“I’ve never driven in front of this many people before,” said Fernando Cuadra Jr. He flashes a smile, a combination of nervous energy and excitement while standing behind a Chevy Camaro formerly driven by Greg Anderson.
That’s not his permanent ride. He will take ownership of a brand-new Ford Mustang within the next month, perhaps in time for the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago in two weeks. Until then, Cuadra will learn on old machinery with old engines. The car is owned by Fernando Cuadra Sr. and his burgeoning race team. It will also be tuned by the Pro Stock racer.
The engines come from Gray Motorsports, but they’re not the bullets that shot Tanner Gray to a championship in 2018. That’s by design – rest assured, Cuadra could have bought brand new K.B. Racing motors if they wanted to.
“We decided it wasn’t worth running brand-new motors while I’m still learning how to hit shift points and learning how to do burnouts,” said Cuadra. “The guys at K.B. will tell me based on my graphs when I’m ready for the good motors.”
He’s made eight passes in a Pro Stock car after learning to race in a 7-second door car in Mexico. That class, very similar to Top Sportsman, led to Cuadra running Top Sportsman earlier this season. He’s familiar with the speedy sensation you get in a Pro Stock car, but the overwhelming complications that come with it… he knows it’s going to take time.
“In the Top Sportsman car, you’ve got two hands on the wheel and you’re basically hanging on for dear life,” Cuadra says. “In the Pro Stock car… one hand on the wheel, one on the shifter and you’ve got to watch the shift lights the whole time.”
Cuadra is trying to make up for his lack of seat time by hopping into the Camaro and practicing his shift-timing with his brother. His brother turns a flashlight on and off to simulate the shift light and Cuadra shifts in time with it.
Shifting aside, Cuadra knows he’s in a tough spot when it comes to qualifying for the 17-car field based on his equipment. He also knows that’s not really the point. Cuadra’s plans to make as many laps as possible – if it comes with success during qualifying and race day, all the better. For now, it’s all about learning alongside his father.