Baytown: Mike Neff preview

AMPED UP NEFF EAGER FOR FIRST WIN HOUSTON (March 24, 2008) --- Two weeks ago rookie Mike Neff was on his way to his first round win during the 38th annual Gatornationals. He was out in front of veteran Tim Wilkerson when he felt the rear end of...

AMPED UP NEFF EAGER FOR FIRST WIN

HOUSTON (March 24, 2008) --- Two weeks ago rookie Mike Neff was on his way to his first round win during the 38th annual Gatornationals. He was out in front of veteran Tim Wilkerson when he felt the rear end of his 8,000 horsepower Old Spice Ford Mustang began to slip a little. At nearly three hundred miles per hour a lot of things will run though a driver's head and for the rookie from Hemet, Calif., the overriding thought was "get the win."

"When it spun I didn't wait long enough to get back on it. It was still spinning and kind of sideways and I hit the throttle again and that is what started moving me over towards the centerline. I was just amped up and I wanted to do anything I could to get there (the finish line) first."

Neff crossed the centerline earning his first career DQ and then he had to watch as Wilkerson blew past him.

The first year struggles, while frustrating for the competitive Neff, come with the territory as drivers try and learn the idiosyncrasies of the Funny Car. Teammate Ashley Force struggled in 2007 bouncing her Castrol GTX off the guardwall in Seattle, but in 2008 she has already showed a light tough on the throttle winning a pedalfest during the season opening Winternationals.

Neff has proven to be a quick study and he knows that staying positive and continuing to do the little things will pay off down the road. He still feels the self-imposed pressure to win rounds and races for the Old Spice team and the loss in Gainesville was especially frustrating.

"We have really, really high expectations. We especially wanted to win (in Gainesville) for Eric and it is just been a bad weekend. We really needed a good one and we had a bad one. We'll just dust ourselves off and we'll go to Houston and get our first win there."

With only five races under his belt and three of those coming behind the wheel of the newly designed Ford Mustang, Neff and his Old Spice team have been hit the hardest by the lack of qualifying sessions. By all accounts making passes is the best way to gain experience and Mother Nature has just not cooperated with the former motocross and off-road truck racer.

In addition to picking up the skills needed to be a top-level Funny Car driver Neff is working closely with crew Chief John Medlen on the Ford BOSS 500 engine program. The dual roles are a perfect fit for the former world champion Funny Car crew chief.

"John Medlen's a great guy to work with," Neff said. "I'm really thrilled with that. That's one of the main reasons I came over here, to work with him. "I think I'll be able to do it (driving) and I think I'll be good at it. Otherwise, I wouldn't be (out here). It's gonna take a little bit of time but I'm confident that I can do it. I'm prepared to do whatever I've got to do to be good at it. Failing is not an option."

Did you know...

With a win at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals Neff would be the fifth different JFR driver to win there after John Force, Tony Pedregon, Gary Densham, and Robert Hight.

Neff is trying to become just the second racer to win pro championships as both crew chief and driver. The only person to have accomplished that feat is Dick LaHaie, who won a Top Fuel title as a driver in 1987 and as crew chief to Scott Kalitta in 1994 and 1995.

When Neff does capture his first win for John Force Racing he will become the sixth different drivers to have won Funny Car races on the NHRA tour -- John Force, Tony Pedregon, Gary Densham, Robert Hight and Eric Medlen.

A strong season for Neff would also continue another John Force Racing tradition as he is trying to become the third John Force Racing, Inc., driver in four years to win the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year following Robert Hight (2005) and Ashley Force (2007).

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham , Scott Kalitta , Dick LaHaie , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , John Medlen , Mike Neff