NHRA: Pedregon on fire and in Cruz control

Back in Feburary when the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing season began, Tony Pedregon made like illusionist David Copperfield and turned himself into a spectacular ball of fire.

Burned hands, burned eyebrows, burned up. But the most surprising thing about the defining image of the season-opening Winternationals was that the fireball was Tony and not his older brother, Cruz.

For the sons of Flamin’ Frank Pedregon, maybe such images are hereditary.

A full season later, it’s Cruz who is smokin’.

He has won two races this season, both when it counted most, and authored a 127-point swing in the championship. One event remains and he leads the funny car championship over Tim Wilkerson by a dozen.

Amazing, really. Tony won last year’s title, his second, and has been the more consistent of the Pedregon brothers. Cruz has spent the last couple of years on fire, literally. But the only man besides John Force to win a championship in the ’90s is poised to grill an In-N-Out moment and make it a Double-Double for the Brothers Pedregon.

With his second victory in a row, over Robert Hight in the finals at The Strip in Las Vegas, Pedregon won as many national events as he had the previous 10 years. Obviously, he won big while Wilkerson rolled snakeyes. That’s two first-round losses by Wilk in the Countdown. He had only two first-round losses in the previous 16 races.

It has been feast or famine in the Countdown for Wilkerson, but nobody’s eating like the Cruzer and his Advance Auto Parts squad. He positioned himself for this with a victory at Richmond to move from sixth place to third, moving from 115 points down to 69.

With back-to-back victories, Wilkerson the underdog, whose championship would be good for the sport, can still win it. But Cruz is in the driver’s seat in a Toyota. A championship will give Team Pedregon back-to-back titles.

Including the 2003 championship won by Tony in his final year as Force’s teammate, the seed of Flamin’ Frank will have three championships in six years.

Early in the season, Tony said the championship went through the Pedregons. Though his performance in succeeding weeks gave credence to his words, and no one really believed Wilkerson could maintain his pace, the feeling among other drivers still dictated the decades-long believe that the road still ran through Team Force. But maybe Tony knew what he was talking about.

Heading into Pomona for the season finale, Force driver Hight is down by 39. Tony Pedregon is down by 62, Jack Beckman down by 64.

Wilkerson is down by 12 but on the ropes, having to deal with the pressure of losing a championship that seemed his to win.

Cruz has been getting it done in the car, too. His average reaction time in the first 18 races of the season to qualify for the Countdown was 0.061 of a second. It’s the best in class, comparable to some of the top fuel drivers who typically launch quicker than the funny cars.

His average reaction time in the Countdown going into Las Vegas was 0.056, same as Tony. At Las Vegas, Cruz never had an RT longer than 0.049. The light he cut to beat Hight for his 25th career victory was 0.010, which is darn-near perfect. In fact, it was quicker off the line than Chris Rivas in his winning pro stock motorcycle final.

It’s wicked quick.

With one race to go, Cruz Pedregon is on fire.

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