|Three Pedregon brothers live unlikely legacy
Fans of the sport remember "Flamin' Frank" Pedregon from his 1960s heyday -- a man who wowed with his fiery high jinks on the track and died much too young in a plane crash. And while the life of a father inevitably influences that of his sons, no one could have predicted that "Flamin' Frank’s" children -- Frank, Cruz, and Tony -- would someday each own independent teams and drive their own NHRA POWERade Series Funny Car entries down the quarter-mile.
Each has developed into a threat whose pull is growing stronger. Cruz and Tony, both former POWERade Series world champions who will finish in the top 10 in the POWERade points standings this season, have joined to form a two-car team after beginning on their own. Frank, who advanced to the final round in Indianapolis and Dallas this season at the helm of his independent operation, plans to continue his drag racing career while exploring opportunities as NASCAR's first Hispanic team owner through its Drive for Diversity program.
All concentrate on promoting opportunities for minorities while balancing responsibilities at the track and in the office.
The three will compete in the 41st annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway in what promises to be the most riveting Series final in drag racing history.
"I think we all want to in one way or another be like our dad was," said Tony, driver and owner of the Q Racing Chevy Monte Carlo. "Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in not so good ways. During our childhood, the race cars had blowers on them that smelled like nitro, and that’s a pretty strong lure for kids.
"My dad didn’t really encourage us to race. I think he probably discouraged it. But we liked it so much we at least attempted to do it. He taught us to work for it. There’s a level of dedication required to be successful."
Their father died in a plane crash a few years after he retired from drag racing, when the boys were teenagers. Although the brothers took somewhat different routes to get there, driving professionally -- using hard work and teamwork to be successful -- was always in the plan.
While experiencing the same strict learning curve with day-to-day office requirements such as hiring, firing, and making their operations financially feasible on a relatively individual basis, Cruz and Tony recently took their partnership to a new level.
"Tony’s car definitely has come on late," Cruz said. "We came on in the middle of the year. With all of that information and all of that success, before it was like it didn’t matter if Tony's car ran good or if mine ran good, because we didn't share information anyway. We look around at the other teams, and the multicar teams that are really, truly acting (as one unit) are more successful."
They may have taken a cue from Tony's old boss, 13-time Funny Car world champion John Force. Force, a main player in the hottest Funny Car points chase in NHRA history, fields two entries in addition to his own Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang -- an Auto Club Ford Mustang piloted by his son-in-law Robert Hight, and a Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang driven by Eric Medlen, a former crewmember for Force.
In 2003, Tony became the first driver since 1992 other than his former boss to win the Funny Car championship. One year after his debut, Cruz became the only Funny Car driver other than John Force to win a title in the 1990s.
"My brothers' dreams are probably complete because they’re team owners and have won a championship," Frank said. "My dreams are coming true, but I still want to win a championship."
While Cruz and Tony take advantage of any opportunities to speak with and motivate minority populations -- the family is Hispanic -- Frank hopes to expose NASCAR-oriented sponsors to straight-line racing and vice versa while bringing diversity to the sport.
"NHRA has been diversified for a long time," said Frank, who hopes to move up from partial to full-season POWERade Series competition in 2006. "My brothers and I are involved, as well as Antron Brown (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and others. We have a pretty good representation of diversity, and we’re excited about that. NHRA Drag Racing is healthy as it is, and it just gets better."