his fastest speed was 321.73 (Sept. 28 at the second Chicago event).
Cruz qualified for each of the first 20 races in the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule, four times in the top half of the ladder. His best start was from the No. 2 spot, in July at Seattle.
Cruz's first NHRA nitro Funny Car victory was March 8, 1992 at Houston, the third event of that season. It came on brother Tony's 27th birthday. Cruz shared the podium that day with Joe Amato (Top Fuel), Mark Pawuk (Pro Stock) and John Myers (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
When Cruz won the 1992 NHRA Funny Car Championship, he improved 14 places from the previous season. He finished 15th in 1991 with just 12 appearances.
Cruz competed in only 19 races in 1996 , yet he won one race, finished third in points and posted his fifth consecutive top-three effort.
Cruz won the prestigious U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis three times in a four-year stretch (1992, 1994, 1995).
Cruz became an owner-driver in 1999, racing part-time those first two years. He took a year off the track in 2001 to be full-time color analyst for ESPN's drag-racing coverage.
In 1997, Cruz was the first motorsports athlete to receive the "Premio De Oro," the only national award that recognizes Hispanic athletes. Recipients are selected by the New York Hispanic Press Association. Past Premio De Oro winners include former San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal, Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez and boxer Felix Trinidad.
Propped up on pillows, Cruz drove one of the family-owned Peterbilt trucks for a block as a nine-year-old after convincing his father that he could drive. A Los Angeles policeman stopped him and issued both him and his father $100 citations.
Cruz began his NHRA career in the sportsman ranks, driving an Alcohol Dragster in 1987. However, his first drag race came in 1980 in a diesel truck. He won $1,000 and a six-foot-tall trophy for his first victory -- behind the wheel of a 1953 Kenworth.
Cruz raced go-karts and was track champion in 1986 at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway. He raced karts against P.J. and Page Jones, sons of racing legend Parnelli Jones.
Cruz was a crew member of Joe Pisano's Funny Car team from 1983-84.
11th in NHRA POWERade points
2 runner-up finishes in 2003 (Denver vs. John Force, Reading vs. Tim Wilkerson)
3 semifinal appearances in 2003 (Topeka, Seattle, Sonoma) -- Two of those three times, he lost to the eventual race winner.2nd -- best qualifying position this season (Seattle, July)
9th -- best position in the NHRA POWERade points standings in 2003 (July 27-Sept. 1)
8 consecutive races in the top 10 in 2003 (July/Denver through October/Reading)
1st in points in 1992
12-time No. 1 qualifier in 1998
6 victories in 1990
22 career victories
44 final-round appearances
270-173 in professional career elimination rounds
40 years old as of Sept. 19 (born Sept. 19, 1963, less than 12 months after brother Frank and 18 months before brother Tony)
4.796 seconds -- career-best elapsed time (Oct. 5, 2003, Reading, Pa.)
321.73 miles an hour -- career-best speed (Sept. 28, 2003, Joliet, Ill.)