The multiple-car teams owned by John Force and Don Schumacher dominate drag racing's funny car class, but one-car team owner and driver Cruz Pedregon isn't about to concede an advantage.
After finishing a close third in the championship standings last year, Pedregon, 48, is confident he can win his third funny car title this season despite constantly facing the Force and Schumacher entries.
"By no means were we disappointed; we were excited" with last year's finish and consider it "a boost, no question" going into this year, he said.
Pedregon drove his Snap-On Tools Toyota to the ninth-fastest time Thursday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona in the opening round of qualifying for the Winternationals, the season's first race in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s premier Full Throttle Series.
There are two more days of qualifying Friday and Saturday. The 16 fastest cars advance to final eliminations Sunday.
A Torrance native who now lives in Brownsburg, Ind., Pedregon and his brother Tony — who has his own one-car team — are drag racing veterans who each have two funny car titles. Tony qualified a tick faster than his brother Thursday, in eighth.
One benefit for the multiple-car teams is that their drivers and crews can share information that might give them an edge in speed. Cruz Pedregon said he hopes to bridge that gap by sharing information with his brother's team.
"We don't need to be light years better, we just need to be a little better and a little more consistent," said Cruz Pedregon, who also has a new crew chief in Lee Beard, a veteran who came from the Schumacher camp.
"We don't have the hoopla and the glamour of the four-car teams," Cruz Pedregon said, "but I like how we stack up against those guys."
Much of the preseason hoopla surrounded Courtney Force, the 23-year-old daughter of John Force. She is making her funny car debut this weekend.
She started well with the sixth-fastest run Thursday at 4.210 seconds and 303.16 mph over the 1,000-foot track.
Her 62-year-old father, a 15-time funny car champion, edged her for fifth with a run of 4.192 seconds and 302.89 mph under clear skies and temperatures in the high 70s.
Alexis DeJoria, another female driver who's garnered attention as a rookie this season, qualified 10th.
A Schumacher driver, Jack Beckman of Norco, topped the charts with a pass of 4.139 seconds and 308.14 mph. Defending funny car champion Matt Hagan, also of Schumacher's team, qualified fourth at 4.177 seconds and 307.23 mph.
In the sport's other elite division, top fuel, defending Winternationals winner Morgan Lucas was the provisional low qualifier with a run of 3.382 seconds and 320.28 mph.