Cruz back in a long-awaited hunt


It was 13 years ago that a second-generation drag racer with gasoline in his veins and a fire in his belly burst upon the NHRA Funny Car scene.

He had a a colorful background, a determined will to win, and the driving talent necessary to make his mark in the sport with spontaneous flair.

That racer is Cruz Pedregon, son of the late "Flamin'" Frank Pedregon and one of three drag racing brothers who have all achieved success behind the wheels of nitro-fueled Funny Cars. Oldest brother Frank is a former Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion while youngest brother Tony is the 2003 POWERade title holder. Cruz won the world championship in 1992 as a rookie, the first driver in NHRA history to do so.

But that title, a great source of satisfaction for the middle Pedregon brother, has been his only series championship. Now into his fourth year with primary sponsor Advance Auto Parts and into his second year teamed up with brother Tony and his Quaker State racing team, the 41-year-old veteran is hungrier than ever for that second championship.

At the recent O'Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn., Cruz reached another career milestone which is indicative of his longevity in the sport and the fact he remains a threat to win on any given raceday.

His second-round victory over long-time rival and the man whom he thundered past for the 1992 championship, John Force, gave Cruz his 300th career round win.

"I'm not much into statistics, but this one meant a lot to me," Pedregon said. "And it was against Force. I know we have had our differences in the past, but there is no one I respect more in this business than John. To beat him for my 300th round victory is just awesome.

"I couldn't have done this without my team," Pedregon added. "We complement each other very well."

Cruz is currently third in the 2005 POWERade points standings and has now advanced to three semifinals after six national events, a sign that his ability to go rounds is paying off.

"The points are so important," Pedregon said. "This is the first time in about seven years that I've been in the middle of one of these battles. But when you have a great car and team, good things start to happen. This is our best start in a long time.

"We're still a little rough here and there, but we're getting better as we go along. The competition is a lot tougher now than it was back when we were last in one of these battles. Every team out here can win any given round."

Thirteen years is a long time to go between championships. Cruz Pedregon thinks his patience and stubborn determination just may end his wait in 2005.

Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.