Let's assume John Force took a dive when he raced his teammate Robert Hight in Indy. (No one really knows for sure if that happened besides John himself, so anyone that says otherwise is simply guessing.) Nevertheless, for the sake of this column, I'm going to assume that John did allow Robert to win.
Is this really a big deal? Does this tarnish John's decades of dominance in the NHRA's Funny Car class? Is John Force suddenly a bad person?
No, no, and no.
A quick reset: Heading into his tilt with Robert, John already had secured a place in the Countdown to 1, the NHRA's playoffs, which begin at the next event in Charlotte. Robert hadn't yet earned a spot but would nab the last one up for grabs by beating John in that fateful semifinal race. In doing so, Robert would also supplant reigning series champion Cruz Pedregon, who would then drop to 11th place and fall out of contention for this year's Full Throttle title.
Guess what happened? John was late leaving the starting line and then didn't make it down the track under power. In other words, he lost, most likely on purpose.
Let's be realistic: John would have failed his team and, more importantly in these shaky economic times, his sponsors if he had gone up there and beaten Robert. So it appears he did the most sensible thing and allowed Robert a free pass by driving out of the groove and spinning his tires.
For that, many in the drag racing world are persecuting the man that has almost single-handily carried the sport for many years. He is our brightest star by a long shot.
If anyone thinks this particular tank job is the first time of it's kind then I have some beautiful beachfront property in Kansas I'd like to sell you.
Helping teammates has been going on as long as teammates have existed. By the very nature of motorsports, one team car will almost always be a little ahead of the other and when it gets down to a crucial point in the season, well, sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made.
What's interesting to me is that, with the exception of Connie "the Bounty Hunter" Kalitta, who famously shut his son Scott's car off at the starting line a few years ago in Brainerd, Minn., to let his nephew Doug, who was in the other lane and still in the championship hunt, win a round, no one ever owns up to tanking for a teammate.
When Mike Neff was crew chief of Gary Scelzi's Funny Car back in 2003, he faced a decision in the second round of the Seattle race. He and Scelzi had lane choice heading into a match-up with teammate Whit Bazemore, who was still in championship contention, and SIR was a one-lane track that day. Still, after a conversation with team owner Don Schumacher -- who was critical of Force Monday -- he felt the need to give the better lane to Bazemore, who won easily after Scelzi smoked his tires. Neff said at the time that Schumacher didn't tell him to tank, but that it was implied.
This generally is the way it goes. The team that's supposed to cede victory goes out there and does what Force did in Indy -- give it the old college try for half a pass only to pull up lame before the finish line. You can practically see them dragging their foot at times.
Isn't one of the main reasons you have teammates in the first place to help each other out? At the start of the Indy race, Cruz Pedregon held the 10th spot. He was in control of his own fate. Had he won the race, or outlasted Robert or fellow contender Matt Hagan on race day, he would be in the Countdown to 1. But he lost to Force in the second round. See you next year.
Interestingly, Cruz immediately took ownership of the situation, saying he should've done better. It was his brother Tony who called John a cheat and had to be separated from his former boss at the top end of the racetrack just after Robert secured the spot.
Does anyone else smell the irony there?
When Tony won the 2003 championship as a member of John Force Racing he was 8-1 against then teammates John Force and Gary Densham. In those eight wins against his buddies, they failed to make it down the track seven times. In the other race, John drove over the centerline and was disqualified.
Tony was awesome that year -- 8-0 in final rounds -- but hey, I'm just saying…
As for cheating, well, that's a pretty tough one to prove. Maybe John really did drive out of the groove. Maybe he really was dead late leaving the starting line. How can the NHRA or any other racer really say otherwise?
Judging by the e-mail I've received, some people will never forgive John for this moment. Personally, I think it's very easy to say what you'd do until you're actually in the situation yourself.
The feedback from the column "To tank or not to tank, that is the question…" has been interesting to say the least. Here are some select excerpts.
"Tony Pedregon should let his brother fight his own battles."
"Nobody except John Force knows for sure what happened on Monday but if he did throw the race then more power to him for taking one for the team. As for Tony Pedregon, he showed his behind on national television and I no longer have any respect for him. There may be those who will never forgive John Force but I bet there are even more of us who have written off Tony Pedregon."
"A couple of years ago Melanie Troxel raced her teammate heads-up and lost. Had she won she would have made the chase. Where is she today? John throwing the race was a no-brainer, not only for his team and sponsors, but to eliminate a competitor from the chase. I also appreciate Mike Dunn being honest in the booth but he was needlessly over the top."
"The NHRA is laughing all the way to the bank. You can't buy this much publicity and yes it will generate ticket sales. It's a race promoter's fantasy come true. Unfortunately, Ashley didn't get to enjoy the biggest win of her career."
-- Abe Torres
"Does anyone remember Brainerd? Tony had lost his crew chief and assistant and could've easily not made it to the starting line or had a 'problem' during the run that would almost assured Cruz of being in the Countdown. What happened instead? An exciting race between the two brothers with Tony winning by a couple thousands of a second. John Force has brought much attention to NHRA and is to be thanked for helping the sport grow but it won't continue if is going to be scripted like the WWE."
"Let the team without sin throw the first piston."
"What was Dale Earnhardt Sr. doing at his final race? I believe he was blocking for his son, who won the race."
"The problem is the false championship hype created by the Countdown to 1. Without the Countdown, Force would've raced him clean. He should have anyway, but I also understand Force’s predicament."
"I had a Top Fuel car in the '60s up in Northern California. I can remember more than once when the two finalists would agree to split purse rather than leaning on it and breaking a lot of pieces. The dollar ruled more than the ego back then and it’s still the same today."
-- Mike Citro
"John had to do what he did and I stand by him. Tony is a crybaby that laid down for Cruz last year."
"John did what he had to do. He gave Tony his championship on a silver patter but I guess Tony doesn't remember that."
"The NHRA has created this whole mess. The points system stinks. The team with the most points throughout the entire season should be the winner. Now the NHRA has gotten even more ridiculous with the latest extra points mayhem."
"The only opinion that really matters is that of Castrol. They have a sizeable investment in JFR, and if they are okay with it, so am I."
"It’s all about the money, and it always will be in any professional sport. You would have to eliminate multi-car teams for this to never happen."
"People are giving John a bad rap. They're just jealous. I can't stand to listen to the Pedregon's talk because it's always a bunch of whining."
"Tony calling Force a cheat is a bit on the nose. Do you think for a moment Tony wouldn’t have done the same for Cruz? Making excuses for a car outside the top 10 is not going to curry much favor with sponsors."
"Schumacher and Pedregon can say what they want but both of them would have done the same thing. If not, then they're not as smart as they claim to be."
"I'm not a Force fan but I have no problem with him allowing Hight to win the race and be in the Countdown. Teammates are supposed to help each other for the benefit of all. Force did not cheat in allowing Hight to win."
"Like Tony and Cruz wouldn't do it for each other, right?"
"John did what he needed to do, right or wrong, in the best interest of his sponsors. It's all about the money."
"Seems Tony knows all about Force tanking races, but he wasn't screaming cheater when he got the benefit. The one good thing about this -- I haven’t had anybody to root against since (Whit Bazemore) left. Now I do. Go anybody racing T-Ped!"
"I am a big fan of John Force Racing and I do believe he gave Hight the race, but I think if Tony and Cruz were in the same situation that Tony would have gone up in smoke."
"Has anyone considered how Robert Hight feels about his victory over Force? I think I'd feel kind of funny if I backed in."
"John did exactly what a multi-car team owner should do in that situation."
"If we want to blame someone blame, let's blame NHRA. The countdown is what caused all this with its convoluted points system."
"It seems absurd that NHRA is conducting this elaborate dance -- checking the computer to see if they tanked -- in order to preserve some semblance of integrity. Drag race fans may not be Mensa candidates, but they know what's going on here."
"Tony and Cruz are overboard by using the word 'cheat.' I don't consider it cheating. I consider it teamwork, much in the same way that teams share data. I also think John overreacted and should have just walked away with maybe a wink."
"There's no gray area here -- What Force did was morally and ethically wrong."
"Force lost all credibility with me Sunday. Is he on the verge of a mental breakdown? Sure acted like it. Maybe he needs medical help."
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Here's a sneak peek of the brand new Ford Mustang Pro Stock racer Erica Enders will unveil at this weekend's 55th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nat'ls presented by Lucas Oil.
The car is certainly sleeker than the one she's been driving and if the team can get their new Ford horsepower to match the new car than the Big Blue Oval might have a big resurrection in the class.
So far, there are two completed 2009 Ford Mustangs and Jim Cunningham, Enders' team owner, has them both.
Ashley Force Hood tried to send a congratulatory text message to Morgan Lucas late last Sunday after his big win in Brainerd, Minn. The problem was that the number she had for Lucas was old and apparently it had already been re-issued to another subscriber.
"I sent this real nice text saying, 'Congrats, good job, way to go,' and I get the nastiest text message back," Force Hood said. "This guy was cussing me and using four-letter words…'I don't know who the #$@%* you're trying to reach but it isn't me and tell all your $%^#@# friends to quit texting me too.'
"I was so shocked. At first I just texted back, 'Oops, sorry.' Then later I kept thinking about it and I started getting really mad. My PR guy said we should put that number on Twitter and tell all our followers to call him and just bug him to death but my husband wouldn't let me do it."
Force Hood now has Lucas' current number.
We can officially debunk the persistent rumor that Memphis Motorsports Park will be losing its NHRA Full Throttle Series date in 2010 to make way for a second date for Charlotte's zMax Dragway. The Memphis facility has confirmed that it is on the NHRA calendar for next year, and in fact that title sponsor O'Reilly Auto Parts is signed through the 2011 season.
There's some trouble brewing in Pro Stock Motorcycle as some of the riders have apparently had enough of getting their butts kicked by Harley-Davidson pros Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines, who are first and second in the point standings by a substantial margin and 1-2 on the timing sheets here in Sonoma.
There's a petition circulating in the pits calling for NHRA to level the playing field for the Buells and Suzukis and the angry riders are trying to get all the drivers and team owners, regardless of class, to sign the petition to put a little extra heat on NHRA. Personally, I doubt anything will happen, at least during the season.
Krawiec and Hines, who race out of the vaunted Vance & Hines stable, are the only two Harley-Davidson riders in the NHRA. Vance & Hines took on the project of resurrecting Harley's participation in the class five years, and in return Harley-Davidson gives them that exclusivity.
There are Buells, Suzukis, and even a lone Kawasaki that also participate but each is run under its own set of guidelines and specifications.
Eddie Krawiec on a Harley
Earlier this season, NHRA tried to slow the Harley-Davidsons down by adding 20 pounds to their racing package, putting them at a minimum weight of 640 pounds. Buells race at 625 pounds, while Suzukis race at 595 pounds. The problem is that Vance & Hines continues to make a lot of horsepower with their V-shaped, 160 cubic-inch, four-valve motors and they remain ahead of the pack, even with the extra poundage.
By comparison, Buells race with 160 cubic-inch, two-valve, V-Twin motors, while Suzukis are allowed 101 cubic inches and four valves to power their more efficient inline four-cylinder powerplants.
Most experts agree that simply throwing more weight on the Harleys isn't the solution as they're already very heavy and hard to stop. Krawiec himself admits to going through brake pads twice as quickly as before the extra weight was added.
The more logical thing to do is decrease the size of the Harley-Davidson motor to 140 or even 120 cubic inches but to do that in the middle of the season would be a deathblow for Vance & Hines, and let's not forget that Harley-Davidson is the "Official Motorcycle of NHRA."
"The thing most people are overlooking is that this team works extremely hard," Krawiec said. "Plus, Andrew and me and making really good runs this year. We're about as efficient as we can be in getting down the track. You can't penalize a team for being good.
"It's not our fault S&S Cycles (who make all the Buell motors) is having a tough time with the economy the way it is right now. Don Schumacher has been developing the four-valve Suzuki for three years. They have all the same stuff as we do. Three years ago Angelle (Sampey) set the world record on a Suzuki with a 6.87. They've slowed down since then. I don't know what to tell you."
I'm not sure who has signed the petition, but I'm betting it isn't enough people to make a difference riders. Obviously, Eddie and Andrew didn't sign it and I can't imagine that any Vance & Hines engine customers would sign it either, which means that Craig Treble, Karen Stoffer, Michael Phillips, and Greg Underdahl probably aren't on the list. That leaves maybe 10-12 riders at best, hardly enough to make NHRA take action.
Matt Smith on a Suzuki
Although the Harleys are clearly the class of the field, I still think there is more parity than many people think. Hector Arana has won on a Buell, Treble has won on a Suzuki, Matt Smith should have reached some finals but has red-lighted several times. Rookie Doug Horne has also raced to two finals on his Buell.
Having a rider or team dominate the class isn't a new concept. In the early years, Terry Vance was untouchable. He often had the whole field covered by two tenths of a second. Years later, John Myers and Dave Schultz won almost every race for about four or five years. After Myers and Schultz were out of the picture, it was Matt Hines and Angelle Sampey in total control. The year Matt Hines won 10 of 14 races, nobody was complaining about parity. Granted, everybody was racing a Suzuki back then but I think one could argue that the racing is more competitive now than it was then.
The common denominator is Byron Hines. He was the man long before Alan Johnson was the man in Top Fuel. Byron is so much smarter than anyone else in the class that he simply makes them all look bad. As some people have pointed out, if Byron had spent the last five years developing a Suzuki combination, then the Suzukis probably would have a much greater advantage. Of course, Byron also has the biggest budget by far, which doesn't help make parity any easier to achieve.
The bottom line is that NHRA really doesn't have many options as far as maintaining some semblance of parity. They really can't safely add much more weight to the Harleys and they can't take any more off the Suzukis or Buells. The only thing left to do is limit the Harley's engine size, but I bet Byron will figure out how to make a smaller motor run just as strong as the current ones.
Editor's note: I relinquish my regular column position to my 7-year-old daughter Sara Geiger, who joined me in Denver for the race and decided to lend Dad a hand.
Sara Geiger, Junior Reporter
My Dad is a reporter. He writes stories about drag racing. He took me with him to Denver for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals and he let me be a Junior Reporter, so I decided to write a story about my weekend at the races.
When we got to Denver I went to a press conference where I met Morgan Lucas, Tim Wilkerson, and Allen Johnson. Morgan drives the GEICO Powersports Top Fuel dragster, Tim drives the Levi, Ray, and Shoup Funny Car, and Allen drives the Mopar Pro Stock car. They are all different so I asked them about their race cars.
Top Fuel dragsters can go up to 320 mph. They go so fast they need a parachute to slow down. They have a big wing in the back and a small wing in the front because it helps the dragster stay on the ground when it's going down the race track. They also have big tires in the back and small tires in the front. The big tires help the car forward and the little tires are just for steering.
"Top Fuel dragsters are a lot of fun to drive," Morgan said, "especially when you win. That's the most gratifying feeling in the world. When you don't win it feels frustrating.
"Even though they go 320 mph I've never really been scared driving them. They only thing I'm scared of is failing to do my best.
"When I'm not racing I drive very carefully, like a little old man. Nothing I do in my Chevy Tahoe is even close to my dragster so it's better to be safe. Racing should only be done on the strip."
Funny Cars are shaped like a wedge. They almost go as fast as dragsters. Tim said Funny Cars are a lot harder to drive than dragsters. Drivers sit in the car and then the crew puts the whole body down on top of them. Funny Cars and dragsters use as much as 16 gallons of nitro for each run they make.
"The fastest I've ever been to the 1,000-foot mark is 307 mph," Tim said. "But that's still pretty fast. As far as being scared, well, I've been on fire a few times and that's always kind of scary. The good thing is the Safety Safari is there to help us racers when we get in trouble like that so they keep us safe.
"My car is a Ford Mustang and it's blue and white. I've been lucky and won some races before, which is a lot better than losing. Losing is just a big waste of time."
Pro Stock cars look like real cars and they use gasoline. The drivers get in the car through regular doors. These cars go 210 mph. The drivers have to change gears five times in about five seconds! They also need parachutes to slow down.
"Pro Stock cars may look like regular cars but they have a big engine in them and they go faster than you could ever go on the street," Allen said. "They're not very comfortable either and it's usually kind of shaky in there. They're actually pretty hard to drive and I've come close to crashing a few times, and that was really scary.
"Some times you see the crew guys working on the car and to do that they take the whole front part of the body right off the car. That makes it easier for them.
"It feels great when you win a race and bad when you lose, but we have a lot of races every year so you have a lot of chances to win. I love being a race car driver."
The drag races are really fun and very loud. The drivers are all very nice. My favorite part of the whole weekend was being with my Dad!
If Tony Schumacher doesn't win the ESPY award for Best Driver this year than I think it's very clear that drag racing will never stack up with its motorsports counterparts.
Schumacher accomplished so much more than fellow nominees Jimmie Johnson, Lewis Hamilton, Scott Dixon, and Helio Castroneves in 2008 that it seems ridiculous to even have a vote. Let's examine the facts…
Schumacher won his fifth consecutive and sixth overall NHRA championship; He became the first driver in NHRA history to win five consecutive Top Fuel championships; He moved past Joe Amato to become the all-time Top Fuel wins leader; He established Top Fuel records for most championship titles (6), career victories (56), season wins (15), consecutive wins (7), consecutive final rounds (11), most final rounds (18), and consecutive round wins (31); He tied all-time NHRA record for wins in a season (15, Greg Anderson in 2004) and elimination round wins in a season (76, Greg Anderson in 2004); He raced to 15 victories in 18 final-round appearances in 24 events; His eliminations round winning percentage was 90 percent; He raced to nine No. 1 qualifying performances; He won the prestigious Driver of the Year award, the Jerry Titus Award as top driver in motorsports from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters, and he claimed the Economaki Champion of Champions award.
It's not hyperbole to say we may never see another season as dominant as Schumacher's 2008 campaign.
NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson, who also has been nominated for Best Male Athlete alongside Michael Phelps, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant, had a great season as well, but even Johnson himself would probably admit it didn't stack up to Schumacher's dominance.
Considering a rabid fanbase that far outnumbers the NHRA faithful, NASCAR voters could vault him to the ESPY podium regardless of how his accomplishments match up. But let's examine his ledger nonetheless.
Johnson won his third straight NASCAR title to match Cale Yarborough's long-standing mark. He won seven events in 36 starts and claimed six poles. He had 15 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes and completed more than 99-percent of the laps contested.
If the international vote comes in strong, than Briton's Lewis Hamilton, who became the youngest champion in Formula 1 history when he won the title by one point at the age of 23, could make a run at the award. But again, as inspiring as it was to see a person of color win F1, his season just didn't measure up well against the numbers Schumacher and team posted.
Hamilton won five of 18 races and finished on the podium another five times (two second-place finishes and three thirds). Like Johnson, it was a superb season but not a history-making season, at least as far as results go.
Scott Dixon equaled an IRL record with his six wins in 19 races en route to a second series title. He also earned seven poles. Nice job, Scott.
Helio Castroneves won the Indy 500 and was acquitted of tax evasion. At least that's how the official ESPY's Web site has him listed. Perhaps the best thing he has going for him is the fact he won Dancing With The Stars a few years back so if there are any old ladies with internet access, he could score some extra votes there.
Other drag racers, including Schumacher himself, have been nominated for ESPYs in the past but every time they've walked away empty-handed. If Schumacher leaves the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on July 15th without the drag racing's first one there's no reason to ever return, unless drag racers just like being seat fillers.
Drag racing legend and 14-time champion John Force will be more neurotic than usual this weekend when he sends all four of his daughters, his wife Laurie, and a gaggle of their girlfriends to the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas to celebrate youngest daughter Courtney's 21st birthday.
Force is putting the girls up in one of the Palms' famous fantasy tower suites for the weekend. The initial plan calls for them to hang out Friday, have a sumptuous dinner on Dad's account before gearing up for the big birthday celebration beginning at 12:01 a.m., as soon as Courtney is legal.
John will be staying in Yorba Linda, reportedly with a heart specialist on call.
Drag racing fans holding out hope that Bruton Smith will come in and buy the NHRA, an idea the 80-year-old impresario floated a number of times in the past, can start looking for another savior.
At this weekend's NASCAR race, Smith was asked during a press conference if he was still trying to acquire the 58-year-old sanctioning body. His answer was clear.
"I have no intention of doing that," Smith said. "We run quite a number of national events for NHRA and I like it so far because drag racing is growing and every time (we hold an event) we have a larger crowd than the previous year. I don't understand but I guess more and more people are finding it and liking it, and now they want to see the latest and greatest of everything and that's zMax Dragway in Charlotte.
"If you haven't seen (zMax Dragway) I hope you will come and see what we've done there because I built four lanes and we have now run it that way. Of course, television loves it because it's more action, and the fans love it. We have an (NHRA) national event there in September and we will sell it out again. We had Pinks there and sold it out for two or three days. A sell-out there is 40,000, so that's very good for a drag race.
"But (buying the NHRA) is so far back on the backburner I can't even see it."
Smith later let it slip that zMax would be holding two NHRA national events, something that hasn't been announced as of yet. The NHRA traditionally releases its upcoming schedule at the U.S. Nationals in early September.
The octogenarian billionaire currently owns drag strips that host NHRA national events in Charlotte, Las Vegas, Bristol, Tenn., and Sonoma, Calif.
For the last five years, veteran crew chief Wayne Dupuy has toiled in his own drag racing hell, searching for something he had almost decided would never happen again -- victory.
Then, two weeks shy of the five-year anniversary of the day he tuned the late Darrell Russell to his last and most impressive win of his too-short career, Dupuy finally got it done again, winning the IHRA Amalie Nationals at Dallas Raceway with driver Scott Weis at the controls.
"I figured I was cursed," said Dupuy (pronounced Dew-Pwee). "I was gonna quit 1,000 different times but I don't know what else I would do. Something kept pushing me. Maybe it was Darrell looking down and watching over me. I don't know. But I've never worked harder for something in my life. Maybe now I can finally rest a little easier."
Dupuy (right) celebrates a win with Top Fuel pro
Darrell Russell (second from left) seven years ago.
Dupuy was once a rising star in the tuning ranks, someone who John Force himself dubbed as "the next Austin Coil." Just about every big-time team owner in the sport was courting him, offering money, houses, and private airplane rides to the races.
Their aggression in luring him away from Joe Amato Racing, whom Dupuy and Russell raced for until Russell's untimely death in the summer of 2004, reached a crescendo after Dupuy tuned Russell past Tony Schumacher at the national event in Columbus, Ohio.
It was a special win even before Russell died. First of all, it occurred on team owner Joe Amato's 60th birthday. More to the point, Dupuy was able to find a way to get his car down the dodgy right-hand lane of National Trail Raceway, which had yielded few winners on the day.
In actuality, Dupuy and Russell should have had lane choice but a clock malfunction in Russell's semifinal victory over Larry Dixon showed no time on the ET slip. Dupuy walked over and asked Schumacher's crew chief Alan Johnson if they could flip a coin to pick lanes since it was obvious to him that Russell had run quicker than Schumacher had in his semifinal win over Doug Kalitta, but Johnson declined and took the favored left side.
As it turned out, Dupuy worked some magic and mastered the right lane perfectly, with Russell taking down Schumacher by a 4.560 to 4.600 margin.
"That was the highlight of my professional career," Dupuy said. "Me and DR, the crew guys, we weren't gonna lose that day, period. We were ready to take on the world."
But two weeks later, after tuning Russell to the pole in St. Louis, everything changed when Russell lost his life in a race against Scott Kalitta.
For weeks after burying his driver, Dupuy could barely function. "What-ifs" filled his head. He blamed himself. He blamed the NHRA. He blamed Goodyear. He confronted and cursed out top-ranking NHRA officials, which just about got him black-balled from the sport forever.
He went through the gruesome task of reconstructing the accident for investigators. He put all the pieces of the car together. He made depositions for the insurance companies and court officers.
He went to a grief counselor. He went to a psychiatrist. He pushed his marriage to Tressa to the brink.
Finally, he returned to the only place he really knew -- the racetrack.
"Me and Joe decided to start racing again," Dupuy said. "It was the only thing left to do besides go to the crazy house."
They selected Morgan Lucas to drive the car and once the smell of nitro filled his nostrils Dupuy seemed to be back in his element. He tuned Lucas to five final rounds in their first 20 races together and it seemed apparent to everyone that wins would be coming in bunches. Only somehow they didn't.
After some time, Amato pulled out of the sport and sold his team to Lucas' father Forrest. They kept Dupuy around for a while but soon parted ways in favor of a tuner they picked themselves.
Dupuy went to journeyman Doug Herbert's team and immediately got his program turned around. In short order, Herbert was making final-round appearances, three in fact, but they couldn't punch through for a win.
Then, on Thanksgiving Day of 2005, Dupuy had an accident of his own, flipping a supped-up Mustang over on a lonely stretch of road near Charlotte. He was ejected form the car and suffered severe head injuries. At first, the doctors weren't even sure he was going to live.
"When I woke up I was in this nylon cage so I couldn't get up and wander off," Dupuy said. "My head was real foggy. I didn't remember people or what had happened. I was in pretty bad shape. The doctors told my wife that every brain injury was different. They said I might make a full recovery, or have trouble tying my own shoes, or anything in between. I probably should have died."
Finally back in the winner's circle.
Professionally, the accident was a severe blow. Crew chiefs are notoriously protective of their tune-ups and many store their most critical bits of information in coded notes or just simply commit them to memory.
The questions quickly arose? Would Dupuy recover enough to tune a car? Would he even remember how?
After muddling along with Herbert for a short period of time, he was given a chance by Cruz Pedregon. Still searching for clarity at times, Dupuy still managed to get Pedregon into three more final rounds, but again, no wins.
Eventually, Pedregon wanted to go in a different direction and Dupuy was tossed aside. That's when reigning FIA champion Urs Erbacher of Switzerland asked for some help.
Erbacher had designs on running some races stateside and Dupuy took on the challenge of working with a multinational crew that struggled with the English language. "Now you got an old county boy with roots in Texas and Louisiana trying to tell guys speaking German, Italian, and this mix of the two languages that they speak in Switzerland what to do on the racecar. It was a struggle, and we made plenty of mistakes."
The group went back to Europe for the five-race FIA season, and suffered through horrible weather to finish just short of defending Erbacher's title. Yet, they still shined at times, with Erbacher reaching tow final rounds, alas, with no wins.
"I got to 13 final rounds with four different guys and still couldn't get a little man (trophy) no matter what we did," Dupuy said. "That's what I mean when I say I think I was cursed or something."
After a few NHRA races at the start of the '09 season, Erbacher returned to Switzerland to tend to his custom motorcycle business and search for more sponsorship money. Dupuy was left alone to square away the team's two dragsters and once he got them ready for competition he was curious to see how they'd perform.
"The Dallas IHRA race, we did all that at the last minute," he said. "I mean, we're here in Texas, I could get up there with the car in a couple of hours, I figured we'd go run it and test some ideas I had. Scott flew in to drive and he's good at getting the car down the track. What's weird was I had this feeling over and over that I could win the damn thing. I just keep thinking about that."
So with a throw-together crew of friends clad in T-shirts and jeans, Dupuy and Weis went out and got it done, finally ending a chapter in Dupuy's life he was more than happy to close.
"Ultimately, a crew chief is measured by his performances on the racetrack," Dupuy said. "People have doubted me, and after my wreck they had a right to, I guess, but I never wanted to just give up. I knew I could win again and to get it done is special. I just hope like hell I don't have to wait five more years for the next one."