Cruz Pedregon has been annoyed for a long time that he has trained mechanics well, only to see his better-funded rivals pirate them. “That just chaps my rear,” he said at Indianapolis a few years ago.
But the two-time Funny Car champion and current points leader has found a loyal soul, one guaranteed never to leave him: the suddenly sensational Juan Mota.
Guaranteed? C’mon — in the world of NHRA drag racing? Juan Mota never will leave Cruz Pedregon, because . . . well, he IS Cruz Pedregon. That’s the cryptic name Pedregon gave the tuner side of himself.
We have my guys and they’re all the crew chief. They all have a role in how the car performs. To say that one guy is head-and-shoulders more important than the next guy, I don’t subscribe to that theory.
The Snap-on Toyota Camry owner-driver said coyly he has a reason for choosing that name, Juan Mota, but will reveal it sometime later — maybe. But for right now, as the tour heads back to Atlanta to finish the rain-postponed Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals this Friday and Saturday, all anyone needs to know is that Juan Mota has pushed Pedregon into some historic zone.
Pedregon’s points lead marks the first time since 2009 that somebody other than a John Force Racing or Don Schumacher Racing driver topped the list. The last non-JFR or DSR leader was Tony Pedregon, Cruz’s younger brother and two-time champion, who led from Sept. 20 to Sept. 27 that year.
“There are some stats that have more meaning than others, and that one’s a pretty good one there,” Pedregon said.
With his Houston victory last month, Pedregon became the class’ first repeat winner and moved to within three victories of tying Don “The Snake” Prudhomme for No. 4 on the all-time Funny Car victories list. He has qualified in the top five at five of the year’s six races so far and is the only nitro-class driver this season to win at least one elimination round at every race.
He’s doing it all with his so-called “No-Name Crew,” making his own decisions without a crew chief.
“We have my guys and they’re all the crew chief,” Pedregon said. “They all have a role in how the car performs. To say that one guy is head-and-shoulders more important than the next guy, I don’t subscribe to that theory. I believe that everybody that works on the car is important, not just one guy.” Besides, he said of his [personnel, “These guys, I just have a good feeling about ’em.”
He said his parting with his 2012 crew chief Lee Beard “had nothing to do with the budget or the financial end of it at all.” He said he simply didn’t need a crew chief.
“Lee came in. He was a good addition. He worked for a year, and that was the end of it,” Pedregon said. “People made a bigger deal out of [Beard’s dismissal] than it was. It’s like, man, did I marry this guy when I wasn’t looking? I didn’t marry the guy. I just hired him for a year.
“If you have two different philosophies on running the car, it’s like they say in the NFL: If you have two quarterbacks, you have none. If you have two crew chiefs, you have none. One guy needs to be at the helm, and that guy’s me,” Pedregon said. “We went back to not having any input from anybody this year, and the track record speaks for itself.”
While Pedregon has the skills to be his own tuner, he said a dual role isn’t what he set out to have. “When [Rahn] Tobler was here, I was perfectly fine with driving,” he said. “I drove well that year and we won a championship. But there’s only so many of those guys around. In this business, if you get hold of a good one, you’d better have the wherewithal to latch onto them or you’re going to have journeymen guys. You’re always going to be searching for ‘that guy.’
“My team will be strong, regardless of who they try to hire out from under me,” Pedregon said. “I don’t like turnover, but I can’t control that guy with a lot bigger budget who wants to hire certain guys. It worked out well for me. It’s a lot of work, a lot of sleepless nights. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Whatever happens, he has Juan Mota’s allegiance. “I’m sure people are going to try to hire him. He said he’s going to be loyal to me, so I’m not going to worry about it.”
No one might know the story behind Juan Mota, but the names of the “No-Name Crew” are a matter of public record. They’re Chris “Warrior” Kullberg and (car chief), Todd Haas (assistant car chief, supercharger), Sterling Van Dusen (clutch, wheels/tires), Narciso “Nacho” Bravo (bottom end), Chris Abbott (short block), Archie Singleton (clutch, ignition), Ethan Dooling (cylinder heads), and Mike Rodriguez (fuel, parachutes).