Though he has accomplished much in his career, entering the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, there was one blaring omission from Cruz Pedregon's résumé: a victory in the NHRA U.S. Smokeless Showdown. The 1992 Funny Car world champion fixed that when he defeated Tim Wilkerson to claim this year's Showdown trophy and the $100,000 payday that goes with it.
Cruz Pedregon, far lane, scored his first U.S. Smokeless Showdown title and collected the $100,000 payday by beating Tim Wilkerson in the final.
"I'm still kind of in shock," said Pedregon. "This race is special to me because I have never won it before. Every win feels like your biggest one because it just happened. This one will rank up there because it's the eight best cars over the long haul. This is like the football playoffs. You can't back into anything.
"I used to win easy early in my career. I was always dedicated and wanted to win, and it seemed like I was in the right place, right car, and right situation. I hate to say this, but I was a little cocky back in the day, but I've had a pretty long dry spell, and I've been humbled about 50 times. So I wasn't really thinking about winning that final. I was just happy to be in it."
Appearing in the bonus event for the 10th time in his career, Pedregon began his title march with a 4.22 to 5.67 win over his brother Tony in round one. He then ran a 4.24 to defeat Del Worsham and advance to his fifth Showdown final; he also made it to the money round in 1993, 1995, 1996, and 1998.
Wilkerson appeared to have the car to beat, clocking low e.t. of the first two rounds. The Funny Car points leader ran a jaw-dropping 4.14 in the first round to oust Ron Capps. He then powered to a 4.23 to defeat John Force, the winningest driver in Showdown history, and earn a spot in his first Showdown final.
In the final, Wilkerson got the slight edge on the Tree, .112 to .119, and led through the first 60 feet, but Pedregon moved around him shortly after that. The Advance Auto Parts driver just built on his lead from there, crossing the finish line with a 4.18 that put him nearly a tenth ahead of the 4.28 of Wilkerson.
"Tim Wilkerson is really a hero of mine because Tim is an independent racer," said Pedregon. "He comes out and gets the job done, and I give him a lot of credit. I didn't see him all the way down, but I heard him. It almost seemed like we were back to the quarter-mile again. I was hoping that the finish line would get there sooner than it did. I might have driven it to the quarter-mile just to make sure he didn't get by me, but Tim, I guess, had a cylinder out. He's just such an incredible racer.
"I'm just going to enjoy this. I'm not even going to think about tomorrow right now. This just really means a lot to me. This means a lot to win."
Pedregon earned the bulk of the $147,000 purse from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., pocketing $100,000. If Pedregon wins the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals tomorrow, he will earn an additional $50,000 from NHRA.
Wilkerson takes home $15,000 for his runner-up effort. A $6,000 check goes to semifinalists Force and Worsham, and first-round finishers Ashley Force, Capps, Robert Hight, and Tony Pedregon each earned $5,000.