NEFF EARNS FIRST 'POLE' FOR OLD SPICE, BOSS 500 FORD MOTOR BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Mike Neff became the first driver in 38 years to qualify No. 1 in a pure Ford Funny Car when his Friday night time of 4.783 seconds in the Old Spice Mustang...
NEFF EARNS FIRST 'POLE' FOR OLD SPICE, BOSS 500 FORD MOTOR
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Mike Neff became the first driver in 38 years to qualify No. 1 in a pure Ford Funny Car when his Friday night time of 4.783 seconds in the Old Spice Mustang proved good enough to claim the top spot for Sunday's eighth annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
Not since Danny Ongais started his Mickey Thompson Mach 1 Mustang from the top spot at the 1970 NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., had a pure Ford (Ford engine and Ford body style) led Funny Car qualifying. The next step for the 41-year-old rookie driver will be to get a win in the red-and-white Mustang powered by the BOSS 500 Ford nitro motor being developed jointly by Ford and John Force Racing, Inc.
Ongais was the last to win a Funny Car race in a pure Ford prevailing in the 1969 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., in a Mustang powered by a SOHC (single overhead cam) 427 Ford engine.
"It's an awesome feeling," Neff said of earning his first No. 1 since trading in his wrenches for driving gloves. His Funny Cars started 13 races from No. 1 with drivers Scotty Cannon and Gary Scelzi. Scelzi won the 2005 POWERade championship with Neff as crew chief. "I knew after the first run today that it would be really difficult for anyone to run good enough to take it away from us."
It was an emotional day for both Neff and crew chief John Medlen -- and not just because of the performance of the BOSS 500. Medlen's son, Eric, who in 2007 succumbed to injuries suffered in a testing accident in Florida, was the No. 1 qualifier at the 2005 and 2006 Thunder Valley Nationals and, at the end of Saturday's racing, still was the track record holder at Bristol at 4.755 seconds.
For the second consecutive race, all four of the JFR Fords qualified in the top half of the field in an odd order -- 1-3-5-7.
Ashley Force, who missed the field at last year's race because of what crew chief Dean Antonelli called "human errors" on all four of her qualifying attempts, will start her Castrol GTX Mustang from the No. 3 position and square off against Scelzi in Sunday's 12 noon eliminations.
Robert Hight will start fifth in the Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang and John Force seventh in the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang.
Hight, the only Funny Car driver to have led the POWERade points each of the last four seasons and the title runner-up the last two years, had the best run in Saturday's heat at 4.803 seconds even though crew chief Jimmy Prock made wholesale changes after running an identical time on Friday night.
"It ran a faster speed at half track than anybody ran all weekend on a warmer track which shows that it has big power. I've got a lot of confidence going into race day," said the 2005 Rookie of the Year and the fastest Funny Car driver ever to win 100 rounds. "The last qualifying run always seems to give you confidence. If you smoke the tires in the last session you don't have the confidence. Having the quickest run of the day I feel good about that."
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang
"Mike Neff is doing a great job driving and John Medlen tuning. That team is starting to gel. To come out here and get low ET that shows the muscle and the strength and that is good for Ford and the Ford buyers and to show that we are earning our paycheck. We are really excited about it. I've got four good Mustangs."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
"If we ran the runs we ran yesterday and today tomorrow we'd have a really good shot of getting into the winner's circle."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
"It smoked the tires on the first run (Saturday) but Jimmy decided to stick with (the new combination and components after making major changes Friday night). It was faster to half track (264.75 mph) than anybody else. It definitely showed some promise with the new cylinder heads and chassis change. I had my hands full down there (at the finish line) but if we can get it (to run) a little cleaner (without internal damage), it'll run in the 4.70s. I've got a lot of confidence going into race day and that's something because I've never won a round here. Seems like if you run well in the last (qualifying) session, it gives you a lot of momentum into race day. Having the quickest run of the day, I feel good about it. I've got Del Worsham and we owe him one. He beat us in the first round in Gainesville."
MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
"It's really good for Ford and Old Spice because they've invested a lot into our program this year. To be the first Ford-powered Funny Car to qualify No. 1 since 1970, that's awesome. I owe it all to John Medlen. He's the one who makes the calls and he's doing an outstanding job. It's great to have all four of our Fords in the top of the field. I think we're starting to get a little momentum. The performance of the car is definitely there. I think conditions will be pretty good tomorrow (and) I honestly think we've got as good a chance as anybody (to win the race)."