Pedregon Says Battle With Force Is Over
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
NHRA Funny Car champions Tony Pedregon and John Force have hissed and made up.
Pedregon said he and former bossman Force cleared any ill will still simmering between them during an impromptu phone conversation last Saturday, five days after they engaged in an animated argument during final eliminations of the 55th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
“Believe it or not, I had a conversation with John. He and I spoke on Saturday, and I’m glad that we had a conversation,” Pedregon said during a teleconference Tuesday afternoon previewing Round 1 of The Countdown to 1, the National Hot Rod Association’s six-race playoff, this weekend. “I think that we understand one another, and you know, it seemed…I got the feeling that, you know, and I share his feelings, that you know, it’s time for us to move on. I mean, I think we are both bigger and better than to dwell on anything that happened.”
Recall that Force was paired in the semifinals of the prestigious five-day event against Robert Hight, one of three hired drivers in John’s Ford Mustang stable and his son-in-law. Hight stood 11th in points and needed to beat Force in the semi to qualify for the Countdown to 1. The driver in 10th place at that point, and needing Hight to lose against Force, was Cruz Pedregon – the 2008 Funny Car champion and Tony Pedregon’s big brother.
The Brothers Pedregon publicly predicted that Force would lose his semifinal so Hight could secure the final Countdown berth – and all the extra TV exposure and sponsorship value that accompanies racing for a championship.
A 14-time Funny Car champion, Force thereupon smoked the rear tires on his Mustang; Hight won the round and knocked Cruz Pedregon out of the Countdown. Meanwhile, at the top end of the racetrack, Tony Pedregon – who had just lost to Force’s daughter, Ashley Force Hood – began ripping the elder Force aloud. Force threw his cap and sunglasses to the ground and confronted Pedregon. The two stood arguing nearly face-to-face, separated by an official, for several minutes.
Pedregon called Force a cheater; Force said Pedregon was ticked-off because Ashley had just trailered him. Pedregon and Force continued their harsh exchanges during separate ESPN2 TV interviews afterward. Tony Pedregon, who had driven for Force for eight years and won a championship at John Force Racing in 2003, said he knew Force issues “team orders.” Force said he gave Pedregon a top-notch job, taught him how to drive and that he should know better.
NHRA officials reviewed videotape, computer data and the setup of Force’s car and cleared him of tanking the 1,000-foot run, stating there was no evidence to support Pedregon’s contention the outcome was manipulated. However, Force was fined $10,000 last Thursday by NHRA for physical contact with an official during the incident. The fine was levied after NHRA reviewed videotape and deemed Force’s physical contact violated the Participant Conduct policy as stated in the 2009 NHRA Rulebook. The fine, which can be appealed by Force, must be paid in full prior to participation in this weekend’s second annual NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., the 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
Pedregon, who has fielded his own team since 2004 and won his second Funny Car title in 2007, will begin the postseason as the No. 1 seed. He posted three victories and four runnerup finishes during a turbulent regular season that saw him part ways with longtime crew chief Dickie Venables. But all that in-house turmoil was eclipsed by the flare-up with Force.
“You know, I know that any time emotions are involved, sometimes you may not state things the way you want to,” said Pedregon, driver of the Q Horsepower Chevy Impala. “But for me, you know, it’s time to move on. It’s time to focus and John is as good as it gets, and I’m certain he’s doing the same thing.”
Pedregon said the speaker phone call with Force was initiated by mutual friend Bob Tasca of that legendary racing family. “I think John and I agreed that was a good thing that Bobby did,” Pedregon said, “and I think more than that, it was a good conversation that John and I had. And really to be honest with you, had we not talked, I think we know each other well enough that, you know, that I didn’t expect that either of us would hold any grudges, and it’s just one of those things that happened and we’ll look back. And I know I’ll look back and just think that was probably two adults that got caught up in a moment.”
Without brother Cruz as a Countdown competitor, Tony’s odds of competing against Force’s four-car armada seem staggering. Ashley Force Hood is seeded third in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. John Force is seventh in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford. Mike Neff is ninth in the Ford Drive One Mustang and Hight will start 10th in the Auto Club of Southern California Ford.
Still, Pedregon said he is ready to defend his top seed – and a proud family Funny Car legacy that has accounted for four NHRA championships since 1992, when Cruz won the first of his two titles at the expense of “Brute” Force.
“I think that I’ve always felt that…if the (multi-car) teams work well enough together and share all the information, I think that could be an asset,” Pedregon said. “I never really felt that that would eliminate a single-car team from being competitive. And I think that we proved it. You know, I worked with my brother, but we have got two different setups and we have got – there’s two different owners. We just so happen to be brothers. As long as we only race one at a time, I’m good with that. I don’t think it’s going to be any advantage or disadvantage on the racetrack.
“I think we work better under pressure. We utilize that experience that we have, some of us have more than others. But it’s really relying on your team and the people that you surround yourself with. When you talk about a driver and what a driver’s capabilities are – and these cars are so evenly-matched – sometimes the driver is going to make the difference. I think all of those components are going to play a role in the outcome of this. Good cars, good equipment, good sponsors, good crew chiefs, good teams. But the driver in the seat, you know, he takes the heat, he takes the credit, he’s the one that catches on fire. A lot of times he’s the one that’s going to make the difference between winning and losing.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments