5 Minutes with NHRA Nitro Funny Car Driver Cruz Pedregon
Cruz’s father, Frank Pedregon Sr., was drag racer, but he did his best to discourage his kids from following in his footsteps. He wanted his sons to stay in school, save their money, and go into a business. Despite his efforts, though, Frank couldn’t keep Cruz (or his brother Tony, for that matter) out of the driver’s seat.
“He discouraged it for safety, and because of the expense,” Pedregon said. “My dad raced before there were sponsorships and companies paying you to put their name on your car. That idea wasn’t even a blip on the radar back then. He said, ‘You work hard, provide for your family and if you have money left over, you can have a cool hobby like drag racing.’ His business model for us kids definitely wasn’t for us to blow all our money on racing!”
Luckily for Pedregon, though, by the time he started driving, things had changed. “The sponsorship situation had become lucrative enough for my era that I was able to drive for teams,” he said. “It’s crazy that I was able to make the right moves and have [my racing career] become my livelihood for the last 30-some years!”
Over the course of his career, Pedregon has raced everything from go-karts to Funny Cars to dragsters. Eventually, though, he decided to go out on his own and form Cruz Pedregon Racing Inc.
“There was always an owner, so I had to kiss the owner’s butt and the sponsors’ butt. But in 1999 I eliminated the owner. I invested in my own equipment, landed sponsors and I’m still going strong 20 years later. It’s been a long road but a great road. I’ve won a couple of NHRA championships and made a name in the sport I love. I can’t complain.”
We got Pedregon to slow down for five minutes to chat about being a California boy living in Indiana, his racetrack pet peeve, and why he never forgets a face.
Goodguys Gazette: You’ve raced all sorts of vehicles during your career. Do you have a favorite type?
Cruz Pedregon: There’s nothing like nitro racing. The amazing sound, power and speed of these cars is unmatched. There’s no engine like these. No matter where you take nitro cars, people are going to go “Whoooa!” It’s the fuel. There’s no fuel like nitro.
GG: Is there a type of racing you’ve never done but wish you had?
Pedregon: If I could be 15 years old again, I’d get into the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars. I really love those cars, and the surface is dirt. It’s a different discipline and it really appeals to my sense. I own a Sprint car and a midget that races all over the country. I have them and have raced them at a regional level, but I don’t have the time to do it at the level I would like to. But I’m a fan and I love to watch them. I’m not into sports cars much, but I love the hot rod scene.
GG: You are from Torrance, California, but currently live in Indiana. What do you miss most about California?
Pedregon: The number one thing is the weather, but the second thing is the food. I miss the California food – Del Taco, Wienerschnitzel, and In-N-Out. The Mexican food in Indiana is the worst. There’s just nothing like Southern California Mexican food!
GG: What do you do to relieve stress?
Pedregon: I meditate. I learned to do meditation with music. I have to make a conscious effort to relax. I also watch certain TV programs
where I can zone out…I’m not stress-free by any stretch but I have learned through books on tape. And, a good strong drink every now and then never hurts!
GG: What’s the hardest part of being in the racing industry?
Pedregon: The hardest part is dealing with friends and family you invite to the track, or fans at the track. A lot of times, they don’t realize that you’re at the track to perform and that your heart and soul goes into this. It’s gut-wrenching, and you have all these nerves, tons of anxiety and a lot of stuff running through your head. You get tense and intense and sometimes people don’t understand that. When people ask me ‘What’s wrong?’ while I’m at a track before a race, sometimes I feel like strangling them! I want to be like, “I’m not OK! I’m ready to puke!”
You’re about to perform at the highest level and you could end up being embarrassed, and your life is on the line. There’s all these emotions and people look at you like, ‘Why aren’t you smiling? What’s wrong?’ Nothing’s wrong, I just want to survive this race!
GG: What’s the weirdest fan encounter you’ve ever had?
Pedregon: As a racer, I get the same weird request more often than you’d think. People ask me to carry the ashes of their loved one – who usually was a huge racing fan – in my parachute. They want the ashes to spread all over the track when the parachute opens. It’s a really difficult thing. I hate to say no because it means a lot to the family and I don’t want to offend them. But it’s very awkward for me. One time I did it and I pulled the parachute and there were a lot of ashes in there, so the safety [team] thought I was on fire, because they saw a bunch of white smoke! I had to tell them it was someone’s ashes.
GG: What advice would you give to young people who want to be drivers?
Pedregon: Attitude matters. Whether you are trying to impress a sponsor or give a positive attitude toward fans, life responds better to those who have a positive attitude. It’s contagious. If you want to make it in this business, you have to stand out in the crowd. Winning helps, but if you’re an up-and-comer you have to learn it’s all about people and how you impact them.
There’s only a fraction of people who get to slide into the seat of a really fast car, put on a helmet and feel the joy and thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone…people ask me how I made it and I tell them you have to have a good attitude, a desire and a passion for the sport. I’d take passion over skill any day. There are a lot of guys with skill but have their passion tank on a quarter-tank or empty.
GG: What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
Pedregon: I have great facial recognition skills! I can walk through a crowd of people and I’ll recognize someone instantly. I may not remember their name, because I’m horrible with names, but I’ll always remember their face.
GG: What’s next for you?
Pedregon: I have an event for [my sponsor] Snap-on Tools coming up. I get to go around the country and speak and hang out with the local dealers and franchisees. My season never stops. People think we show up in Pomona and are ready to race, but we’ve been testing and preparing long before that.
I’ll be taking my show on the road. We’re like a circus, or a bunch of musicians. We live out of a suitcase, travel all the time, and have no life other than racing. You’ll probably see me at a track near you soon!