Gainesville: Mike Neff preview

NEFF LOOKING TO GRAB FIRST WIN AT GATORNATIONALS Gainesville, FL (March 9, 2009) --- Mike Neff is looking forward to getting to Gainesville Raceway and back on the track for the 40th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals. Last season Neff was still...

NEFF LOOKING TO GRAB FIRST WIN AT GATORNATIONALS

Gainesville, FL (March 9, 2009) --- Mike Neff is looking forward to getting to Gainesville Raceway and back on the track for the 40th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals. Last season Neff was still developing as a driver and during the opening round of his first Gatornationals he was on his way to his first round win when his Ford Mustang smoked the tires. The eager rookie got back onto the throttle too early pushing his 8,000 horsepower fuel coupe over the center line disqualifying the eventual Rookie of the Year.

A year later Neff rolls into historic Gainesville Raceway smarter, more experienced and as one of the hottest drivers on the Full Throttle Series. A broken part of his clutch linkage in the final gave Ron Capps a free pass into the winner's circle in Phoenix. Neff knew almost immediately he would not be racing Capps in the final at the end of his burnout.

"The clutch linkage broke and there was no was no way to push the clutch in to put it in reverse. It must have happened during the burnout. I tried to push the clutch in and there was nothing there. I tucked my foot underneath the pedal to see what was going on and I could feel that the clutch pedal was broken. I knew we were dead so I just had to take off to get out of the way," said Neff.

That mishap capped an emotional weekend for Neff and the rest of John Force Racing. Prior to the event Neff's crew chief John Medlen admitted himself to an Indianapolis hospital for chest discomfort and did not make the trip to the desert. Ever the optimist Neff found the silver lining in a disappointing final round.

"It was definitely unfortunate and it is not the way we wanted it to go. Everything happens for a reason though. This is John Medlen's team and Eric's (Medlen) car and it is only right that he is here for the first win," said an emotional Neff.

One of the main reasons Neff was selected to join john Force Racing was his tuning pedigree. Neff tuned Gary Scelzi to the 2005 Funny Car world championship and he filled the role of back-up crew chief for Medlen throughout the 2008 season. Pressed into duty in Phoenix Neff followed the John Medlen playbook and received solid support from the John Force Racing crew chief brain-trust.

"(Phoenix) was a collective effort. All the other crew chiefs Coil, Bernie, Guido, Ron, and Jimmy plus Robert were pitching in as well as all the other crew guys. That makes is a little more disappointing since it would have been nice to win that for everybody's sake. Everybody was working. Like I said it wasn't meant to be. We had a good weekend. We came here and we were dealt some bad circumstances with Medlen not being here. Our number one concern is his health and him getting better. That is more important than winning a drag race. We are just hoping he gets better and back out here. We'll save that win for another day," said Neff.

"Medlen is one of the smartest guys I know without a doubt. It is his car and he set all this stuff up. I didn't come in here and wave a magic wand. I just picked up and tried to do what he would do. I tried to continue on how he would do it. There is no question our performance would have been the same. We didn't do anything differently. We have a great car."

Even with his success in Phoenix Neff still gave himself a tough grade in the driving department.

"I didn't think I did very well. I did a good job of keeping it in the groove. My reaction times weren't very good (in Phoenix). I just think I had so much on my mind I could just never focus. I had too many thoughts. I just didn't feel like I was doing as good a job as I could have."

This weekend Neff will most likely be handling the driving and tuning duties. One advantage is he has continued to work beside Medlen at the Indianapolis shop and he knows well in advance he'll be calling the shots. Medlen continues to improve and will meet with his doctors this week to get more information regarding his timetable for a return to the drag strip.

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , John Medlen , Mike Neff