COVID-19 Sidelines Entire NHRA Crew But Can’t Stop Cruz Pedregon
Funny Car’s Jack Beckman always say drag racers have “no friends from burnout to turnout.” But Cruz Pedregon, the two-time class champion, found out how tight the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series family is this week as it prepared for the Dodge NRHA Finals season finale at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Pedregon’s Snap-on Dodge team already was reeling from losing popular crew chief Eric Lane Oct. 19. Lane was killed in an off-track accident at Mineral Wells, Texas, during what was supposed to be a relaxing, team-bonding fishing trip between the Dallas and Houston races.
“It still hasn’t fully settled in with us,” Pedregon said.
Before the Las Vegas race began, they had two more problems that rocked their operation. Three of their crew members tested positive for coronavirus, forcing the entire crew to quarantine.
“I called the NHRA and told them what’s going on, because I don’t want to hide anything from NHRA and I don’t want to be the team that ruins it for everybody,” team manager Caleb Cox said. “So I just want to play by all the parameters and all the rules.”
Pedregon and Cox scrambled to assemble a completely new crew in one day.
“We were pounding the phones all day Friday, trying to get things done,” Cox said. “It’s good to have a long list of drag-racing friends.”
As if that weren’t enough, a driver in Las Vegas ran a red light and struck the team’s tow vehicle. No one was injured, but the SUV was a total loss. Cox rented another vehicle to replace it. So that was a relatively simple fix, much easier than finding knowledgeable and available mechanics who understand the peculiarities of an 11,000-horsepower, nitromethane-powered race car.
But find them he did, although he called the task a “logistical nightmare.”
Pedregon’s weekend warriors include supercharger expert Nick Holm and Matt Thompson, who served as the clutch specialist for Beckman’s 2010 Funny Car championship. Both drove in from Lake Tahoe and arrived at 3 a.m. Saturday. Fabricator Bobby Lane (whose girlfriend, Krista Baldwin, just earned her Top Fuel license), and former Pedregon Racing car chief Chris Kullberg came out from Indianapolis. Lane was in North Carolina when he got the phone call from Cox, but he drove nine hours home to Indianapolis and made his flight to Las Vegas with just 10 minutes to spare.
Brad Littlefield tunes race cars and runs his family’s supercharger business, and he drove over from Southern California to manage the clutch. One of the workers from Mike Salinas’ idle team had planned to come from the Bay Area to Las Vegas as a spectator, and he pledged to help out. Even men from Justin Ashley’s and Del Worsham’s teams were in Pedregon’s pit Friday evening to make sure the car was prepped for the hastily assembled new crew to take over.
Cox said he and Pedregon are “thankful to have really good friends who want to help. You can’t thank those guys enough.” He said, “Everybody [was] coming together, asking, ‘What do you guys need? What do you need help with?’ When you think of the drag-racing community, how they rallied around Dom and Richie [Top Fuel drivers Lagana and Crampton, who were injured seriously in a car accident in September] and Eric [Lane] . . . If you need something done or need something to help, everybody is willing to help. That’s great, and it shows definitely this weekend when you need a full team.
“I think we put together a pretty good team, and you still have Ronnie Thompson and Nick Casertano running it,” he said. Thompson, a veteran tuner who most recently worked with dragster driver Brittany Force but has been sidelined since March, volunteered to join the team two weeks ago at the Dallas race.
“Not a great way to end the year,” Cox said. “We’re kind of waiting for 2020 to be over and start with 2021. I don’t want to find out anything else that could go wrong. I just want to get through this safely, get everything back to Indy, and then just start working towards next year.”
Before they can do that, though, they have Eric Lane’s funeral awaiting back at home. It’s set for 2 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5 at Avon United Methodist Church in Avon, Ind. (6850 E. U.S. Highway; Avon, Ind. 46123). For those unable to attend in person, services will be available in a live-stream format though the church’s website, www.avonumc.com. The link will be available closer to the date of the service. Burial will follow at the West Ridge Park Cemetery in Indianapolis.
20th Dodge NHRA Finals
Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 20th annual Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the final of 11 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.
Top Fuel — 1. Billy Torrence, 3.728 seconds, 325.30 mph vs. 14. Cameron Ferre, 6.595, 101.23; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.731, 330.39 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 6.276, 109.60; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.746, 327.74 vs. 12. Justin Ashley, 5.659, 115.47; 4. Antron Brown, 3.762, 322.81 vs. 11. Tony Schumacher, 5.249, 112.46; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.775, 319.90 vs. 10. Clay Millican, 5.002, 141.88; 6. Leah Pruett, 3.791, 322.04 vs. 9. Chris Karamesines, 4.166, 224.66; 7. Jim Maroney, 3.971, 307.37 vs. 8. Troy Buff, 4.123, 218.97.
Funny Car — 1. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.902, 327.98 vs. 16. Chris Morel, Charger, 4.617, 191.73; 2. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.911, 327.82 vs. 15. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.359, 244.56; 3. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.915, 322.42 vs. 14. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 4.334, 238.47; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.915, 319.14 vs. 13. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.126, 312.13; 5. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.929, 325.92 vs. 12. Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.035, 282.54; 6. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.929, 321.50 vs. 11. Steven Densham, Mustang, 4.004, 314.75; 7. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.933, 327.66 vs. 10. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.996, 309.70; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.940, 322.88 vs. 9. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.975, 326.24. Did Not Qualify: 17. Bobby Bode, 4.755, 151.92; 18. Alex Miladinovich, 5.440, 140.08.
Pro Stock — 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.601, 206.73 vs. 16. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.724, 204.35; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.635, 206.39 vs. 15. Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.709, 204.23; 3. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.637, 206.32 vs. 14. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.691, 206.07; 4. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.641, 206.35 vs. 13. Troy Coughlin Jr., Mustang, 6.670, 205.60; 5. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.642, 205.76 vs. 12. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.652, 205.35; 6. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.645, 205.76 vs. 11. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.650, 205.79; 7. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.645, 204.98 vs. 10. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.649, 205.94; 8. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.646, 206.45 vs. 9. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.647, 205.38. Did Not Qualify: 17. Val Smeland, 6.727, 205.66; 18. Alan Prusiensky, 6.728, 204.54; 19. Steve Graham, 6.763, 203.06; 20. Fernando Cuadra, 8.818, 107.97.
Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.818, 198.12 vs. 16. Cory Reed, EBR, 7.318, 190.14; 2. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.821, 198.38 vs. 15. Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 7.141, 158.82; 3. Joey Gladstone, EBR, 6.893, 195.56 vs. 14. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.082, 189.82; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.900, 196.04 vs. 13. David Barron, EBR, 7.045, 190.00; 5. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.918, 196.30 vs. 12. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.014, 192.36; 6. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.941, 192.19 vs. 11. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.009, 190.78; 7. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.946, 194.74 vs. 10. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.998, 184.85; 8. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.947, 194.44 vs. 9. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.955, 193.35.
Who do you like in today’s NHRA Finals? Can Steve Torrence, Matt Hagan and Erica Enders hold on to their points leads and win championships? Join in the NHRA discussion in the comments section below.
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