HHRA Teams Head For Bristol Dragway

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Neff On Hot Streak In Funny Car As Full Throttle Series Heads To Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals In Tennessee

For NHRA Funny Car racer Mike Neff, a state of total exhaustion has proven to be a good thing.

At the end of each NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, if Neff’s tired-meter is pushing extreme limits he knows it has been a good weekend.

Castrol GTX Ford Mustang pilot, Mike Neff, preparing for his reentry into competition as a driver
Castrol GTX Ford Mustang pilot, Mike Neff, preparing for his reentry into competition as a driver

Photo by: Ted Rossino

And for the last four races, the throwback racer who has come to define NHRA’s 60th anniversary celebration so far by pulling double-duty as both crew chief and driver like so many NHRA legends in the sport’s early days, has had some really good weekends in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

Neff has raced to four straight final round appearances, posting a victory at the NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J. two weeks ago. It was his second victory of the season as the California native who now calls Fishers, Ind. home holds the series lead in the Funny Car category as the regular season heads down the backstretch.

Neff will try to keep his final round streak going and work on increasing his series lead at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers at scenic Bristol Dragway, June 17-19. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event which will be televised by ESPN2 HD.

“I am getting in the groove,” Neff said. “Going rounds helps. That is four finals in a row. My team is in the groove of what they have to do. I am getting into the swing of it too. Going to the final takes a lot out of you. We have been training for this lately the last four races.”

Neff, who guided Force to the world championship title last year as crew chief, moved into the dual roles this season when Force’s daughter Ashley moved out of the cockpit of one of the team’s 7,000 horsepower Funny Cars for the season to focus on starting a family.

Driving the car was nothing new for Neff, who raced to one win in six final rounds during two seasons behind the wheel in 2008 and ’09. In ’08 at Bristol Dragway he was the No. 1 qualifier and posted a runner-up finish to Melanie Troxel in a very late night rain-delayed finish.

While he may have been tired as he launched his car in that final round well past midnight back in ‘08, nothing has compared to what he has endured this season while juggling a wrench in one hand and his race helmet in the other.

“Trying to do both (jobs), it just wears you out,” Neff said. “I’m working on trying to get myself to be able to go the distance all year long, both mentally and physically. My goal is to feel as good on the last run on Sunday as I do on the first one.”

Neff has captured two world championship titles as crew chief, as he claimed his first with Gary Scelzi in 2005. If he can win the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship this year, he will be the first to win a season crown pulling double-duty since Eddie Hill (’93), Dick LaHaie (’87) and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits (’85-’86) accomplished the feat in Top Fuel. Only Shirl Greer (1974) has done it in Funny Car.

“Doing both jobs just puts more pressure on you,” Neff said. “I’m more tired at the end of the day. When I was just the crew chief, I was busy, but I had down time where I could just chill out.

“(Now) I’m running up there looking at the track. I’m trying to figure out the set up, I’m trying to tell everybody what they need to do and then, at the last minute, I’ve got to throw on my crap and get in the car.”

“I just want to be a contender ...

Mike Neff

Once he’s strapped in the car, he has to change gears and put on his game face for driving the car and get ready to battle a host of tough challengers, including two-time champ Cruz Pedregon, speedy Matt Hagan, consistent Jack Beckman, veteran Ron Capps, ’09 champ Robert Hight and his boss, the 15-time champ.

“I just want to be a contender and have a chance,” Neff said. “Right now, I’m rooting for my teammates, especially Force, to get rolling because it’s going to take all three of us thumping for one of us to win the championship.”

In Top Fuel, Funny Car racer turned Top Fuel driver Del Worsham continues to lead the pack in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with three victories this season. He’s followed closely by red-hot Spencer Massey, winner of the last two events in his Prestone/FRAM dragster. Worsham teammate and defending world champ Larry Dixon, Matco Tools dragster driver Antron Brown and four-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher are also among the pre-race favorites.

Jason Line is one of six winners this season in a parity filled Pro Stock division, however Line holds the edge as the only driver to earn multiple victories. Line, a former engine builder for Joe Gibbs Racing on the NASCAR circuit, has raced to three wins in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. Second place Greg Stanfield has yet to win but has been consistent in his Safety Sentry GXP. Defending world champ Greg Anderson is a two-time winner at Bristol as is defending winner Edwards in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries GXP. Hometown favorite Allen Johnson has some momentum after his win in New Jersey two weeks ago and a host of young drivers, including rookie Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders and Shane Gray, are trying to better their positions in the series standings.

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Allen Johnson Hopes To Ride Wave Of Momentum To Hometown Pro Stock Victory At Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals In Bristol

Pro Stock veteran Allen Johnson has proven in the past that his team can rise to the occasion and win races when absolutely necessary.

He’s won three of the last four years at Denver’s Bandimere Speedway, site of his longtime partner Mopar’s lone sponsored event in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

The nine-time NHRA Pro Stock winner will try to channel that focus and determination this weekend at the 11th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers, June 17-19 at his hometown track, historic Bristol Dragway. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the event which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.

A native of nearby Greeneville, Tenn., Johnson would love to win at Bristol so he could celebrate with a large gathering of his family and friends who will be at the track to support him in his quest to win a race that he’s wanted to win since Bristol was added to the series schedule in 2001.

Pro Stock Driver Allen Johnson
Pro Stock Driver Allen Johnson

Photo by: Ted Rossino

Johnson sits in perhaps his best position yet to pull off the mission as he’s still riding high from winning the NHRA SuperNationals two weeks ago at Englishtown, N.J.’s Raceway Park.

“Momentum in racing anytime is great, but to have some heading into your home race is even better,” Johnson said. “The car is very consistent right now and we can continue to fine tune it and learn things. We are really looking forward to heading to Bristol and hopefully we can keep it going for Mopar and Dodge, and make it two wins in a row.”

At Englishtown, Johnson beat rookie phenom Vincent Nobile in an all-Dodge final round. The win moved Johnson to seventh in the point standings, up from outside the top 10 earlier in the season. Johnson never panicked due to his team’s slow start which included three first round losses in the first five races, because he knew there would be some growing pains as the team worked diligently to introduce a new chassis for the J&J Racing/Team Mopar Dodge Avenger.

“I was ready for this start,” said Johnson, who has raced full-time in NHRA since 1997. “We knew we had the chassis in the development stage and it was going to take some time. We wanted to be good by this time of the year and be great by the time the Countdown (to the Championship) starts. We’ve had a couple of bad breaks that have cost us, like at Topeka when we had a fast car and the engine gave up on us. Overall we’re pleased.”

As the regular season moves into the second half, only a handful of races remain until playoff time. Johnson, who finished sixth in the standings last year after having one of the most consistently fastest cars in the regular season, wants to change that outcome in this season’s six-race Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. Johnson says his plan for the new car is nearly complete.

“This Mopar Dodge Avenger has been fast, and we always have plenty of power with the Mopar HEMI under the hood,” Johnson said. “We have been taking a different approach this year and have been working into developing a good product with this new chassis. I think we are almost there, but not quite. We are almost where we want to be with six races left until the Countdown. We are still refining things, and continue to work hard each and every day.”

Other pre-race favorites in Pro Stock include series leader Jason Line, a three-time winner this season in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. Line's teammate, defending world champ Greg Anderson, is a two-time Bristol Dragway winner, as is defending race winner Edwards. Two prominent drivers in the 200 mph category have been running strong this season and are looking for their first career victories, including national record holders Rodger Brogdon (6.495 seconds) and Erica Enders (213.57 mph). Rookie candidate Nobile has been to four finals with one victory and sophomore standout Shane Gray won earlier in the year at Topeka in his Service Central GXP.

In Top Fuel, Funny Car racer turned Top Fuel driver Del Worsham continues to lead the pack in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with three victories this season. He’s followed closely by red-hot Spencer Massey, winner of the last two events in his Prestone/FRAM dragster. Worsham teammate and defending world champ Larry Dixon, Matco Tools dragster driver Antron Brown and four-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher are also among the pre-race favorites.

Mike Neff has been pulling double duty as both crew chief and driver for his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang and all the hard work is pulling off for the former Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner as he currently leads the Funny Car point standings. Neff has a four-race final round streak going and is red hot after winning the last event, in Englishtown, N.J. His championship challengers will need to step up the pace to slow his charge. Jack Beckman and Robert Hight, sit second and third in the point standings and are also multi time winners this season. Cruz Pedregon’s Snap-on Tools Toyota may be the quickest of the category but the two-time world champ is still looking for his first victory of the season after posting two runner-up finishes. You can never count out the top two from last season, defending world champ John Force, a three-time winner at Bristol, and local favorite Matt Hagan, a Christiansburg, Va., cattle rancher who drives the ultra-quick DieHard Dodge Charger on weekends.

Del Worsham and his daughter
Del Worsham and his daughter

Photo by: Ted Rossino

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Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Presented By Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers Fact Sheet

WHAT: 11th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers, the ninth of 22 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories - Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock - earn points leading to 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championships. NHRA is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011 and will pay tribute to the evolution of the hot rod and honor its legendary racers as well as the sport’s current stars.

WHERE: Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tenn. From Interstate 81 North, take Hwy. 11E. Take the Virginia Exit 3 and Hwy. 11E will take you directly to the Dragway. From the I-81 South, take Tennessee exit 69 and go south on Hwy 394 directly to the Dragway.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, June 17-19

SCHEDULE:
FRIDAY, June 17
LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 10 a.m.
GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, June 18
LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations begin at 8 a.m.
GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1 p.m.; first round of eliminations begins at 3:30 p.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES qualifying at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 19
Pre-race ceremonies, 11 a.m.
FULL THROTTLE SERIES eliminations begin at Noon.

TELEVISION:
Saturday, June 18, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 7 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, June 19, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two and a half hours of eliminations coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. (ET).

2010 EVENT WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; John Force, Funny Car; Mike Edwards, Pro Stock.

MOST VICTORIES: Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; John Force, 3, FC; Doug Kalitta, 3, TF.

TRACK RECORDS:
Top Fuel – 3.835 seconds by Larry Dixon, May ’09; 319.75 mph by Antron Brown, May ’09.
Funny Car – 4.075 seconds by Del Worsham, May ’09; 304.94 mph by Ashley Force Hood, May ’09.
Pro Stock – 6.633 seconds by Mike Edwards, May ’09; 207.94 mph by Greg Anderson, May ’09.

NATIONAL RECORDS:
Top Fuel - 3.770 sec. by Larry Dixon, Feb. ’11, Pomona, Calif.; 327.03 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ’11, Pomona, Calif.
Funny Car - 4.011 sec. by Matt Hagan, Oct. ’10, Reading, Pa.; 316.38 mph by Ashley Force Hood, March ’10, Charlotte, N.C.
Pro Stock - 6.495 sec. by Rodger Brogdon, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.; 213.57 mph by Erica Enders, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

TICKETS: For tickets call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also available at bristoldragway.com

RESERVED SEATS (includes pit pass) – Friday: Adult, $30-35; Junior (12 years & under), $10; Saturday: Adult, $45-55; Junior (12 years & under), $15-25. Sunday: Adult, $20-55; Junior (12 years & under), $10-25.

-source: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Don Garlits , Dick LaHaie , Greg Stanfield , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Allen Johnson , Jason Line , Rodger Brogdon , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Mike Edwards , Shane Gray , Vincent Nobile , Mike Neff , Spencer Massey
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing
Tags funny car, pro stock, top fuel