Pomona II: Cruz Pedregon preview

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 3, 2003) -- Once burned, twice shy, goes the adage. But it's not true for National Hot Rod Association Funny Car competitor Cruz Pedregon, who suffered facial burns in an engine explosion during a qualifying run for the ...

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 3, 2003) -- Once burned, twice shy, goes the adage.

But it's not true for National Hot Rod Association Funny Car competitor Cruz Pedregon, who suffered facial burns in an engine explosion during a qualifying run for the previous race at Las Vegas.

The owner/driver of the Advance Auto Parts Racing Team said he plans to be as aggressive as always this weekend at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway, the last of 23 races in the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Pedregon said it doesn't matter that he's one position out of 10th place in the Funny Car standings, 54 points behind Tommy Johnson Jr. "If you don't push the envelope, somebody will," he said.

He has been cleared medically to drive following the 280-mile-an-hour impact that sent him into the wall at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then to a local hospital. "I'll be a little bit sore . . . not 100 percent, but probably 97 percent," he said, noting his ribs still hurt from the accident that was caused by a broken intake valve. However, he added, "I'll be ready."

Pedregon has plenty to look forward to at historical Pomona Raceway, where he won the season-opening Winternationals in 1995 and was runner-up in the Finals in both 1994 and 1995.

He and the crew have arrived at an engine combination that he says puts his Advance Auto Parts Pontiac Firebird among the top contenders at every event. "Anytime we've pulled to the starting line, we know we can beat those cars," he said. "The car has gone fast, we've been in the finals two times, and we've been as high as ninth in the points. We're going in the right direction."

"Drag racing is a game of inches," Pedregon added. "It's so unforgiving. You have only one shot at it, only four or five seconds. If you make a bobble, you don't have 400 laps to make it up. If you try to be aggressive . . . well, these cars have 7,000 horsepower, and they can be volatile. You are on the edge."

Pedregon is on the edge of another exciting season in 2004, with a cohesive crew and an expanded team that will give him the data-sharing advantage multi-car operations so far have enjoyed at his expense. Details of the second car will be announced during the off-season. "As far as a second team goes, you learn at twice the pace," he said. "You learn what not to run as much as what to run."

"I have two solid years under my belt, and it's all coming back to me," he said, referring to his time in the Advance Auto Parts Pontiac Firebird since serving as color analyst for ESPN's drag-racing telecasts. "This year it took us six months to get on the same page, but we're not going to have to start from scratch again next season. We just need consistency now. We just need runs."

Still, the 40-year-old Camarillo, Calif., resident said he has made encouraging strides in 2003.

"We had some flashes (of success). We showed some signs," Pedregon said of his strong second-half showing that included two-runner-up finishes and eight straight weeks in the top-10 NHRA POWERade standings. "I felt as comfortable in the car as I ever have. I felt like my old self again."

That's not particularly pleasant news for Pedregon's Funny Car rivals. His "old self" captured six victories and the series championship in 1992, finished in the top three for the fifth consecutive season in 1996 despite running just 19 races, and celebrated another banner year in 1998. That season saw him qualify in the No. 1 position 12 times, set the national elapsed-time record on three separate occasions and become runner-up in the Budweiser Shootout at Indianapolis for the fourth time in six years.

Pedregon qualified for each of the first 20 races in the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule. He remained in the top 10 until the 21st race. A quick Funny Car field at Dallas and the accident at Las Vegas kept him from competing in the past two races, as he missed the field at each by a mere six-thousandths of a second. All the Funny Car frontrunners except newly crowned champion Tony Pedregon, No. 5 Del Worsham, and Johnson have failed to qualify at least once.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Cruz Pedregon , Tommy Johnson Jr.