This year has been wild and unpredictable for many racers, including Funny Car Veteran, Cruz Pedregon, who entered his 28th year of competition. Speedway Media caught up with the Two-Time Funny Car Champion to discuss his 2020 season.
After the 2019 season, Pedregon entered the year with high hopes after earning one semi-final, five quarter rounds, and 18 first-round matchups last year. The California native entered the season with the same mindset from last year.
“Expectations were going to be a top-five car like we always enter,” Pedregon said. “That (expectations) was changed with everything that went on, especially the abbreviated runs. Our operations needed those runs. Ninety-six runs is normally what we get in a 24 race schedule and we only got a third of that. (Unfortunately), that put our performance in the can.”
Like most seasons in the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), the season was going along smoothly without interruption and was on track for another 24-race schedule. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the weekend of the 52nd annual Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida and everything was immediately shut down for several months. NHRA shut down until July before returning with races in Indianapolis. Pedregon remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news.
“I was in Gainesville, Florida at a Snap-On ride-along function and I literally got the call as I was headed to the track,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t know what was going to happen, (the virus) was a complete unknown. I thought we were going to be down one month, not months.”
Pedregon also added how the pandemic has impacted his 2020 season financially as a team.
“Well, it’s all about the economics with the COVID scenario,” the two-time Funny Car Champion said. “As a Team Owner, we had to turn over every rock, hotels, our people, fuel. It has required us to look at everything and scrutinize everything and it’s taught everyone that there are better ways to go about doing business and COVID (is) a lesson to move forward.”
Fortunately, NHRA announced their return to competition in mid-summer with consecutive races at the Indianapolis racetrack in Brownsburg, Indiana. With all the time off in-between, some race teams felt the restart was a fresh start for most people especially Cruz Pedregon.
On that same weekend, he qualified seventh but lost to Tim Wilkerson in the first round. Pedregon offered his insight on what he could have done to advance further into the rounds.
“Yes, I felt like it was a fresh start for us,” Pedregon said. “Early on, we were like a football team, trying to establish good consistent runs and not even worry about going fast at what we did. We accomplished consistency and I think our full run percentage was up near 90 (percent) and later we were going to incorporate the speed but the speed took more runs with what we had at the time.”
Even though Pedregon lost in the first round at the first Indy race following the restart, the Snap-On driver had some memorable highlights of the season such as qualifying third at St. Louis and making the quarter-final three times.
“I would say the third Indy race (was my favorite moment of 2020),” he said. “We had low E.T. of final qualifying run of Q2 (Qualifying Session No. 2) on the hottest part of the racetrack. We appeared to be well in position to win the race the next day. However, the second round we had a mechanical issue that prevented that from happening.”
Most drivers have an area that they would like to improve on as a driver and Pedregon is no different.
“In racing, it’s always about speed and with the new team I hired, I feel we’re going to have that balance and consistency it takes to be in the late rounds and win the races,” Pedregon said.
Though the 2020 season has not been the best of seasons for Pedregon, the 57-year-old had added some new sponsors as of late for the 2021 season. These include Mothers Polish, KICKER Performance Audio and TRU-SPEC, to name a few. The recent announcements have encouraged Pedregon as he looks ahead to the 2021 season.
“(I’m) very excited,” Pedregon said. “There’s a lot of work going into the season, since the season is so long. Long hard days, weeks, building not just a racecar but a race program. I mean, everything we’ve done, building the inventory up, it’s a long process but it’ll be worth it in the end.”
And as the 2021 season approaches, there are no days off in the Pedregon camp as they continue to prepare as a race team before the start of the Gaternationals.
“My owner hat is on now, strictly working with JC (John Collins, Pedregon’s New Crew Chief) and acquiring the necessary equipment to where he is comfortable and familiar, so we hit the ground running and not skip a beat with our performance.”
2021 could be a big year for Pedregon as he looks to add more victories to the wins column and continue to be a successful NHRA Funny Car driver.
“(I’m looking forward) to being a contender again, and pulling in the gate knowing we have a chance to win the race.”
In 2020, Cruz Pedregon saw three quarter-round matchups and eight first-round matchups. In addition, his highest qualifying run was third at St. Louis earlier this year and he had a round win/loss record of 3-11. Pedregon finished 10th in Funny Car points standings.
Special thanks to Caleb Cox for coordinating the interview and Cruz Pedregon for being gracious with his time.