TULSA, Okla. — Cruz Pedregon only planned on being a car owner during this year’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
That all changed on Wednesday night.
The two-time NHRA Funny Car champion, who has made six appearances in the Chili Bowl as a driver, will climb in Ryan Hall’s No. 79m midget Friday night for his first Chili Bowl attempt in more than 10 years.
“My crew chief, Landon Simon, drives for this Express Car Wash of Texas group. There was an extra car, so they asked me if I was interested and I said, ‘Sure,’” Pedregon said. “It was really as simple as that.
“It was not really planned. I didn’t even bring any of my equipment. I called my shop and had my equipment sent overnight. So here we are.”
This Chili Bowl adventure is vastly different for Pedregon compared to his previous attempts. When he competed in the past, he was wheeling his own equipment around the Tulsa Expo Raceway quarter-mile temporary dirt oval.
While it’s a slightly different situation when compared his previous attempts, Pedregon says he’ll enjoy the challenge of climbing back behind the wheel of a dirt midget once again.
“When I was here, I had my own equipment. I usually brought a couple cars, so I’d get a couple of drivers that ran hard and then I just kind of had my fun,” said Pedregon, who owns the car wheeled by A.J. Bender this week. “I love the challenge of it. I’ve been a dirt-track fan for years. The Chili Bowl is a great event. It is a marquee event for me.
“It’ll be a Chili Bowl I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.”
Pedregon says the hardest part for him will be getting his mind and body back into dirt racing mode after having not done it for so many years. He’s a regular iRacing competitor, something that he thinks can only help him Friday night.
“I’m going to manage expectations,” Pedregon said. “A lot of this racing out here, especially at the Chili Bowl, is being at the right place at the right time and, hopefully, not be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve been doing a lot of iRacing, so I think for me I’ll be rusty, but not as bad had iRacing not been invented.
“At least my brain will be into it. It’s a matter of getting my body to work.”
In terms of expectations, Pedregon really doesn’t have any. He just doesn’t want to add his name to the flip count.
“A good night for me would be, number one, to keep it on all fours, especially here at the Chili Bowl,” Pedregon said. “I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I can assure you this, I’ll go fast down the straightaways. Not sure about the corner speed, but I’ll be going fast down the straightaways.”