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Oh, Brothers The Pedregons' rivalry on the funny car circuit is no joke

Nine-year-old Cruz Pedregon was sitting on top of the world, not
to mention a few pillows, as he drove his father Frank's
Peterbilt truck along what Frank thought was a deserted street
in downtown Los Angeles. But Cruz's glee disappeared a few
blocks later when flashing red and blue lights appeared in the
truck's mirrors. Summonses with fines of $100 each were issued
to father and son.

"Oh, man, was I crying," Cruz says now, laughing. Besides using
the makeshift booster seat, he also had his baseball cap pulled
down low in a futile attempt to convince the cop that he was old
enough to drive, that he had just forgotten his license. "I
thought I had committed the worst of sins. I thought I'd never
drive again."

Instead of the end, it was only the start of a life behind the
wheel. Twenty-five years later, Cruz and brothers Frank Jr., 35,
and Tony, 33, have one of the fastest sibling rivalries in
sports, roaring down quarter-mile strips at 300 mph on the
National Hot Rod Association's funny car circuit.

"It's definitely unique," says Frank, who won last week's event
in Hebron, Ohio. "A fan will come up to me in the pit area and
say, 'You're going to kick your brother's ass today, right?' And
I'm like, 'Which one?' Then I'll see that same fan asking Cruz
or Tony the same thing, and I'll say, 'Hey, I thought you were
on my side.'"

Cruz has won twice in the 10 circuit events he has entered this
season and sits third in the point standings, but he has been
far less successful in fraternal competition. He's 0-2 against
his brothers this season despite being the most accomplished
driver of the three, having won the 1992 points crown as a
rookie. "But it's still early," says Tony. "I think all we've
done is make him mad."

The younger Pedregons owe their racing acumen to the elder
Frank, who drove top fuel dragsters on the regional circuit in
the 1960s and employed his wife and the boys' mother, Cora, as
his tow-truck driver. He never got a chance to see his boys race
funny cars--he died after the private plane he was piloting
crashed in '81--but Cruz says his dad would have been proud of
the road his sons have taken. "He just wanted us to take care of
each other and stay a family," Cruz says.

As the only Hispanics on the funny car circuit, the Pedregons,
whose parents were born in Texas, have attracted new fans to
their sport, especially at tracks in areas with large Latino
populations. In the wake of the Pedregons' popularity,
McDonald's and Castrol-Syntec, among others, have created
budgets to address the Hispanic drag racing fans. "It may or may
not have anything to do with us," Cruz says, "but I've seen the
growth. The three of us have different personalities, but we're
all fan-friendly and we don't forget where we come from."

--Paul Gutierrez

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS No holds barred Left to right: Cruz, Tony and Frank. [Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon and Frank Pedregon Jr.]

The Deal

The surprisingly small number of NASCAR drivers--John Andretti,
Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace--who have qualified
for all 14 Winston Cup races this season on the basis of their
speed in time trials.