NEFF TRYING TO RALLY TO A FULL THROTTLE CHAMPIONSHIP
READING, Pa. – It wasn’t so much the loss of position that sent Mike Neff into test mode in advance of this week’s 28th annual NHRA Auto-Plus Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. It was instead the loss of opportunity.
With only three races remaining, it is an imposing, although not unmanageable, deficit for the man who both tunes and drives the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang for John Force Racing, Inc.
“We just got behind and never really got into a rhythm,” Neff said of last week’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals. “You hate to miss those chances, especially with Capps going out in the second round.
“We’re really not any further behind than before, points-wise,” said the two-time former world championship-winning crew chief (with Gary Scelzi in 2005 and Force in 2010), “but now we’re third instead of second, behind Capps and (Jack) Beckman, and that makes it that much harder.”
Still, Neff knows that things can happen, especially at Maple Grove. And, after testing Monday at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis, he also knows that his hybrid race car is ready for the challenge.
“We figured a few things out,” acknowledged the 46-year-old with the Hollywood good looks. “We ran a couple of 4.0s, which is what it’s going to take. There are a lot of good cars out there right now and we need to show that we’re still one of them.”
Neff will roll to the starting line for Friday’s first qualifying session 99 points behind Capps, 69 back of Beckman. He knows he can’t make that up in one race. Instead, the goal this week is to reduce the deficit with an eye toward overcoming it entirely in season-ending events at Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif.
Although he didn’t drive competitively until he was in his 40s, Neff proved to be a natural. The 2008 NHRA Rookie of the Year, he has taken a JFR Ford to the final round in 21 of his 90 career starts and has won nine tour events, three so far this year.
Nevertheless, the former off-road truck mechanic admits that handling both jobs has proven to be more difficult than he expected. Doing one full-time job is demanding enough, but doing two is, well, maybe kind of crazy, especially in this, The Age of Specialization.
“It’s not an exact science,” Neff said of preparing an 8,000 horsepower race car for a zero-to-320 mile-an-hour trip down a 1,000 foot, straight line race course. “There are always challenges you have to deal with. Anything can happen.
“(But) that’s what’s so exciting about NHRA drag racing. You can’t make it up in the next turn,” said the one-time motocross rider. “You get one shot at it. You either get it right, you catch a break or it’s over with – and you have to do that four times in one day.”
Still, there’s that left brain-right brain conflict; the creative versus the pragmatic.
“You can’t go up there thinking about the tuning part because you won’t drive as well as you should,” he explained, “and, in the end, if you don’t perform as a driver, it doesn’t really matter what you did as a tuner.”
If, in fact, the two Mike Neffs can operate cooperatively for just four qualifying rounds and four racing rounds this week, then the singular Mike Neff will be one step closer to making history as the first Funny Car racer in 38 years to win the championship in the dual role of driver/crew chief.
C. FORCE KICKS-OFF BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH WITH SPECIALTY CAR AT READING
READING, Penn. (October 2, 2012) – This week Courtney Force will compete at the only race track on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing series circuit that she hasn’t raced at, Maple Grove Raceway. She will compete in the 28th annual Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals in Reading, Penn.
To kick-off the month of October, Force will be running a pink Traxxas Funny Car Ford Mustang to commemorate breast cancer awareness month and to raise support for breast cancer prevention and research.
“I’ve never raced at Maple Grove before, but it’s extra special because I’ll be running a hot pink breast cancer awareness car,” said Force. “We’re excited. We’re trying to bring attention to a good cause. We all hope that this will help with awareness in the importance of research and finding a cure for breast cancer. I’m very happy and very excited to be a part of that. Definitely looking forward to this weekend and hopefully showing that car off in the Winner’s Circle.”
Force suffered an unfortunate first round loss in the opening round of eliminations at the inaugural AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. Despite Force’s better reaction time against Mike Neff, she smoked the tires at the hit and pedaled it. At about the 300 ft. mark, Force’s Traxxas ford Mustang took a sharp turn to the left and grazed the guard wall.
“First round going up there someone had smoked the tires in the lane ahead of us. We thought it would be a better lane. We didn’t think we would have a problem with it smoking the tires, but it did. I did my best to recover it. I just was going after that win light and I pedaled it before it had enough time to settle down and since it was still up on the tire it sent me over into the wall,” said Force.
She stacked up five total bonus points from being the second-quickest in the Funny Car field in the third qualifying session and quickest in the final qualifying session.
“We keep wanting to move up in the points. We moved up to the fifth spot just over qualifying this weekend, but then got bumped back down to sixth by Wilkerson. We just have to continue to pick up the points in qualifying and go rounds on Sunday.
“We’re excited about going into Reading. It’s the third-to-last race of the season. There’s definitely a lot of excitement going into this race,” said Force.
Force, sitting in 6th place in the Full Throttle point standings, is just 22 points behind Cruz Pedregon who is in 4th place. A top five finish would be quite an accomplishment for the rookie driver. Over the last four races Force has earned the most qualifying bonus points, 20 total, in the Funny Car class. Two weekends ago in Dallas she picked up a career best 8 bonus points out of 12 available. For the rookie driver the next three races will be all about turning the qualifying success of her Traxxas Ford Mustang into round wins and a move up in the Full Throttle point standings.
READING REPEAT CAN GET HIGHT BACK IN CHAMPIONSHIP MIX
READING, PA (October 2, 2012) --- Last season Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team were struggling coming into the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals. Prior to that race Hight said it was a “make or break” event for his team. They went on to win a rain delayed event with an outstanding lap on Monday morning and catapult his team back into championship contention.
This weekend will end a streak of six races in six weekends and after two of those races Hight and his team have added an additional test day. To say his team has put in the effort is an understatement they just have not been able to see the fruits of their labor on Sunday.
“There is no doubt we have struggled and not executed on Sunday during the first three races of the Countdown. The positive I take away from this situation is we have been here before. In 2009 we came into the Countdown in 10th place and in two races we had the points lead. We moved around nine other teams in two races,” said Hight in reference to his Countdown wins at Charlotte and Dallas in 2009.
The Full Throttle point deficit Hight has to overcome this year is bigger when you consider the winningest driver since 2005 is 182 points out of first place. The fact that weather conditions will be cool and fast in Reading definitely puts a national ET record in play for the Funny Car class. You combine that extra 20 points with a dominant qualifying effort and going into eliminations Hight can cut into the point lead in dramatic fashion.
“This Countdown is about pressure and how you handle the pressure. I think there is more pressure on the top couple of teams to hold onto their lead. I know I felt pressure in 2009 and it was really tough. The times that I have won the Mac Tools US Nationals rolling for the finals I felt pressure. The first time I won the US Nationals in 2006 my knees were knocking during my burnout. I’ve been there and this team has been there. We are not going to give up on chasing this championship until Sunday in Pomona,” said Hight.
One thing that gives me a lot of confidence has been Jimmy Prock and my guys. We have all been together for so long we are really holding each other accountable. We are supporting each other and we are not going negative. The Countdown is half over but that means we still have three races, twelve rounds, and hopefully twelve more qualifying sessions to get the job done. There are a lot of points still out there and we just need to go get them,” added Hight.
Hight has a strong record at the final three races in the Countdown. In 2011 he won Reading defeating a surging Johnny Gray and reached the final round of the Auto Club Finals in Pomona dropping a close race to eventual champion Matt Hagan. In 2009 he took the Wally at the Las Vegas national event sealing up his first Full Throttle championship in the process. Hight knows there are some race tracks that you just feel better at and for whatever reason you perform at a higher level. The final three races of the season will have Hight in a comfort zone that gives him reason to be optimistic.
“We have won multiple races in a row. Earlier this year we won four in a row. Getting three wins in a row most likely will be what we need to do to grab this championship. I love racing at all three of these race tracks and I have won at all three of them. A couple of teams have pulled away but they haven’t put anyone away yet. I am excited about this weekend and Jimmy Prock and I have a game plan that we think will be successful. It will be tough but we are up to the challenge,” said Hight.
FORCE UNWILLING TO 'DO THE MATH' IN POINTS RACE
READING, Pa. – John Force admits that, as a student, he really wasn’t very good at math – which may be why the 63-year-old drag racing icon can’t accept the fact that he won’t be able to work his usual playoff magic this week when the NHRA Full Throttle tour returns to Maple Grove Raceway for the 28th annual NHRA Auto-Plus Nationals.
The sport’s biggest winner regardless of statistical category – championships (15), final round appearances (216), tour victories (134) or rounds won (1,112), Force this year has dug a hole from which he can’t extricate himself. Just don’t tell him.
“I never say never. I always think we have a chance,” Force said. “(Ron) Capps is in the driver’s seat, but he’s gone out early the last two races. If somebody else gets hot, it could change everything. Until the NHRA comes to me and says, ‘there’s no way for you to win,’ I’m not gonna believe it.”
It’s the way the 2012 inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame has raced for the last 25 years. It’s an attitude that in the past has enabled him to do the impossible, from overcoming the damage inflicted in a horrific 300 mile-an-hour crash at Dallas, Texas, in 2007 to overcoming Matt Hagan to win the most unlikely of his championships in 2010.
This year, though, Force rolls his Castrol GTX® HIGH MILEAGE™ Ford Mustang into Maple Grove, a track on which he has won six times and on which he has set national performance records, languishing in 10th place in the Funny Car driver standings despite a season-opening victory in the Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
Although he has secured a record 28th consecutive Top 10 finish, he presently is 218 points behind the front-running Capps and remains mathematically viable only because of the possibility, however remote, that Capps might not qualify for one of the three remaining races in the Countdown to the Championship.
Of course, that isn’t to say that the first drag racer ever recognized as Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing (1996) won’t be a factor in the Auto-Plus Nationals. Contender or pretender, he almost always has an impact when the tour moves to Pennsylvania.
In 2009, for instance, it was his decision to swap crews and crew chiefs with teammate Robert Hight at Maple Grove that inexplicably jump-started the latter’s unlikely championship bid.
A year later, it was Force who lost the points lead at the Grove when a clutch failure took him out on the burnout before his first round match with Dale Creasy Jr. He responded by rallying his team, winning the final two races and claiming the title.
After losing the championship to Cruz Pedregon in 1992, he rebounded a year later and clinched with a win at Maple Grove – with three races still remaining.
In 2007, he won a round on Sunday, a round on Monday and a round on Tuesday before losing to former teammate Tony Pedregon in a rain-delayed Wednesday final. It was the longest Auto-Plus Nationals in history.
Nevertheless, Force’s focus this week is on 2001, the last year the race was contested on Oct. 7. That’s because he qualified No. 1, posted quick time and top speed during eliminations, lowered the NHRA national record for the quarter mile to 4.731 seconds and won the race.
He thinks he can do all of that again and, the thing is, who’s going to tell him he can’t?
Source: John Force Racing