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Falken Blog

An Inside Look at Tony Pellegrino

On a race car, we use the WILDPEAK M/T light truck tire. As a racer, you look for a nice open tread blocks that will grab the loose dirt and provide maximum grip.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Southern California. I started racing on dirt bikes with my dad when I was five – it was something we did together. Over the years, that developed into several different types of racing, dirt bikes, off-road trucks and jeeps, etc. 
I love making things. I used to own a machine shop when I was younger and enjoyed manufacturing parts. Which actually led me to building my own jeep and sharing my passion for off-road with my family. As I got older, having something I could do with the family was important to me. 
What inspired you to get into off-roading?
I like the exploring, getting out and camping, those aspects of it.  It’s a great healthy, outdoors kind of lifestyle. As for the racing, we built jeeps we thought could be competitive and enjoyed that challenge.  
King of the Hammers used to be the only race, and a lot of guys were racing old rock crawlers… but that’s too slow for me, it’s like watching paint dry. It’s technical and interesting as a driver, but not for a spectator.  
So now in order to make it interesting, they end up destroying the cars by pushing them so hard. The Ultra4 series is a blend of a fast rock crawler and a trophy truck. Lots of big time drivers from other series are now joining the Ultra4 series because they know it’s the place to be for all around skill and competition.
As a former dirt bike guy, I miss the ‘edgy’ moments, and the majority of drivers in Ultra4 are all guys that came from dirt-biking. We have a thing here called “with age comes a cage.” As you get a little older, it’s more important you get to work on Monday.
What would your advice be to a new driver?
If they’re interested, they need to get on the pit crew of a good team. It’s a volunteer position, but it’s important. And then, be patient. There are three people on my team right now who joined my pit crew to understand what happens behind the scenes. You can’t just show up and race.  There are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes.  
On my crew, I have five people just tracking other cars. There’s a lot of info you have to be able to process. Then, if you decide this is something you want to do, the next thing you need to do is come out with the goal of finishing. You can’t win without finishing.
What’s a hobby you have that people might not know about?
I enjoy radio controlled cars. I built a complete monster truck from scratch. I also built a car that looks like today’s Ultra4 car, and that was 30 years ago.  
In the last two years, it was disassembled and I put it back together. My boys saw it in pieces and wanted me to put it back together. It’s funny how things come back around.

How did your relationship with Falken Tires start?
Falken was sponsoring some other drivers we had as common friends, so they came out to certain events with us. They liked the interaction we had with our customers. 
Where we really connected was when I finished 2nd at King of Hammers. After that performance, we really bonded and we both had the same passion for winning. The following year after was my first time on Falken Tires WILPEAK M/T and we finished second that year as well; surpassing expectations.

What’s one of your wildest racing experiences?
King of Hammers is such a marathon race. All the competitors take off like it’s a sprint. In the first 50 miles, more than half the cars are already out of the race. If you make it to the first pit stop, in this year’s race I think there were only 40 cars still running. This year there were 31 finishers, so it’s a small number that finish.
This year, we had passed 80 cars in the first 90 miles – and then I got taken out by a catastrophic failure of a component. We ended up cartwheeling at about the 100 mile point. I’m wearing a cast right now because it was a pretty rough landing. Up until that point, it was probably the smoothest race day I’ve had. But that’s just part of racing.
Now that Falken Tires is the official tire of MLB, what team do you root for?
I’m a Dodger fan – call me old school. I’ve been going to games since I was a little guy.
What kind of Falken Tires do you use on your race car?
On a race car, we use the WILDPEAK M/T light truck tire. As a racer, you look for a nice open tread blocks that will grab the loose dirt and provide maximum grip. It also has to not chunk – it takes some expertise to find that right combination. Falken has a great group of engineers that came up with these awesome tread compounds that really provide great handling and feel on the race course.
When we first moved over to Falken, the first thing I noticed was that the tire doesn’t ‘crab walk’ at all. Also, tires are expensive, so you’d like to get some nice life out of a tire – any consumer appreciates that. I knew Falken’s tire casing was a good platform, and confident that the tire was heavy duty and long-lasting.
If you weren’t a race car driver, you would be a….???
I’d be into muscle cars. I love the old Camaros, old Mustangs, so I’d still be on Falken Tires for sure.
Where can fans see you race next?
I have to race to qualify for next year’s KOH, so I think I will be at Glen Helen in San Bernardino in June.
Photos by Jami Pellegrino.