Cruz Pedregon is crystal clear about one thing; he became the crew chief of his Snap-on tools Dodge this year out of economic necessity. Budgets being what they are, he’s realized that even when there is A level talent available, which is rare, he couldn’t afford to hire the right person. Pedregon also acknowledges that as a driver and tuner, he’s often spread thin, but the two-time Funny Car champion doesn’t necessarily see that that as a disadvantage.
“Look, I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to be a crew chief,” Pedregon said. “Yes, I did this out of necessity, but I’ve paid attention for a long time. Early in my career I might have been labeled as a meddling driver but since day one, I’ve wanted to know how these cars work. I want to know how they work and how to make them better. Even now, I put in my time during the week. I feel like I know what I’m doing and I believe that I am the right man for the job.”
So far this season, it’s hard to argue with Pedregon’s results. While he’s only won two rounds in the first four events, he’s holding steady to a spot in the top ten and his car has been consistent, especially in qualifying. Pedregon points out that he’s run between 3.91 and 3.96 at every event, including a 3.92 on Friday in Houston that is currently good for a top-half starting spot.
“Really, the only thing we’ve been missing is some luck,” Pedregon said. “Last week in Las Vegas it was crazy. I watched in the quad ahead of me and two guys smoked the tires and they both advanced. I ran 3.98 and got sent home. That’s just bad luck.”
In his 30-year career, he’s worked with some of the best tuners in the business including Bernie Fedderly, Wes Cerny, Lee Beard, Bob Brandt, Mike Green, and Rahn Tobler to mention a few. Pedregon says that he’s learned a little something from each of them. He also admires Tim Wilkerson, who is also a tuner and driver, but he admits that their roles are quite different.
“Tim does it all,” Pedregon said. “He’s out there working on the car and he makes the tuning decisions and of course he drives. I don’t do that. My strength isn’t in degreeing a camshaft or figuring out rocker arm ratios. I pretty much never turn a wrench on this car and thankfully I don’t have to. I have Glen Huszar and Nick Casertano and the rest of my crew who make sure that the car is right.
“I also spend a lot of time on the phone. I still talk to a lot of people and one of the guys I talk to most often is Lee Beard. I guess you could say I pattern my tuning after Lee. I’ve learned a lot from most of the guys I’ve worked with but I think I’ve learned the most from Lee. No matter who I’m working with, I try to be a sponge and soak it all up. This deal is tough, though. As any crew chief will tell you, it’s like playing Whack a Mole. As soon as you’ve got one thing conquered, another pops up.”
Pedregon believes he’s still got a few good years ahead of himself as a driver, but when he looks to the future, he wouldn’t be opposed to being a hired crew chief for someone else. He believes he’s got a lot to offer and he’s determined to continue learning.
“My first choice would be to put someone in my own car and become a crew chief but if that wasn’t possible, I’d certainly consider working for someone else,” said Pedregon. “I do plan to ride this out as long as I can, though. In another year or two I think I’ll be even better than I am now. Like I said, this move was strictly economics, but I’m enjoying it. The other good thing about running my own deal is that no other team can steal me. Actually, you can steal me, but it will cost a lot.”