It took just one quick look at an emotional Cruz Pedregon on the top end on Sunday to understand just how much this moment meant to him.
On the strength of a holeshot victory in the final round of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, the Funny Car veteran picked up his first win in more than three years, going 3.958-seconds at 324.75 in his Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to hold off Tasca’s 3.913 at a massive 332.02.
Pedregon’s .053 reaction time was the difference in picking up his 37th career victory. But it has been a long time coming for the two-time world champ, who had struggled in recent years. His most recent victory came at the four-wide event in Charlotte in 2018 and Pedregon’s last win at a traditional two-wide race came at Englishtown in 2014.
It’s been a tough few years for the veteran, but things have come together quickly with a new team led by crew chief John Collins. The group has gelled right off the bat and the victory came on Sunday at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, causing Pedregon to choke up in his emotional top-end interview.
“It’s not why I drag race, but this will keep me drag racing,” Pedregon said, fighting back tears. “It’s a good team and I felt like I was kind of holding my team back a little, but I dug deep. You work your way into winning again and these guys taught me to be in that winning mode. It feels good to be back at it.
“This win means I’m as good as the car, and I know we have a good car, so I think I can be there for the car as well.”
Pedregon reached his first final round of the year — and his first since that race in Charlotte in 2018 — and 77th in his career on the strength of victories against Tim Wilkerson, Robert Hight and Alexis DeJoria. The performance against Hight was particularly impressive, as Pedregon and his team stepped it up and delivered a 3.959 to beat Hight. A round later, Pedregon’s 3.947 carried him past DeJoria’s 3.941 thanks to a small holeshot.
Pedregon had the starting-line advantage in the final, too, and had enough power to hold off Tasca by just over a foot at the finish line. He also moved to seventh in the points standings thanks to the victory.
Tasca advanced to his third final round in 2021 and 19th in his career thanks to victories against Blake Alexander, John Force — in a matchup that would determine the points leader leaving Norwalk — and No. 1 qualifier Ron Capps in the semifinals. Tasca went low in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, running 3.920 against Force and sending Capps home with a 3.924 at a whopping 330.39 to move to the finals.
Tasca, who won in 2019 in Norwalk, was .100 on the starting line in the final round, but he’s got confidence in an outstanding car, remaining in the points lead after seven events. His lead stands at 53 points over Force leaving Norwalk.