Cruz Pedregon hires tuner in bid to rebound from lackluster 2016
Driving through life looking in the rearview mirror rarely leads to positives, and this is why two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon says he's not looking back at a lackluster 2016 season.
With only four first round wins to his credit last season, Pedregon understands the importance a strong turnaround can have for the Snap-on Tools team.
Pedregon stands prepared to right the wrongs of seasons past and contend for a title.
"You just have to look at where you went wrong, what you could have done different, on this side of the season, and that’s what we’re doing," Pedregon explained. "I’ve tried since 2010 to run my team without a Crew Chief, without any real experienced veteran leadership. In other words, I’ve tried to run it with just me and my core guys.
"They’re good guys. But at the end of the day, the odds are stacked against me. You get these teams that have the Jimmy Prock’s of the world, and the John Medlen’s. Then, of course, you get, in the case with Jimmy, one from John Force’s and one from DSR. That information gets shared. So there’s two two-car teams that have seven Funny Cars, once they get enough data they’re going to get better, and that’s what’s happened. We fell off and just had some self-inflicted wounds; we just didn’t have our act together this year."
Pedregon made a bold move in bringing in Aaron Brooks to guide his operation as the noted tuner became available when the Lucas Oil Top Fuel team disbanded after the 2016 season.
"Aaron has a resume that would choke a horse, but mainly in Top Fuel," Pedregon said. "He has Funny Car experience and is part of the Alan Johnson family of crew chiefs. Because Aaron will be the tuner, it will allow me to step away from that role. I've enjoyed it, and I will not completely step away from it, but it will allow me to do other things like spending time with the fans.
"I'm the team owner and driver, but if you cut me, I bleed driver."
Pedregon admits he could only drive as fast of a car as his alter-ego Juan Mota could provide. He'll be the first to admit while his team ran in the mid-3.90s regularly in 2016, low 3.90s and 3.80s were few and far in-between.
"When the competition’s running 3.85 and 3.88, 3.89 all day long, that makes our car look not very good," Pedregon admitted. "We just didn’t step up like the rest of those other guys did. My strategy is simple; bring some knowledgeable people on board."
Pedregon turned to longtime friend and championship tuner Lee Beard to assist in putting his 10,000 horsepower machine on the right track. Beard joined the team in August, as the NHRA tour rolled through Seattle.
"[For 2017] we’ll get better equipment, not that we didn’t have good equipment, but some of the technology, I think some of the go fast parts that we didn’t have," Pedregon said. "When we run 3.95 that’s 10th or 12th place in qualifying. That we have to change. So really that’s about it. I’m bringing in better people to surround myself with because I cannot do it by myself. I tried.
"But the competition, I give those guys credit. I’m excited. Already this off-season has been good for me; it’s been good for the team. We all kind of accepted our fate, and we tried a bunch of stuff toward the end of the year.
"It’s kind of like a football coach trying to run his own offense and run his own defense. Well, that was me. So I’m bringing in offensive and defensive coordinators and trying to run the team more standard like other teams operate where you have more brainpower, more guys that are connected with technology better than I can."
Pedregon finished 12th in the 2016 NHRA Funny Car point standings, which was a tough pill to swallow. Even though Pedregon struck out more times than not, he knew after missing the Countdown; he had to keep swinging the bat; the law of averages kept him confident he could connect before the season concluded.
"It was tough last season, and life is about lessons," Pedregon said. "The problem with the race season is you find a little something within your program whether it’s an engine related issue or found something in the clutch. And each weekend I would truly, honestly feel like ‘Alright, we found it. Here we go. We’re going to bust out of this’, and then we’d find something else.
"The whole season was kind of, even though it was frustrating, I always felt like 'OK, we’ll fix it."
Before last season ended, Pedregon was confident his team was headed in a much better direction.
"There were so many things that we found that weren’t perfect," Pedregon said. "We made some good runs. We just never really found the combination. It was frustrating, but at the same time we were always. ‘If we can just fix this, we’re good.’
"As they say, if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. So, I think we ought to be pretty good after that."
Pedregon says his team will be working toward one simple goal.
"My goal is to have this Snap-On car be in the top group again and run for championships and challenge for race wins," Pedregon said. "And that’s the goal for me. How I do it, that’s not important to me as long as I can bring some good people in, which that’s what I’m doing. That’s my emphasis is people. And everything else will fall into place."
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus