If looks made for a winning race car, there are some who would suggest Cruz Pedregon’s remake of the Keeling and Clayton California Charger Pontiac Trans-Am would never lose a race.
“It was an honor to get permission from one of the original owners to be able to build this car,” Pedregon said. “It was one of the cars I grew up as a kid watching and loved. It’s immaculate, shiny and has all of the characteristics of a show car. The fact we can run some of these cars at some of the nostalgia events makes it worthwhile for me. I couldn’t imagine spending the money it takes to build one of these cars just for it to sit. To race it, is just an honor.”
Jerry Clayton, the living member of the famous nitro team of the sixties and seventies, gave his blessings largely due to the fact he knew of the contributions the Pedregon family had made to the sport dating back to Frank Pedregon Sr.
“I was extremely proud he called,” said Clayton, who was in attendance at the California Hot Rod Reunion for the car’s race debut. “I have known Cruz for a long time. I knew of his father’s racing and how they raced. It was not a corporate billboard thing. It was a Pedregon family thing. It made me proud that he did that and I was more than willing to give my blessings.”
Pedregon, having previously done a Joe Pisano tribute car as well as having involvement with other nostalgia endeavors, knew the Bakersfield event wouldn’t be a simple walk in the park outing.
“Oh it’s a bit of work, for sure,” Pedregon said. “I have some of my crew out here helping with the car. It’s our off weekend with two races coming up. Unfortunately it’s our first rodeo with this car and we missed the cut.”
Pedregon’s new 1977 Pontiac ran a 5.972 which came up short of the 5.954 bubble.
“We’ll be back, but we’re not going to race it much and will limit it to a few races per year,” said Pedregon. “We definitely want to come back here and make the show.
For Clayton, the California Charger entry Pedregon brought out was as pretty as any of the entries he and deceased partner John Keeling fielded.
“Yes it is,” said Clayton. “He’s got a few details he’s going to change around. We had an extremely difficult time meeting or exceeding the level of the previous car with each new one. This car was our fifth or sixth one. We pushed the envelope a lot on them. It was always difficult to come up with something new and different each time. We always had to work within the ever-changing rules. There were several innovations we wanted to do but were denied.”
Pedregon said he wasn’t particularly looking to do a nostalgia flopper at the time but the more he looked at the California Charger entry, the more he became convinced the California Charger was a worthy reproduction.
“I said to myself many times if there was a car which should be done, it is this one,” Pedregon explained. “He [Clayton] was all excited and encouraged me to go forward with the project. Every detail in this car was done with total accuracy in mind.”
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