Two-time NHRA Funny Car world champ Cruz Pedregon is taking a different approach to the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The veteran driver is battling in the ultracompetitive Funny Car category without a crew chief.
So far, the concept seems to be working. Pedregon’s Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry has been really quick at times during the season. He claimed his 51st career No. 1 qualifying position at the recent Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville.
He will try to earn another No. 1 spot and grab a victory at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, April 5-7 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the event that will be televised on ESPN2HD.
Without a high-priced crew chief, Pedregon feels his team has better chemistry, and the proof is in how fast his Snap-on Tools Toyota has been running.
“I call them the ‘No-Name’ crew,” Pedregon said. “They are hard-working guys, and everybody is loose, and we have a lot of fun.”
Pedregon said he decided to try this concept in order to devote more of his budget to acquiring better parts and pieces for his race car.
“I believe in having a good well-oiled machine,” Pedregon said. “The car is a good car. We take good care of it. I take a lot of pride in making sure it has the right equipment. I make sure my guys understand that bolting the car together is as important as tuning the car. A lot of guys want to make you think [the tune-up is] magic and that’s why they make half-a-million dollars and some other guys make peanuts. I turn it the other way and try to put a great quality car out there with great parts.”
Pedregon has claimed two victories at LVMS during his career, and last year, he left both events there with the low e.t. of the weekend. He has driven one of the quickest cars in the category for much of the last two seasons.
“Our car likes rough, tough, and let it rip,” Pedregon said. “Whenever we have a finesse setup, the car doesn’t want to hear about it. It likes an aggressive setup. That’s how we race, and that’s what works for us.”
He says during the off-season his ‘No-Name’ crew fine-tuned the machine even more.
“We have a good running car, and it is forgiving,” said Pedregon, currently fifth in the points standings. “It is making us look probably better than we are. The Snap-on Toyota has been running good since midyear last year. Over the winter, we made some changes and some improvements actually. It didn’t fall off at all; in fact, if anything, it picked up a little more consistency.”
Since last season, Pedregon has claimed six No. 1 qualifying positions but only one victory in two final-round appearances. After exiting in the quarterfinals at each of the first three races of this season, he hopes to make the transition from being quick in qualifying to being quick through four eliminations rounds on race day.
“I’ve had a lot of top qualifying positions, and they are nice, and I never take any of them for granted, but at the end of the day, it would be nice to close the deal,” said Pedregon, who has 30 career victories, his last coming at the 2012 Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona. “Heck, even going to the final round would be a feather in our cap. It has been a good car all year, but we had some bad luck in the first two races, and hopefully one of these days it will show all it can do.”
In order to get back to the winner’s circle in Las Vegas, Pedregon will have to outrun a host of tough competitors, which includes last year’s winner, Auto Club Ford Mustang driver Hight and sophomore sensation Courtney Force in her Traxxas Ford Mustang. The 2012 Funny Car world champion, “Fast Jack” Beckman; NHRA Arizona Nationals winner Ron Capps; Gatornationals winner Johnny Gray; Matt Hagan; and Alexis DeJoria are also hungry for a win in Sin City.
In Top Fuel, reigning world champion Antron Brown comes to Las Vegas fresh off a win in Florida, and fellow teammate Tony Schumacher looks to add victory No. 7 at LVMS to his résumé. Winternationals winner Shawn Langdon, Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award rookie candidate Brittany Force, defending event winner Massey, Brandon Bernstein, and Doug Kalitta are all among the pre-race favorites in the 8,000-horsepower category.
The stiff competition in Pro Stock looks promising as ultraquick Mike Edwards looks for his fourth consecutive top qualifying position of the season, and Winternationals winner Vincent Nobile looks for his second win of the season. Defending world champion and Gatornationals winner Allen Johnson, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Phoenix winner Erica Enders-Stevens, and the Summit Racing duo of Greg Anderson and Jason Line also will be in the hunt for the Wally.
Prior to race weekend, fans will have the opportunity to meet many of the sport’s biggest stars at the NHRA Fan Fest Thursday, April 4, at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino from 6-8 p.m. Schumacher, Brown, Capps, Beckman, Anderson, and Line, along with several other drivers, will be on hand for autographs and a question-and-answer session at the Staten Island Room near the Sporting House Bar & Grill.
As always, fans also will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service the race cars between rounds. While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway are two popular areas fans won’t want to miss. Children 12 and younger will receive free general-admission tickets with a paid adult.
To kick off Championship Sunday’s pre-race festivities, fans will have the chance to see their favorite drivers during driver introductions. The Jersey Boys cast member Graham Fenton, who plays Frankie Valli (now playing at the Paris Las Vegas), will perform the national anthem.
• SCHEDULE: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Friday, April 5, and continue on Saturday, April 6, at 12:40 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. K&N Horsepower Challenge rounds are set for Saturday, April 6, at 12:30 p.m., 2:15 p.m., and 3:25 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 7.
• TICKETS: Tickets are available for the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals online at www.lvms.com or by calling The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 800-644-4444.
• TELEVISION: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, April 6, and three hours of eliminations coverage at 11 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 7.