Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – SONOMA, CA – Cruz Pedregon has repeatedly been impressed with his team’s resolve throughout the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and the latest evidence came last weekend in Denver.
The two-time Funny Car world champion suffered an explosion during the first round of qualifying, destroying a brand new Funny Car body in the process.
But Pedregon and his team responded in strong fashion to qualify well and record a round win before a narrow defeat to eventual winner John Force. Pedregon hopes that perseverance continues at this weekend’s 31st annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, where the veteran standout looks to win for the second time during the 2018 season.
“It was very devastating and the timing was horrible, but with that being said, I was impressed with how the team recovered,” Pedregon said. “They put their heads down and got the job done. I was so proud of the team. They rallied and never looked back. (Crew chief) Aaron (Brooks) just has a positive attitude and he’s a hard worker. He doesn’t let things get to him, he shook it off and the team responds well to his leadership, and the same with (assistant crew chief) Glen (Huszar). These guys are just workers and I feel fortunate that I have those two guys leading the group.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on FOX, including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It serves as the second of three stops on the NHRA’s famed Western Swing and is the 15th of 24 events in 2018. Sitting just six points out of 10th for the final spot in the upcoming Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Pedregon is motivated for a big weekend at the Toyota-sponsored race.
He broke a long winless string earlier this season with a victory in Charlotte and has shown potential to grab another win. A win in Sonoma would go a long way to easing the disappointment of last weekend’s explosion, as well as solidifying his chances of advancing to the NHRA’s six-race playoffs. It’s also scenarios like this that has often brought out the best in Pedregon.
“I do feel like we’re a top five car masquerading as a 12th-place car right now,” said Pedregon, who has 36 career wins. “I’ve said this about the top 10: if we’re good enough and I think we are, we’ll get in there. But it starts with racing well this weekend. We’re slow starters, typically, and we always seem to get better as the season goes on. We’re counting on that. I always enjoy the competition and I always enjoy racing the best. I like these types of situations.”
Tim Wilkerson sits four points ahead of Pedregon, while Bob Tasca is currently 10th in the loaded Funny Car class. To have success in Sonoma, Pedregon will also have to deal with the likes of points leader Courtney Force, three-time 2018 winner Matt Hagan and defending event winner J.R. Todd, who has two wins this season. But Pedregon, a California native, has always enjoyed the annual stop in Sonoma and he believes his team is building toward a big weekend.
“This is my second home track in my book,” said Pedregon, who has two Sonoma wins. “It would mean a lot to me and the team if we could continue what we had in Denver. If we can carry it into this race, I feel good about our chances. Leading up to Denver, I felt we had turned the corner. We left Epping with a good feeling about our sea-level performance. We’ve found our groove again and I’m confident we’re on the right track, and that’s good because these are important races.”
Steve Torrence has five wins and the Top Fuel points lead, and hopes to add another Sonoma win against Denver winner Leah Pritchett, Clay Millican and defending world champ Brittany Force.
Tanner Gray has three wins in Pro Stock, but is chasing points leader Greg Anderson. Others to watch include Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha and Jeg Coughlin, who all have two wins in 2018.
Pro Stock Motorcycle’s LE Tonglet had a banner weekend in Sonoma a year ago, posting his second straight win and also winning the NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle. He’ll look to repeat both against points leader Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith. The NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle pits eight of the top riders in a must-see race-within-a-race.
The event features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular El Arabe Racing jet car driven by Juan Cantu. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals include Ed “Ace” McCulloch, Jim Dunn, Jeb Allen and more.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:15 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 27 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 28 at 1:10 and 4:20 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 29.