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Force accused of tanking race at Indy

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CLERMONT, Ind.

Robert Hight faced a tall order at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the last race of the NHRA regular season, to rally from 12th in points into the top 10 and the Countdown to 1. He needed to win a lot of rounds and have certain competitors lose at the right times to make the Funny Car playoff. Was one of those competitors his boss — 14-time champion and drag racing icon John Force? Hight and Force met in the semifinals of Monday's eliminations, and up to that point the bracket had broken perfectly for the man 12th in Funny Car points. Teammate and eventual race winner Ashley Force Hood beat Don Schumacher Racing's Matt Hagan in the first round, eliminating the driver who stood between Hight and all-important 10th place.
"That race was predetermined"
Don Schumacher
John Force, safely in the Countdown himself, beat Cruz Pedregon in the second round. Pedregon, last year's series champion, was 10th in points. That set up a matchup between Force and Hight, which Hight needed to win to kick Pedregon out of the top 10 and put himself in. "I don't think there's a person on the property that doesn't think Robert Hight isn't going to win against John Force, short of some miracle," Pedregon said in his hauler after his second-round loss and before the semifinals. "I have a gut feeling that John's car is going to run off an 18 (.180 reaction time, roughly three times longer than average) and run slower, or smoke the tires." The facts: Force had a .209-second reaction time (his season average coming to Indy was .086), got the car out of the groove and spun the tires halfway down the track and clocked a 5.819-second elapsed time at 133.14 mph. Hight had a .143 reaction time, well off his usual effort, and with what he called a "fuel system failure" clocked 4.261 at 279.09 mph.
The scuttlebutt: that Force did drag racing's version of a tank job to ensure his only non-Countdown-qualified car would become Countdown eligible. "That race was predetermined," team owner Don Schumacher said. "I couldn't find anybody on the starting line that I could give 100 to 1 odds to that they would take John Force. It was very obvious — look at his reaction time. It disappoints me for the fans and disappoints me for the sport." Schumacher owns Hagan's car, already Countdown-ineligible by that time, and the Countdown-qualified cars of Ron Capps and Jack Beckman. He didn't have the vested interest of the Pedregon brothers, Cruz and current points leader Tony. Tony Pedregon, after losing to Force Hood in his semifinal, called Force a cheater in front of television cameras at the far end of the track. A shouting match between the two — former mates when Pedregon drove for Force including winning the 2003 title — commenced and officials had to separate them. "For a team owner to make a call and say I gotta allow my driver to win, I disagree with that. It's that simple," Tony Pedregon said. Force, when asked in the postrace press conference if the Hight race was predetermined, offered this: "I can't help it that it came up that way, I don't set the field. I do what I do. I've heard so many things like ...' John was late on the line.' We both went up there, the only thing we said to each other was, 'OK, Robert, let's not screw this up and have some stupid red light and we both look like we did something stupid, let's put them in dead shallow and go.' That throws you off, I hate doing that, Robert said 'it screws me up,' but we did it, and it throws us both off.

Eight is great

Schumacher The Force's provide too much drama for your taste? Elsewhere at the U.S. Nationals, Tony Schumacher made it look easy as he romped to victory and tied NHRA legend Don Garlits.
"You ain't ever make the world happy, I know that and I'll go down the road and hope my sponsors understand that I'm doing what I do. But to have a guy call me a name and a cheat, like he thinks he knows, and say it in front of cameras and everybody, you've got no right. You can go to court over that stuff. That's that and I'll try to go the high road again." John Force Racing fields four Ford Mustangs in Funny Car. Force and his daughter's car are both sponsored by Castrol GTX, Hight is sponsored by Auto Club of Southern California and Mike Neff drives the Ford Drive One car. Yet the sponsorships are largely shared by the teams and Force makes no secret that his group is a four-for-one kind of bunch, with plenty of camaraderie among a huge staff. "I think Force calculated the risks; it was more important for him to have that Auto Club car have a chance at the championship," Beckman said. "My heart goes out to Cruz; that's a bitter pill to swallow, knowing the guy behind you has to win one round to get into the Countdown and he's racing his boss. That's a very difficult position to be in." Force said Cruz Pedregon shook his hand at the far end, a gesture he appreciated. Tony Pedregon's reaction was much different, and doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. "I stand behind what I say. I'm trying to make a living, I'm a competitor," Pedregon said. "John and I are coming from two different places. He's got the money, he's got the cars, but outside of that I'm just trying to survive, I'm trying to be competitive, I've got sponsors over there. I know what goes on over there. Nobody's ever said it. "John has been good to me, I love the man, but I think he should just accept it." It was a huge day for JFR on the biggest day of the NHRA season, but one that won't likely be forgotten soon, for reasons other than one driver winning and another securing the final playoff spot. "I want to enjoy it, and then it just goes to crap," Force said. "I can't win."

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