Part 2 of 2 Tony Pedregon Q: Are you a Funny Car driver for life or is there a chance that you would drive in a Top Fuel dragster? Pedregon: I considered that. John and I talked about some possibilities in a Top Fuel car. I think that one of...
Part 2 of 2
Q: Are you a Funny Car driver for life or is there a chance that you would drive in a Top Fuel dragster?
Pedregon: I considered that. John and I talked about some possibilities in a Top Fuel car. I think that one of the things that I would like to leverage a little bit more is the Hispanic market. I actually considered it. I think with this team, I probably would. Outside of that, I wouldn't. I have always been partial to Funny Cars since I was a young kid growing up. I have driven both, but there is a 98 percent chance that I will stay in a Funny Car. Right now I am letting John take care of what is going on with the team and what goes on in the office. Like I said, if I do make the switch, it would only happen with this team and John and all of the people we have here. Really, the people are a big part of it because I have a lot of good support in my crew chief. I don't make these decisions alone, they have a lot to do with it. But I would consider it, from the marketing aspect of it and maybe to do something different. There is no doubt, however, that I will end my career in a Funny Car. I did tell John that I would consider it for a year or two or whatever the terms were. Whether or not that it will happen, I would say that it is more likely I will stay in a Funny Car. It is still a possibility, especially now with Densham. I have always had to compete with John, why Densham now too. Maybe I just have not absorbed what I have semi-committed myself to, but it is still in the early stages. I look at the challenge of it and the competition of it. I don't think that on average, you have the depth of fields that the Funny Car class has right now. There are a couple of guys in Top Fuel that I wouldn't mind going over and seeing how we do against. I think we would do pretty well, to be honest. There is such good competition in Funny Car, but I look at Top Fuel and see a couple of the top guys. Drivers are like this. We have that mentality of wanting to go up against certain people and knock them off of their little deal. Whether we could do that, I am not cocky, but I am confident.
Q: What is one of your biggest accomplishments in drag racing so far?
Pedregon: I would say that my biggest accomplishment would be probably being with the team long-term like I have been; having loyalty and having success. You don't see that a lot and I hope that someday there is a big demand for drivers because I come from a background, just like Cruz, of the alcohol ranks. What we had to do wasn't so much financially, but the way we contributed was based on what you could do in a race car first and then outside of that what you could do from the other standpoint of the fans, media and sponsors. For me, to be able to race at this level, coming from an alcohol car, which is like the Busch Series in NASCAR, is a quite an accomplishment. There are still drivers that come up from those ranks. Guys like my brothers, Darrell Russell, Larry Dixon and Ron Capps. For me, I think you need that training. You need that experience. I don't like seeing someone just get into a Top Fuel car. I think you need to get into something that can give you experience first because the tricky part isn't so much getting into the car because when everything works the way it is supposed to, the driver can just go through a routine and make it down the track smoothly. The problem lies when the not-so-common things happen. That is when you need to rely on past experience. You need experience to be able to compete at this level of racing. Personally, to me, that was like climbing a mountain, gaining enough experience to drive one of these cars.
Q: Do you consider yourself lucky because you have had a long-term relationship with your team and your sponsors while having a competitive car along the way too?
Pedregon: Without a doubt. That really means so much to me. I have seen some of the drivers, who to me are very talented, what they go through. All kinds of people praise you when you win a race, you have a good day at the races and everyone praises you. I have learned not to get too excited because everyone is your friend when you win. I don't rely on that and I think I know the difference what having a good race car and one that is consistent and capable of winning. When I look at some of the other drivers that don't have that, but I know they are talented drivers. But how much can we, as drivers, make up for the difference in a great race car? The driver has to be on when the car is running well and at the same tine, the driver has to make large contributions when the car isn't running as well. I have learned a lot and have been in a position that a lot of drivers don't get a shot at. But also, it is important that when you do have the opportunity, to take advantage of that. Without a doubt, this situation has been very good to me. Not just being involved with John, but the company as well. I think in a lot of ways I have contributed in some areas. That is my job, to contribute. It seems like this situation has been working pretty good and I think in the long run, we will have more success. We work so well together.
Q: In what ways has John Force influenced your career?
Pedregon: I think that in this business it is important not just to ride the wave. I have learned a lot. For me, it has been a crash course of not just getting in the car and driving, but learning the business aspect of it as well. I have been able to sit in the board rooms with all of our sponsors and potential sponsors and when I say crash course, it is no different than being at school and learning. I am learning from the best. The best of all time. John Force is one of the best drivers and one of the best of going out financially and getting what it takes. So what I have learned from the business side of it and being able to get into the car. I watched John even before I drove for him. I watched his technique, his routine during a run and really what he did to make a difference in the seat. John was one of the guys that I just looked at what he was doing. He and Cruz are probably the two biggest influences in my career over the years. I have learned a lot and I have learned that I can't be a John and I can't be a Cruz. I have my own personality and maybe I will end up on my own, but what I have learned from John has added a lot to my resume. People relate my name to winning, to being successful and I have not done that on my own. I did that because I had some good people to work with. I had a good team owner and he hired a good crew chief and they gave me some good equipment to work with. We have turned all that into being successful on the track. That is a pretty defining part of my career, which was just getting hand-picked by John. I really enjoy being here. I get up in the morning and I look forward to seeing him, most of the time. I think one of the important things in any business is that when you wake up, you need to maintain that level of intensity and motivation. I have that. As long as I have that and can wake up and have fun during the good and bad, I'll keep doing this. It is easy to have fun when you are winning, it is not so easy when things are not going the way you want them to. My attitude is very positive and John is one of the reasons. The communication in any relationship is very important. It has always been good with John. We do have that. He is a very honest person and probably more important, he does what he says. His word is very good. His credibility with me is excellent. The work relationship that we have is good on and off the track and that is closely related to what we do in the car. We get on the radio and we share all these things. We have fun together, we work hard together and we enjoy what we do. We go to a lot of the sponsors together and go to meetings and appearances together. It's funny because we are opposites. John will do all the talking and I sit there and I only talk when John says, 'Tony, what do you think?' and I usually don't have to say much. It's fun to be around him, he is entertaining, he makes me laugh. On rare occasions, he will remind me what we are doing. It's funny because I always feel that way. I remember very well where I grew up and where I came from and hanging on the fence when I was a kid. To me, it is pretty amazing. Here is a guy who has done so much more than me, he is the most successful drag racer and he still remembers his background and he still enjoys this. I don't think he has changed and because of that, he is a pleasant guy to be around.
Q: How did you get involved with painting helmets?
Pedregon: I got started when Frankie and Cruz started racing go-karts and our business was buying and selling trucks and we had a big service center. So the beginning of my (painting) career was just taking some paint and literally screwing up Frankie and Cruz's helmets. I was probably in my early 20s and it evolved from there. One thing people always ask me is if I went to school for this. No, I really learned the hard way. I wish I would have taken some kind of training or course. I learned because we had a bunch of paint from all of the trucks. I wish I still had some of those helmets to show. I got to be where I am at by screwing up a lot of paint jobs. Before I started racing with John, I used to do a lot of helmets for some sprint car racers, for a couple of CART racers, Bill Elliott (NASCAR Winston Cup) and others. Over the years, I have really cut back because of my schedule. Technically, it is just a hobby. I enjoy doing it and I do Kenny Bernstein's, Cory McClenathan's, and Tommy Johnson Jr. has me working on one for him. Between myself, John, Densham and Cruz, that is all the work I want. If anyone asks me now and I tell them I retired because I have really cut back. It is just a hobby. It takes me away. The most important things in my life are my family and racing. Really my only hobby, outside of my family, is painting helmets. I think last year I probably, and I do a lot of replicas for sponsors, of our helmets, I did about 20-30. This year, because John won the 100th race, we are going to do a limited series and when we picked a number, we knew we had to do 100 helmets for 100 victories. Whether I will get to that I think is another story. I might get burned out at 20. Right now I am getting close to 10 of them. This year I may do, beside that collection, maybe 30 or 40 helmets, if I can fit them in. They are nice works and is something that shows a little about the driver. If you really think about it, people associate the helmet with a driver. It shows some personality and you can really tell a lot by looking at the helmet. You can look at a guy's helmet and see what's on it whether it's flames, skulls, or something conservative or corporate looking and that will actually tell you something about that driver. I have always loved a lot of things about racing such as the competition, going fast and to me a big part of it is the color of racing. I am very conscious about the look of the car. I don't want anything too corporate, I want something appealing to the audience. Believe it or not, the drivers are part of the audience too. I love watching the races. I don't like to get beat but when I do, I am still there, watching the races, seeing some of the other guys get beat. It's neat seeing some of the helmets that I do. When Kenny gets into the car, I sneak over sometimes and I stand back and I take a little pride in the helmet. I like to watch them get into the cars with the helmets on. I enjoy doing it and it looks cool.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of racing with your brothers?
Pedregon: Brothers? No. Cruz, I would consider doing it. Frankie, I think we just have different personalities. The pros are that Cruz and I work well together and we have a good working relationship. I think that the two of us together is good chemistry. We bring two completely different personalities and two completely different aspects together. If down the road it happens, I think it will be very successful. I think it has a lot of marketing value that we can leverage and turn into something good. Without a doubt, Cruz and I work together very well. Cruz is very intense and he works at a level that I like to. It's a major challenge and I think Cruz is like me in that the more the odds are stacked against us, the more we want to do it. Whether it is in the car or trying to get the funding to get the car down the track, it can be done. If you can work with your brother and your family, I think that is great. Not only are you doing what you want to do, but with the people you want to. You should be close with your family. If and when it happens, I think it would be a good thing.
Q: Who has been one of your biggest mentors in your career?
Pedregon: It has got to be John (Force). It's got be John and Cruz. It's funny because early in Cruz's career when he started driving, I always worked on the car. On the alcohol car I did the bottom end, I did the cylinder head work, and I learned a lot from him even when he was driving the car. So when I made the transition, it was like a natural for me because I had such a close relationship that mentally, it was actually me going down the track all those times. Then I came to work for John and what don't you learn? If you pay a little attention, you are going to learn a lot. Without a doubt, not just in the first year or two, but more in the last two or three years, I have really started to put the puzzle together. It's like having fun at school, and still getting to drive the car too. I can't complain.
Q: Have you ever found it to be a burden to be the second car in the John Force Racing program?
Pedregon: No, I don't think that he is ever taken away from anything I have done. That is a perception that a lot of people have and something I have been asked a lot. Fans ask when I am going to go out and do it all on my own. They don't realize that I am on my own. There are no restrictions that I have here. The problem is that John has been successful as a businessman, as a driver and the relationship that he has with Austin Coil has been unbeatable. We haven't been the only team unable to beat him at times, everyone has been unable to beat him. It would be a different situation if Medlen and I went on a winning rampage and John told us to slow down. It has never come to that. We have always been able to win as much as we can and do as much as we can. The problem is that this is a business and it takes persistence and it takes a lot of years to be successful. John and Austin worked together for years before they were able to do what they are doing now. People tend to forget that. It wasn't an overnight success. John always says that it was an overnight success that took 30 years. Sky is the limit. If we can do it, if we can get there, no one is going to put the brakes on us. We might do it this year.
Tony Pedregon part I