“It’s the eeriest thing I’ve felt in my years of driving.” – Cruz Pedregon
Cruz Pedregon was pulling away from Ron Capps during their first round race at the NHRA Gatornationals Sunday morning when everything went to hell in a hand-basket. Pedregon’s Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Funny Car backfired through the supercharger, lifting the body from the chassis and sending him bouncing through the shutdown area.
Looking a big groggy, a harried Pedregon, emerged from the wounded race car and quickly tried to assess the situation. The former NHRA Funny Car world champion would later determine the backfire to be a blessing in disguise.
“I’m okay, just a bit sore,” Pedregon later said. “I thought I was going to go for a really big one there. The throttle bracket broke and I didn't know it at the time but the throttle just swung open and eventually the engine blew up. Everything went to smithereens after that but it was a routine run and the throttle wouldn't close.”
Pedregon realizes the danger he was exposed to with the incident. A hung throttle could have taken him off the end of the strip at speeds topping 350 miles per hour.
“It's the eeriest feeling that I've felt in my many years of driving,” Pedregon said. “I always thought I can ride this out and hit the brakes and all that. You're a complete passenger -- absolutely not in control of anything. That's a lot of power out there you have. Then I realized I was at such a high rate of speed and the parachutes hadn't come out initially. The thought running into Capps crossed my mind and I was hoping to stay out of his lane.”
I never felt that my life was at stake and it was that time. If you look at the scenario you're going to say hey throttle down for a little bit longer, parachutes burn off. That thing was liable to run off, there's water down there you know too which isn't a good thing. - Cruz Pedregon
“Pretty soon I was in the left lane, heading for the left wall. The concussion blew the body off and blew the car sideways.”
Because the bulk of the issues occurred after the finish line Pedregon was able to smile through the twisted wreckage. He'd been first and fastest across the line.
“We won the round and it beat me around a little bit because it was bouncing and bouncing. In fact, bouncing off the headers worked in my favor.”
Such a violent disposition was the result of one of those small parts – a broken throttle bracket. Once the body departed the chassis, Pedregon bounced and his head beat around the roll cage viciously.
“I actually feel lucky, I really do,” Pedregon admitted. “I got the right bounce. The head [padding] support is a great thing but it does kind of rattle you. It's kind of like when you're playing a pinball machine. You know when you get it down by the little round thing when it just starts to develop a little harmonic and a little rattle. Your head goes back and forth just like that. That's kind of what my head was doing.
“I couldn't see for a little while until the car settled down a little bit. When I got my vision back is when I thought man I better do some driving because I'm going at such a high rate of speed I didn't want to get into the wall or anything.”
So what caused the failure?
“It looks like the weld failed on the bracket,” explained Pedregon. “If you picture it, you lose that bracket by the injector which holds the cable. When you lose that, there's nothing to close the throttle and the fuel pressure is at such a point where you actually need that back pressure to close it. The throttle wants to stay open and that's exactly what happened.
“Everything that could happen did go wrong as far as that goes. To be honest with you, I've never been happier to see the thing backfire. Everything shut off even though it created a mess -- it would've been a bigger mess if the throttle would've stayed open longer.”
Pulling the parachutes when Pedregon realized the throttle was hung open would have been an exercise in futility.
“It's not going to slow down enough to negotiate to get the speed down to where it needs to be,” Pedregon added. “I'm just lucky man.”
Carnage such as the kind experienced in the wake of Pedregon’s crash leaves a large price tag. The incident cost him a minimum of $100,000.
Pedregon’s team performed an inspection of the chassis upon the return to the pits. No significant damage was found but the extreme bouncing in the shut-down area certainly left the potential for a bent chassis. NHRA rules would have prevented the introduction of another chassis into competition once eliminations began.
“I was pretty concerned but one of our team members steered it back and he said it felt straight,” Pedregon said. “I looked at the bottom rails. I looked at it pretty hard and it looked like it was straight. They're pretty tough. The fact that it did bounce off the headers evenly it felt like the headers kind of took some of that blow away as a sort of cushion.
“I went up to the line in the second round with the idea that if it does a burn out okay and I feel like if it's going straight then we'll make a race out of it. I also had the thought, let's not be a fool here let's try to be safe and just be aware. I was in there thinking if I'm in the lead and I feel like it's going straight I'll hang with it and I did. I was apprehensive. I got towards the finish line there and I realized that it took a lot of nerve to keep the throttle down just because at that time I didn't know the bracket broke.”
Yes, you read correctly. Pedregon still didn’t know the cause of the hung throttle before he went up to the line a second time.
“We didn't know what it was,” Pedregon admitted. “We didn't know if it was the body, if it was the fuel system vapor locking or what. It's good that we found the bracket because when you find something you know you can fix it. When you don't find anything that's when you're like kind of searching.”
The incident is behind Pedregon and he’ll move forward, but the memory will forever remain in the back of his mind about the day the Gatornationals could have become a fatal experience.
“I never felt that my life was at stake and it was that time,” Pedregon said. If you look at the scenario you're going to say 'hey throttle down for a little bit longer, parachutes burn off.' That thing was liable to run off, there's water down there too which isn't a good thing.”
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