MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- By piloting the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird to the $100,000 winner's share of the Budweiser Shootout at Indianapolis Raceway Park on September 2, Frank Pedregon joined an elite group that includes five other Funny Car drivers that have won both the U.S. Nationals ('99) and the "Shootout" at some point during their career. The special-event win at Indy also has Pedregon and his blue Firebird teammates poised and ready to make a strong run to the finish during the season's final six races.
Part of a two-car contingent with team owner Del Worsham, Pedregon currently sits seventh in the Winston points standings. He'll readily admit that it's been an up-and-down season for the blue CSK Pontiac Firebird team, a season that includes a victory at the Southern Nationals in Atlanta along with a pair of DNQs at Topeka and Brainerd. But he's qualified as high as second at four events, set a career-best elapsed time of 4.813 seconds in a first-round win over brother Tony at Chicago and ran a career-best top speed of 317.94 mph at Las Vegas. All indications on the eve of racing at Memphis seem to point to a Pedregon team on the verge of a late-season performance breakout.
How satisfying was your performance at Indy? "I got a nice chunk of change out of that deal. But if you start thinking about paying bills before you get into the finals, or even into the Big Bud Shootout, you're making a big mistake. I did that once before and you end up not focusing very well. I was so honored to be in the Shootout. I've always wanted to get in it. I saw Cruz and Tony in it, and I wanted to race in it. I missed it last year by not qualifying in Sonoma - so close yet so far. Just to be a part of the elite eight is awesome. Del (Worsham) got his two-car team in the Shootout after just two years of development. That's something to be proud of. Del and I have really been running well this season. Both teams have worked extremely hard so it was a big deal winning the Shootout. I've won Indy before, but this ranks right up there with it. Every round I just kept my emotions inside. Once we met up with my brother Tony, I didn't care who I was racing, I just wanted to win. Then I met up with my buddy Whit Bazemore in the finals, got in the car and did my job. As soon as I crossed the finish line I erupted, I was so excited. Then after that emotional high you have to get ready for the actual raceday, which can be pretty tiresome."
How emotionally draining is it trying to win both races in one weekend? "I was completely worn out. To be involved in both events is just hard, but you have to try and keep yourself focused and keep your team going. Still, it was the best weekend in my life. It rates right up there with my win at Indy in '99, but to be in both races makes it my best weekend. I think you have to win both Indy and the Shootout to complete your career. I'm nowhere near the end of my career, but I'm glad to have at least won those two races. Plus, the Bud Shootout was a big lift for our team going into the rest of the season."
Are you pleased with how things have been going for the two-car team? "I'm extremely happy. I think both teams have surprised a lot of people, but they haven't surprised any of us. We knew what a class organization we were putting together. Each team concentrates on its own program and when we race each other, we race each other to win. It's been an up-and-down season, but it's been like that for everyone and we think we're on the upswing going into these last few races. Our goal is to win races and move up in the points. We missed being in the top 10 last year by one spot, finishing 11th. This time we want to finish strong."
How important are these next few races as far as the points battle is concerned? "We've been all the way up to as high as fourth this year. The first three guys, Force, Whit and Del are kind of out of reach, but we don't look at it that way. We feel we could end up in the top four with a good strong finish. We're going to be going to good tracks with good surfaces so we're going to let it all hang out. We're tuning up this Firebird every round like we want to win it. These last six races are good too because we're setting up for next year, but right now we have 2001 to worry about."
How has the relationship between you, Del and Chuck evolved over the years? "I've known them forever. They were great people then and they're great people now. It's as if you really don't work for them - they pretty much turn us loose. But it takes good people to win races and Del puts the team in place and turns us loose. He gives us the best equipment to use and the best parts, then lets us do our thing. I feel we've been doing our job too. My hat goes off to Del and Chuck because they saw that this team, including myself, and Dave Fletcher who is the crew chief, was capable of doing the job and put us in control of the car. They've been the best owners and friends that I've ever had."
As a crew chief, do you think Dave Fletcher has come into his own these past couple of years? "Absolutely. It's not just about Frank Pedregon winning this and that; it's the whole team winning this and that. Dave has surprised a lot of people, but Del and Chuck and I had a lot of confidence in him. He's a great asset to the team and a good friend."
What do you anticipate in Memphis? "It's a good track and I think if we go into it like we did at Indy, we'll do just fine. I have all the confidence in the world that we could win there. I like Memphis. I like the fans, the music and the food. I'm looking forward to going - it's Elvis country! Then we turn around and head back to the Windy City. I ran my career-best elapsed time of 4.81 when we were there earlier this season. I'm hoping to better that and run my career-best speed. It's such a great facility. The track is state of the art. The weather should be great for us too. I think you'll see a Pontiac Firebird in the winner's circle and hopefully it'll be ours."
What's your future look like in the sport of drag racing? "I'm going to be involved for many years to come. My ultimate goal down the line is to become a car owner, but I see myself driving for at least another 10 years. I want to win a championship."
How much is your son Conner involved? "He's my heart and soul, and my silent
partner. I tell everyone that when I'm at home I'm a father, when I'm
traveling I'm a drag racer. He goes to a few races with me but can't go to a
lot because of school. I call him or he'll call me, and we'll talk about how
my day has gone at the track. He gets upset when I have to race one of his
uncles though. He doesn't like me to race Uncle Tony or Uncle Cruz. He's
one of my biggest supporters. I enjoy him very much. He's my life."