Before Joliet, the whole team went to a picnic in Kenosha at Snap-on headquarters and it was really cool. We had lunch with the employees, took a tour of the Snap-on museum, and went old school on ‘em and left the body on the car while we started it and even whacked the throttle. Only to be outdone by Barrie Young, aka Bazzz, who has a Camaro bodied nostalgia funny car and he started his too on 90 percent nitro which gave it a little more pop. We got a lot of excitement from everyone who was there. We had the Wounded Warrior body on the car which started our week in Joliet.
After the picnic, I went on a ride along with Mike Chraponski, a seven-year veteran. We went to a few dealerships and handed out some tickets to the race and parts off my race car. One of the guys we visited had just bought a tool box from Mike the week before and he was a huge fan so it was a surprise for him! All you have to do is be a Snap-on customer and you never know what kind of surprise you’ll get.
The off-track events at Joliet were great. We hosted about 30 Wounded Warriors and guests in hospitality on Saturday. They visited with the team, toured the trailer and even signed the car! The CEO of Snap-on, Nick Pinchuk and many others from Snap-on headquarters spent the whole day with us too, so it was a great day!
Just when I think we’re getting on track with the race car, there always seems to be something that comes up and gets in our way. In Q1 on Friday, we were third-quick but on the night session, we lost a blower belt on what would’ve been a top five run. Then on Saturday, we opened the day with a nice run which put us third of the session then in the night session, we dropped a cylinder. In the first round, we had a tough opponent in Robert Hight and basically got our doors blown off. That prompted us to stay and test on Monday which we did. We went back to how we ran the car (motor and clutch) last year 100 percent and we did great right out of the gate!
The turnaround for our team at Norwalk was amazing. We’re starting to get with the new “old” setup and it’s becoming more efficient to work with Lee and all the things he brings to the table along with what we already had. We’ve been finding and eliminating a lot of errors on our part and find that consistency we once had.
In Norwalk, I rode with franchisee, David Banker. We did the grill out at one of his stops and the owners had all of their customers along with other customers from David’s route out for a cookout. As Norwalk will probably be remembered as the hottest race in the history of mankind, we still had a fun time.
The race at Norwalk was solid. We had a packed house in hospitality on Saturday and Sunday even through the scorching heat! We qualified third and we picked up some bonus points on Friday and Saturday. On race day, we were the second quickest car in the first and second round. In the semis, we just missed the setup and spun the tires. I don’t blame the track; I’d just say that we didn’t make the necessary adjustments. We’re going to incorporate a new track reading strategy that we’ll debut in Denver to give us a better idea of the track conditions and the grip. We do it cave man style right now by sending a crew member out to twist his foot on the track. LOL! The best news is we moved up to seventh in points!
Denver is my second favorite race next to Indy. It's one of my best tracks, I love the facility, I love the fans and we perform well there. We were runner-up two years in a row and set the track record last year, being the first Funny Car in the 4.0s. We're hoping to go back there this year and win it so we can move back into the top five in points. We only have five races before they cut off for the Countdown so we're hoping to put this Snap-on Toyota in striking distance to the leader so we're right there in the end.
Thursday before Bristol, I went to Snap-on headquarters in Kenosha, Wis., for the Wounded Warrior Ride. This was a special event where we unveiled the paint scheme for the Chicago race. I got to meet many heroes and listen to their stories. It’s amazing what these veterans have sacrificed for our freedom. Toby Montoya spoke to a large group and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the crowd. He along with about 15 other Wounded Warriors and their guests will join us this weekend in Chicago so come by and show your appreciation!
Bristol was a race that we had to recover from our E-town event where we struggled just to get the car to go down the track. We misfired both runs on Friday but the good news is we’ve recognized the problem area, the clutch department. On Saturday, we answered the call. We finally got the car adjusted properly and made two great runs. We ran a 4.12 on a 121-degree track (quickest run of the session) which got us three bonus points and a 4.14 (4th quick). We hadn’t made two solid back to back runs in a while so that gave us a lot of confidence going into race day. Sunday, there was a little question and controversy over the race track. I’ve never been one to make excuses or blame the track. I always feel like the track conditions are what they are and we all must adjust accordingly. There were a lot of cars spinning the tires on the left lane and we were no different. Looking back on it, I think we were just good old fashioned too aggressive. We were trying to go faster than the track would allow and it bit us. It was a tough loss but I feel like every time we have these miscues, we learn something. The idea now is to start fine tuning because we’re getting into the summer and every track is going to have its challenges. I’m as confident as I’ve ever been. Lee and I looked at the data and know there are things we could’ve done different. I’ve been working with Tony to setup his car and we made some good runs with it, five out of six down the track, and all competitive. I’m happy for Tony that he’s getting back on track.
I spent last Thursday and Friday with my good friend Glenn Styres and his crew at Ohsweken Speedway. I ran a 360 winged sprint car at his track and had a lot of fun. Most of my funny car crew was there and everyone enjoyed watching some dirt track racing. Next, Tony and I went to Toronto Motorsports Park for a two day match race. We pulled out our brand new McKinney car. It’s lightweight, with titanium all over. There’s nothing wrong with our old car, but we’re just preparing as we get into the busy and most important part of our season. We want to start edging our way back into the top five so we want to make sure that we have our best equipment out on the race track. We made three runs and ended up setting the track record and becoming the Canadian National Champions!
Last but not least, the Prelude to the Dream, what an event! Feed the Children Foundation was the organization that received the profits of that awesome event. Tony Stewart always has a first class staff and really welcomes all the drivers. I’m so glad to be a part of it and between myself and Ron Capps, we represented drag racing well. I started 18th and worked myself up to 3rd right behind Kasey Kahne and Kyle Bush. When Kasey got into a spin, I got bumped to 2nd but there were still 15 laps to go and I just lost grip so I ended 7th. The cars that passed me were none other than guys like Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, and Donny Shatz (World of Outlaws). To run up front with the greatest drivers out there was amazing. Also, by finishing in the top ten, I got to send a food truck to a city of my choice. I chose El Paso, Texas, where my Dad was from and we still have family out there so it’s a special place to me.
We race at the track in Chicago this weekend and it’s close to Indy, so it's like a home track for us. It's a race that I'd love to win! It's a track that I've never won at and those are where you really want to punch it in. We're also going to run the Wounded Warrior special paint scheme this weekend so we'll have a big group from Snap-on and Wounded Warriors out there. I don't look at is as pressure, but a really big cheering section.
Before the race in Commerce, I went to Atlanta for the Coca-Cola champion’s dinner. It was fun as always and we really appreciate the support they give to the NHRA. I’d like to thank Ben Reiling and his group for inviting all of the NHRA champions to the World of Coke for a nice evening. It’s an elite group that attends so I’m proud that Tony and I get to represent the Pedregon team.
On Thursday, I went to the Snap-on grill out and it was awesome. We were outside at a park and had a lot of customers participate. The franchisees are really doing a great job getting the customers excited about our visits and doing lots of giveaways.
The Atlanta race was good and we qualified in the top five again. We have a great record with the Snap-on car qualifying in the top group this year. We were consistent and doing everything right but unfortunately in the second round, we broke our 16-run streak of not spinning the tires. It got hot on us and we slipped up so within 100 feet, I had to get off and on throttle. It was a shame because like several races this year, we felt like we were contenders to win the event but we’ll carry on to Topeka.
During the off week, we got our new body back from Steve Dekkenga who painted it and it looks really hot. What an artist this guy is! For the first time in years, we have a painted body and we even added two unique things that you’ll have to come by the pit to see. I’ll give you a hint…one is on the back of the car and the other is by the trunk. It’s really different and something no one else has on their Funny Car or dragster so you guys should come check it out.
Now we’re in Topeka, a track that was so good to me in the 90s. We used to go there with the McDonald's car and at least win one of the two events at the time. For whatever reason, that's just been one of my tracks and we've knocked on the door the last couple of years. It's a unique track, out in the middle of the country and was one of the first super tracks built. We're looking forward to seeing all the Snap-on customers out there and we're definitely ready to win!
The Charlotte Snap-on Grill and Chill was really cool. We went to Iron Horse Harley Davidson and Mike Heafner, the owner was very welcoming as well as the franchisee Rex Ward. Mike is a former bike drag racer from back in the day so he showed me his bike collection. It was fun because we had a good group of customers and I got to sit on one of his Harleys. It was all slammed out and candy apple red, right up my alley. I’m not really a bike person but that one fit me perfect. LOL! We had a raffle and gave away some prizes. Some of the guys from the shop even came by to see us at the track.
The Charlotte race was really interesting. Friday, we didn’t have it together but once Saturday started, we rolled out there and ran two strong runs and wound up fourth in the field. On race day, we were hot! We were one of the top cars all day. One thing that was weird was to run the same cars more than once. We ran Robert Hight twice, beat him once, and lost to him in the final in a really close race. It was probably the most fun four-wide race I’ve ever had.
As for the track, it was excellent as always. I’m happy for Bruton Smith and his staff out there. They put on a good show and I think the fans are starting to like the four-wide race. We had a huge crowd out there which was nice to see so we want to thank the fans for all their support!
We ran the new Camry body, a career best speed of 316 MPH, were runner-up, and moved up to 6th in the points. It was definitely a great weekend for the Snap-on team!
We want to continue to thank Snap-on, Wix Filters, Herzog Contracting, Sioux City Truck, Toyota, UTI, and all the other sponsors for all their support. I also want to thank my team, headed up by Lee Beard. We got our heads together and made some good calls. We were pretty much solid on race day which bodes well for our next event in Houston. It feels so good to have one of the top running funny cars in the country and we’re just getting started. We’re all excited and looking forward to getting that first Win!
One of the things I’m excited about during my off time, is going to Puerto Rico before the Houston event for a Snap-on appearance. I’m spending the weekend with franchisees and their customers. I’ve never been, so I’m looking forward to it and I know there’s a lot of NHRA fans in the area so it should be fun.
Next, we’re headed to Houston, the first place I raced with Lee Beard in 1992 where he helped us put together an unbelievable Sunday. Lee was the crew chief on the McDonald’s dragster back then and we were struggling, blowing up every motor we had in the funny car so Lee came over to help and we ended up setting a national record that day, beating John Force, and winning the Championship that year. So, here we are again with a great opportunity to win this race. Houston has a lot of history for me plus a lot of family and fans from the San Antonio area come out so it’s a race that’s like a home game for me. We’re looking forward to getting out to Baytown, getting some good qualifying runs in, and hopefully closing this deal out.
Don’t forget you can follow me throughout the weekend on Facebook and check out our live pit webcam at www.ustream.tv/channel/thecruzerlive