Columbus: Cruz Pedregon preview

Cruz Pedregon, Advance Auto Parts Team prepared for summer conditions at Pontiac Nationals COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 10, 2003 - It's a tradition. It's June and it usually rains at least one day during the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at National...

Cruz Pedregon, Advance Auto Parts Team prepared for summer conditions at Pontiac Nationals

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 10, 2003 - It's a tradition. It's June and it usually rains at least one day during the Pontiac Excitement Nationals at National Trail Raceway in nearby Hebron.

It's almost summer, too, and that means warm, possibly hot, temperatures. And with that comes the humidity. Put them together and they spell trouble for competitors at this 39th annual NHRA POWERade Series event.

Crew chiefs will feel the brunt of the changes because they indulged in a little "Star Wars" type of conditions during the May 30-June 1 weekend at Joliet, Ill., where temperatures and atmospheric conditions were, well, out of this world. For example, John Force lowered the Funny Car elapsed time record to 4.721 seconds and Gary Scelzi boosted the speed mark to 328.06 mph.

"We won't be seeing those kinds of conditions at Columbus," predicted Cruz Pedregon, driver of the Advance Auto Parts Pontiac Funny Car.

It's not likely because humidity automatically slows the nitromethane-fueled engines like the one in Pedregon's car. The engine's supercharger sucks in the air to help ignite the fuel and provide the horsepower to run low times and high speeds. Water particles in the humidity rob the air of oxygen and prevent the kind of combustion and power-generating runs like those in Joliet.

By comparison, Pedregon thinks times at National Trail will be more in the 4.80s instead of the 4.70s. The best run during last year's eliminations was 4.89 seconds.

Nevertheless, Pedregon expects his co-crew chiefs, Rob Flynn and Dave Fletcher, to continue pushing his car's tune-up to the limits of the asphalt racing surface.

"We have to find the balance between pushing past the limits and what the track will give us," said Pedregon. "The key for us, performance-wise, is to find that sweet spot between being aggressive and controlled aggressiveness. We want to keep pushing, and I think with the races coming up at Columbus, St. Louis and the western swing to Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., we are going to be running a lot closer to the elapsed times everyone else will be running."

Heat, humidity and the resulting slippery racing surfaces are great equalizers.

Pedregon qualified 10th at Joliet (4.840 seconds) and fell victim to eventual race runner-up Tommy Johnson Jr., in the opening round. Pedregon left first (.062 to .087) but was soon battling tire smoke. So did Johnson, but Pedregon's started first and he could only watch as Johnson got the win light, 5.526 at 229.08 mph to 5.792 at 214.86 mph.

"We are looking ahead, not behind us," Pedregon said. "We are going to Columbus to do well and leave in the top 10. We are only three points out of 10th place and 31 points (less than two rounds of racing) out of ninth."

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Scelzi , Cruz Pedregon , Tommy Johnson Jr.