Cruz Pedregon celebrates his second Funny Car victory of the season in the… (Jerry Foss / NHRA via Associated…)
The elite level of the National Hot Rod Assn.'s funny car drag racing is dominated by two multi-car teams, John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing, which have seven funny car drivers between them.
But that's of no concern to one of the sport's soloists, veteran Cruz Pedregon.
Pedregon, 49, leads the funny car championship standings after his win Sunday near Houston even though he's a single-car team, with Pedregon as driver, chief engine tuner and manager.
It's the first time since September 2009 that a driver who does not work for Force or Schumacher has led the funny car standings in the NHRA's premier Mello Yello Series.
The last driver to do it? Cruz's younger brother, Tony.
"To say it's been gratifying would be an understatement," Cruz Pedregon said. "I'm having more fun, literally, than I've ever had in my career."
Pedregon who was raised in Gardena and lives in Brownsburg, Ind., has been a funny car racer for more than two decades and has two championships.
The first came in 1992 when Pedregon drove for team owner Larry Minor, the second in 2008 after Pedregon formed his team.
Funny cars are one of the two premier "nitro" classes in drag racing; the other is top fuel. Each has 8,000-horsepower, nitromethane-fueled engines that power the cars to speeds topping 300 mph in less than five seconds.
Pedregon drives what's described as a Toyota Camry, although funny cars bear almost no resemblance to production cars.
But the body of Pedregon's car was designed by Toyota Racing Development in Costa Mesa, which also provides him and other Toyota drivers with engineering and on-track support. His main sponsor is Snap-On Tools, whose contract lasts through 2014.
Pedregon defeated Tim Wilkerson, who also owns a one-car team, in the final round Sunday of the NHRA SpringNationals in Baytown, Texas.
That gave Pedregon the 32nd win of his career and made him the first two-time funny car winner through six events this season. His other win came in Las Vegas a month ago.
He leads the standings by 37 points over 2011 champion Matt Hagan, one of four funny car drivers on Schumacher's team, and by 86 points over John Force's daughter Courtney, one of three funny car racers on her father's team.
The next race is this weekend in Atlanta and "we're the car to beat, and I don't think that's boasting or disregarding the performance of the other teams," Pedregon said.
"We know when to press and when to back off a little bit ... and still win rounds," he said. "We take whatever the track [conditions] will give us."
And with two titles under his belt, Pedregon is hardly intimidated by the Force and Schumacher teams despite their larger budgets.
"I'm still racing individuals" with each pass down the drag strip, "not entire teams," he said. "That gives us confidence. I like our chances."