NHRA: From cruisin’ to strugglin’ to finally winnin’ again, Cruz Pedregon is back in the game

Photos and videos courtesy NHRA
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Throughout his drag racing career, Cruz Pedregon has been known by the colorful nickname of “The Cruiser.”

Part of the onus for that nickname is he made success – and winning – look easy at times, like he was on a Sunday cruise during many NHRA national event final eliminations.

Along the way in more than three decades of racing, he accumulated 35 career wins and two NHRA Funny Car championships in 1992 and 2008.

But over the last four seasons, Pedregon has done very little cruising. He’s suffered through one of the worst slumps of his career, swapping out team members and crew chiefs to try and find a winning chemistry, doing everything he could to turn his team around and back to prominence.

It took 92 consecutive winless races but the Southern California native finally is back on the winning track after capturing the Funny Car class this past Sunday in the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina.

“This one ranks right up there,” Pedregon said. “Believe it or not, but I was thinking, ‘Man, maybe I’m not destined to win again.’ Part of the make-up in my personality is that I don’t want to do this unless I’m competitive.

“To be out here racing is a lot of work and a lot of stress. I have a seven-year old daughter and the travel is tough. What motivates me is having a good running car that people respect.”

Pedregon and his Snap-On Toyota Camry defeated 16-time champ John Force, Courtney Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. to earn his 36th career Funny Car triumph in NHRA competition.

I didn’t believe my ears when Caleb Cox, our team manager, got on the radio and said we’d won. I said, ‘I might have a little wax in my ears so I need to make sure I heard that right.’ It’s still a little bit surreal.

In so doing, Pedregon moved into fifth-place on the all-time Funny Car wins list, passing the legendary Don “Snake” Prudhomme.

“This is like going back to my first win,” Pedregon said. “This might just be the sweetest win of my career. It shows you can be a single, independent team with no attachments to the big teams and if you hire the right people and have the funding you can win out here.”

Pedregon, left, along with Sunday’s other winners at Charlotte: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Now that he’s broken his winless streak, Pedregon goes for his second consecutive victory in this weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia.

After Sunday’s race, Pedregon gave thanks to a number of people for the help they’ve given to him and his team this year to elevate its performance.

Among those, Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) team owner Don Schumacher, and Pedregon’s crew chief, Aaron Brooks.

“The car we won in (Sunday) is actually a DSR chassis,” Pedregon said. “I called Don this winter and told him I needed a chassis. It was a very different chassis and we had to modify the cage and we didn’t debut it until Houston and let me tell you, it’s a good car.

“Thanks to Don. He’s a businessman and he sold us a car and it works really good. We have another one on order and I think I will be able to afford to pay for it now.”

And then there’s the significant improvement to the team in the person of Brooks.

“When I signed with Snap-on in 2010, I had a team where everyone had left me, all the crew and the crew chief,” Pedregon said. “I had nothing until Snap-on came on board and sponsored me.

“Within a year, we were winning races. We really had something going on then. I was tuning the car, but really my plate was full. But by 2014, we started to win fewer races and by 2015, we just hit the wall.

“There was some technology going on in Funny Car that we weren’t privy to and we fell behind as a team. So we had to regroup as a team. I went and hired Aaron, who was crew chief of the Lucas Oil team, who was hungry and very dedicated.

“I needed to bring in someone like Aaron who could take over my team and run it the way it needed to be run. There was just too much to do for one guy. I was driving and I was tuning and just fell off the pace.

“So I had to bring in some new people and, thankfully, this year, we were joined by Glen Huszar, who has a lot of years with DSR and Kalitta (Motorsports), as the assistant crew chief on the car. So it’s been a one-two punch.

“Aaron’s been a great asset. Last year was frustrating because he had his ideas and I had mine, but we kept our heads down. Aaron weathered the storm of my ranting and craziness and (Sunday) we had a car that just won a race. It just goes to show if you stick with good people that they’ll make you look good.”

Cruz Pedregon goes for two wins in a row Sunday at Atlanta Dragway.

Pedregon didn’t even know immediately whether he had won Sunday’s race or not.

“I had no idea that (92 wins without a race) was the number,” he said. “When I pulled up in the final and saw Tommy Johnson Jr., I said to myself, ‘Didn’t we already race him twice today?'”

That’s a Don Schumacher Racing car, one of these runs he’s going to get us. Then I saw John and Courtney and I said to myself, ‘Man, we’ve got our work cut out for us’. I just didn’t want to finish fourth. So I was going to do everything I could to not finish fourth and we got the win.

“I didn’t believe my ears when Caleb Cox, our team manager, got on the radio and said we’d won. I said, ‘I might have a little wax in my ears so I need to make sure I heard that right.’ It’s still a little bit surreal. I still can’t believe that we won. It’s pretty cool.”

But in a way, Sunday’s win wasn’t exactly a surprise, either.

“Our performance has really been a lot better than we’ve shown,” Pedregon said. “The pressure that I’ve been feeling is that even though the car is on the upward swing, it’s been more consistent and we’re qualifying in the top half every week, but we still didn’t have anything to show for it.

“When we won the first round (of Sunday’s eliminations), it was like, ‘Oh man, at least we got that win.’ Then after we got the next one, it crossed my mind that we have a chance to win this thing.”

“It shows that the DSR and John Force cars don’t have all the answers. We can stick our nose in there and mix things up with them.”

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Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”