The determination of the Pedroncelli family represents a perfect call back to the old days of what is now the ARCA Menards Series West.
Not having the same amount of funding as teams like Bill McAnally Racing and Sunrise Ford Racing has barely impacted Paul ‘P.J.’ Pedroncelli Jr. in his second stint with the series. Since last year, as he has already scored two poles and tallied a victory at All American Speedway.
Accompanying P.J. through the highs and lows of managing a small team in the West Series has been his father Paul, who fulfills a variety of roles with the program that include piloting a second, start-and-park car at most events.
Paul never imagined he would race in any NASCAR-sanctioned event. Even though he has a desire to race beyond his normal duties, Paul is thrilled to be along for the ride in supporting P.J.’s desire to defeat all the top West Series teams every week.
“There aren’t many father-son duos that race together,” Paul said. “I’d like to have a good car like [P.J.] and compete with him, but I don’t have that yet, so I can’t race side-by-side with him. We are still doing this together, and it’s very rewarding.”
By running just a few laps in P.J.’s backup every week, Paul ensures the car has enough owner points to make a race in case of a large field while simultaneously providing income that helps the family improve their operation.
Being a start-and-park driver is just another way Paul has been supporting his son’s passion for auto racing, which started when P.J. was just 15. Paul taught the fundamentals of driving while P.J. gained valuable experience in Street Stocks.
Once P.J. got comfortable behind the wheel, he branched out to participate in Modified and 360 Sprint Car races before he and Paul decided to put together a West Series team, which formally made its debut at the Irwindale Event Center in 2008.
The results were not what P.J. and Paul were expecting. In 12 starts between 2008-11, P.J. only recorded two lead-lap finishes, both of which came at Sonoma Raceway. His best run during that timeframe was a 12th at Douglas County Speedway in 2009, three laps behind the leader.
Numerous changes in P.J.’s personal life that included him starting a family and his own business convinced him and Paul to suspend their West Series program, but P.J. remained actively involved in auto racing by going back to his Modified and Sprint Car roots.
Both Paul and P.J. were content with their lives until they attended a West Series race at All-American two years ago and observed how much everything had changed when it came to eliminating superfluous costs for teams.
Within a few months, P.J. and Paul were back in the West Series; this time with the intention to compete in every single race.
“When we ran [the West Series] before, it was a long, drawn-out two- or three-day deal,” Paul said. “That took up a lot of time and money, but at [All-American] they showed up at 11 a.m., and they were done at about 9 p.m. that night. P.J. and I looked at each other and agreed that it looked pretty fun without being too expensive.”
For his second venture into the West Series, P.J. wanted to take advantage of every possible opportunity to stay competitive. This included bringing in veteran crew chief Ty Joiner, who led Eric Holmes to two West Series championships in 2006 and 2008.
Despite enduring the typical struggles of being a smaller team, P.J. said all the investments made have been paying dividends. He added that having his father as a teammate on race weekends is making the experience even more special.
“This has been a blast,” P.J. said. “We’ve been trying to focus more on the primary car this year, so my dad hasn’t been able to run as much, but he’s helped us make some important decisions about what we should and shouldn’t do. He’s having a blast doing this, so the journey has been quite fun.
With Paul having a background in racing himself, P.J. admitted that his advice along with the experience of Joiner helped transform Pedroncelli Motorsports into a program that can easily hold its own with young drivers who will one day race at the top level of NASCAR.
Hours of hard work ended up culminating into a victory at the same track that reignited Paul and P.J.’s love for the West Series one year earlier.
In a field that featured prospects like Taylor Gray and Jesse Love, P.J. had to fight all evening for solid track position at All-American but found himself in the perfect position to pull off the upset for his first career West Series win.
“That was a great day,” P.J. said. “It was a super-tight field with the top nine qualifying within a tenth of each other. We moved forward, went to the back and picked everyone off one-by-one. We got lucky that the leaders got into each other with 30 to go, and that Joey Iest picked the wrong lane on the one-lap shootout. That gave me the good lane, and I made it stick.”
The only other person more thrilled than P.J. about the victory was Paul, who was frantically cheering on his son after fulfilling his normal start-and-park duties less than an hour earlier.
“I was up in the pit stands watching the race, and we couldn’t believe he won it,” Paul said. “We all jumped and ran down screaming and hollering. My phone ended up falling out of my suit and onto the track. Thankfully somebody found it, but we were all so excited. It was such an amazing night, especially since [All-American] is like a home track for us.”
RACING REFERENCE: Career stats for Paul Pedroncelli
P.J.’s win at All American was the highlight in what proved to be a successful year. He ended up finishing fourth in the standings, just five points behind the West Series champion in Love, after tallying three additional top fives and a pole at Irwindale.
The momentum P.J. established from 2021 has carried over into the current season with two more top fives being added to his West Series resume at Irwindale and Kern County Raceway Park, the latter of which saw him lead the opening 71 laps from the pole.
P.J. is optimistic he can erase his 47-point deficit to Jake Drew and make a run for the West Series championship, but he admits he is focused on making more improvements to his cars while simultaneously enjoying every moment he shares with Paul and the rest of the team.
As far as getting more track time for the second car goes, P.J. said there is a plan in place for Paul to run the full distance when the West Series returns to Portland International Raceway in September. He also hopes to have Paul compete for a top 10 in the second race at Irwindale if he can find the necessary funding.
Whenever the next full race does take place for him, Paul plans to be cautious so he does not tear up P.J.’s car, but he’s hoping to at least put together one competitive run alongside his son before his career concludes.
“[A 1-2 finish with P.J.] would be a dream come true,” Paul said. “This is a family deal, and all of us have such a good time. It may be a lot of work, energy and money, but it’s well worth it.”
One of those fulfilling aspects of running a family-owned West Series operation for Paul and P.J. is being praised by many in the garage area for being so successful despite not having a significant amount of funding.
Both Pedroncellis expect the McAnally and Sunrise Ford cars to be the class of the field every week in the West Series, but they have no intention of going easy on them as they try to guide P.J. back to Victory Lane during the second half of the 2022 season.