It has been 12 long years since he buckled into a Funny Car and pulled to the starting line at an NHRA national event, and Frank Pedregon can’t wait to officially restart his career.
The four-time event winner has reunited this year with old teammates Chuck and Del Worsham and plans to run at least eight to 10 events this year in the Worsham family Toyota.
The older brother of two-time Funny Car world champions Cruz and Tony Pedregon admittedly has had a checkered career with incredible highs like winning the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and the Shootout specialty event and the tremendous lows of rides lost and sponsorships evaporating. Family is complicated, too; let’s just say that he and his brothers don’t exchange Christmas cards anymore.
There’s a lot of water under the bridge since he last competed in 2006 in the Von Dutch Dodge Stratus with Bill Blomgren, but for all of the wrong turns he took in his life, the Worshams were the people he called on for his return.
It has been a long process, looking for partners who could trust and be trusted. He kept a steady income buying and selling diesel trucks in Gardena, Calif., but always looked for a way back into the seat.
“I’ve been close to coming back a bunch of times,” he said. “I even talked to Don Schumacher about driving one of his cars five years ago, but I didn’t have a good interview. I said ‘I’ too much and not enough ‘we.’ No one heard about any of this because I didn’t want to be the boy who cried wolf with sponsorships.
“These days, you have to create a ride. In the old days, people would call drivers and ask them to drive their car. Now, the drivers have to call the owners and bring money. That’s what I’ve been working on.”
A lot of other things have changed since Pedregon last raced. The cars no longer run a quarter-mile (his career best e.t., a 4.73, is relic of the pre-1,000-foot days). The controls are different, and the ones that aren’t are in different places. The licensing procedures are different. And, yes, the cars are a lot quicker.
“We got all of the financing together about 90 days ago, so I called Del and got my license in Bakersfield in December,” he said. “It’s been so long since I drove that I had to get an alcohol-class license first, so Del put an alcohol motor in his [Top Fuel] dragster, and we did that, then got into the Funny Car and crossgraded.
“Let me tell you, it was different. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a car with the helmet on that I actually hyperventilated a little bit. Then getting into the Funny Car was a little difficult, too, because it’s been so long. It can be a little claustrophobic, but after a few runs, it was fine.”
The car is a good one – Del’s 2015 championship car – that has gone as quick as 3.82. Chuck, a veteran hand, is also being helped at this event by John “Bodie” Smith, of the famed Smith nitro clan, and Del is just down the aisle at the Kalitta camp, where he’s now co-crew chiefing on Shawn Langdon’s car, if they need more help or need to borrow some parts.
“This is a perfect fit for me,” said Pedregon. “Chuck wanted to race part time this year. He’s had some medical issues but wants to be out here because he says it energizes him.
“We’re going to run as many races as we can this year. I already confirmed a bunch of events, but we have a bunch of deals we’re working on to run more. We’ll run Las Vegas next – I’m going to be a real fish out of water at the four-wide because I’ve never done that – then Houston, Sonoma, Seattle, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Pomona again, and then others as we’re able to put deals together.
Pedregon already has solid backing from longtime partners like Pina Excavating, Specialty Fasteners, and RussellMoving.com, who are helping him pay the $40,000 it costs to make a serious run at an event title. He also hopes that drag racing and time will bring the los hermanos Pedregon back together.
“I learned a lot of lessons the hard way,” he admits. “I’m happy that I can come back and do it again and do it better. I’m back, and I hope I’m back to stay.”