NEFF TRIES TO CHANGE HIS LUCK IN LAS VEGAS
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – With apologies to the race winner in Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, “slow and steady” is a strategy that, when applied to professional drag racing, assures little more than total and complete failure.
Slow isn’t relative to any of the work done before, during or after a typical 1,000 foot sprint, one in which high tech Funny Cars reach speeds of near 320 miles per hour. “Fast and steady” is the goal and this year no one has done that better than Mike Neff.
That’s why, even though he has not yet won a race, the driver and crew chief on the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang will roll onto The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for this week’s 13th SummitRacing.com Nationals as the Full Throttle points leader.
Neff, who won two NHRA championships as a Funny Car crew chief – the first with Gary Scelzi in 2005 and the other with John Force in 2010, came ever so close to winning again last year, claiming the regular season championship before fading in the Countdown to 1 playoffs and finishing fourth overall.
The former surfer, motocross-er and off-road truck mechanic has learned from that experience and is back this year trying to become the first to win an NHRA Funny Car title as driver and crew chief in the same car since the late Shirl Greer did with his Ford Mustang II back in 1974.
Runner-up at the season’s first two races and a semifinalist three weeks ago in the Tire Kingdom Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., Neff’s Ford will be the car to beat again this week even though the native Californian has won only one racing round in seven previous driving appearances at LVMS.
Why all the fuss? Well, consider this. In 11 competitive rounds this season, Neff’s average for the 1,000 foot distance has been 4.109 seconds. The significance is that teammate Robert Hight, winner of the last two events in the series and the man closest to Neff in points, has averaged 4.445 seconds on nine competitive laps.
Quite simply, Neff’s hybrid hot rod has gone down the racetrack – and done so very, very quickly – on each and every competitive run it has made. His slowest thousand-footer was 4.264 in the second round at Phoenix; his quickest 4.039 in losing the final round to Force, his boss and teammate, at the season-opening O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
Still, it frustrates him that he hasn’t yet been able to close the deal this season, especially since he feels like he’s squandered three really good opportunities to put himself and his race car in the field for the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout to be contested Sept. 2 in conjunction with the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind.
“We’re happy with the consistency,” said the 45-year-old Neff. “That always makes you feel good, but I am a little frustrated with letting three chances slip away. The Traxxas Shootout is definitely something we want to be part of with this team and this Castrol GTX Mustang.
“We want to win every race and we work hard at it,” continued the 2008 winner of the Auto Club’s Road to the Future award that identifies the NHRA’s top rookie, “but, on the positive side, we’ve had two races with John Force Racing Mustangs in the finals and it should have been three, so we’re definitely satisfied with that. We’ll just keep on keepin’ on.”
And the competition will have to keep on wondering how it’s done.
FORCE SHAKES OFF CRASH AND FIRST OPENING ROUND LOSS, OPTIMISM SOARS FOR VEGAS
LAS VEGAS (March 27, 2012) – Following an unexpected weekend in Gainesville, Fla. for Courtney Force and her recently assembled Traxxas Ford Mustang team, all are looking to regroup and make a strong comeback in Las Vegas for the 13th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals.
Two weeks ago, the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals didn’t exactly go as Courtney force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang team had planned. The 23-year-old rookie Funny Car driver and youngest daughter of drag racing legend, John Force, smacked the guard wall during her 3rd qualifying attempt and suffered minor bruising from the car.
“Every time I’m in the seat of my Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car, I’m learning something new. When I hit the guardrail in Gainesville it was just another lesson learned. As a rookie driver I’m figuring out each racetrack and the different things that come with it. Obviously every racetrack and lane is different, although NHRA does a great job prepping it for each race. With my particular run it pulled me a little to the outside, which was immediately when I should have just stepped off. However, I stayed in it just a little too long which caused my car to shoot me over to the wall.
“The best thing I learned from that run is timing and that I needed to get right back in the car after hitting the wall on a run like that. My team hustled to be ready for the next qualifying pass and I was ready to jump right back in it. Dad made it clear that it was crucial to ‘jump back on the horse’ after a hit to the wall like that, and I’m glad I did. I was ready to get my car qualified and was able to run my best E.T. of qualifying on that final pass which is exactly the boost of confidence me and my team needed!” Force added.
The weekend had its ups and downs, giving Force a firsthand experience in overcoming a Funny Car crash, essentially building awareness in herself and a stronger sense of dependence in her brand new crew. Through it all, Force and the Traxxas team led by Ron Douglas still managed to qualify in the No. 12 qualifying position.
“After having some trouble on one of my runs where I hit the wall, it made it a challenge for my team to be ready for the next session that same day. All four JFR teams came together to put together our spare Traxxas car and have it ready to run in that next session,” said Force. “I was so proud in this moment to be a part of a team that came together so quickly to help each other out. I was so thankful we were able to get it done and we were able to pull it up for the next qualifying session. On that pass we ran the quickest E.T. throughout all of qualifying and it definitely made all of the hard work pay off. I think it made us stronger as a team and made everyone realize that we could pull it off under a time constraint and even under all that pressure while getting the work done efficiently.”
Force suffered her first opening round loss since her Funny Car debut during Sunday’s eliminations, but managed to keep from slipping too many spots in the points. She was holding onto the No. 6 spot going into Gainesville and left 7th in points. She will now attend her 4th race of her career hanging on to a top ten position even after her collision and first round loss in Gainesville.
“It’s so unreal to think that our Traxxas team is 7th in the points being that this team was built from scratch while having a rookie driver in the seat. It proves that we have accomplished so much already and we will strive to work harder and do better at every event. I’m so proud to have them as my team and to have Ron Douglas as crew chief. It gives me confidence as a driver this early on in the season, which makes me excited to see where it will take us!”
“I’m very excited going into the 4th race of the season in Las Vegas. Being that I’ve been through some ups and downs already makes me that much more excited to get out there and drive this Traxxas Ford Mustang down The Strip with a little more confidence. Our team has built confidence thus far and I know we learned a lot from our runs in Gainesville so I’m feeling more comfortable in the car and excited to see how we do going into the event,” said Force
JEKYLL OR HYDE? FORCE UNPREDICTABLE IN LASE VEGAS
LAS VEGAS, Nevada. – In Vegas, you can’t bet on John Force. Well, actually, you CAN bet on the 15-time NHRA drag racing champion, but you probably shouldn’t.
The first eight times that Vegas oddsmakers tapped the 62-year-old icon as the Funny Car favorite in the SummitRacing.com Nationals, an event contested this week for the lucky 13th time, Force took his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang beyond the second round just once and never raced for the title.
Although he regularly dominated other events in the NHRA Full Throttle Series, once racing in nine straight finals at the Summit Southern Nationals in Atlanta, Ga., Force was just 7-8 in his first 10 tries at the SummitRacing.com Nationals. In no other event did it take the 15-time Auto Racing All-American so long to win for the first time.
To add insult, it was at the 2007 race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that Force’s record streak of 395 consecutive starts came to an abrupt end when he failed to qualify. A year later, he inexplicably DNQed once again, only the second time in history he had failed to make the field for a race two years in-a-row.
Furthermore, it is the same LVMS track on which first round opponent Bob Bode left the starting line before the system was activated at the inaugural fall event, the Las Vegas Nationals, and, when a startled Force set out after him, he also was caught up in a rare double disqualification that since has been addressed in new regulations.
The sum of his difficulties at LVMS might lead one to surmise that drag racing’s biggest winner is just another loser when he comes to Las Vegas.
Au contraire. It’s not like Force has had no success in Sin City. It’s just that it hasn’t come in waves like it has elsewhere. In fact, fall victories at LVMS provided a springboard to both his 2002 and 2010 world championships and his 2010 spring win ended 10 years of futility in the SummitRacing.com Nationals.
The reality is that while you probably shouldn’t bet on the former truck driver, if you consider his overall record, one that includes 134 event victories and 1,110 rounds won, it also would be ludicrous to bet against him.
Just bet that Force still will be on everyone’s radar this week when he tries to duplicate his winning performance in the season-opening O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., that gave him at least one win in almost 25 consecutive pro seasons.
Ironically, while Force has been one of the most vocal champions of NHRA’s diversity program, two of the sport’s most celebrated young female drivers were directly responsible for his fall from first place to fifth in the current Full Throttle standings.
After winning the season-opener, the man who this year will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, lost consecutive first round races to his 23-year-old daughter Courtney and to fellow rookie Alexis DeJoria.
Nevertheless, after losing, Force followed the advice he has given all three of his racing daughters.
“I told Courtney, just like I told Ashley (Force Hood) and Brittany: when you’re in the dumps, get out to the ropes and (start) signing autographs because half the people out there don’t even know you got beat.
“Get out there and they’ll make you feel better,” he said. “They love us, they love our products and, more important, they buy ‘em – Castrol oil, Ford cars and trucks, Traxxas R/C vehicles, Auto Club insurance, all of it.”
HIGHT WANTS TO STAY ON HOT STREAK IN VEGAS
LAS VEGAS (March 27, 2012) --- Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team are hoping to stay on a hot streak at the 13th annual Summitracing.com NHRA Nationals this weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 2009 Funny Car champion has won the last two NHRA national events including a major win at the historic NHRA Tire Kingdom Gatornationals two weeks ago. The three-time winner and defending Summitracing.com Nationals champion wants to continue his winning ways as he battles some of the toughest Funny Car teams in recent memory.
“We are off to a great start but the season is still really young. Now we are going to start getting into the grind and it will continue to be a battle every race. There are so many tough teams out there that you have to have your ‘A’ game every time you roll up to the water-box,” said Hight, a 25-time national event winner.
Hight has won multiple races each year he has competed in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series behind the wheel of the Auto Club Ford Mustang. One streak that is still on the line is his history of leading the points for at least one race during each of his professional seasons. Hight is not concerned about extending that streak this week but rather at the end of the season.
“(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and I have talked about having a good regular season and a good Countdown. We have done both but never in the same season. We have won a lot of races in the regular season but don’t have championships trophies to show for it. We dominated the Countdown in 2009 and won the championship. We would like to have one of those seasons where you consistently win race for a full year. I think we have the team to do that,” said Hight.
For Hight to dominate his biggest competition might come from his teammates at John Force Racing most notably current Full Throttle points leader Mike Neff and 15-time Funny Car champion John Force. Neff was appeared in two finals and narrowly missed making three finals in a row after getting edged out in the semis by Johnny Gray at the Gatornationals. Force opened the season with a win at the NHRA O’Reilly Winternationals before dropping first round races to two of the rising rookie stars, daughter Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria.
“We have a great team at John Force Racing. Our crew chiefs and teams are constantly sharing information and ideas. Jimmy and Mike have a great relationship and when you add (John) Medlen, Dean (Antonelli), Danny (DeGennaro), Ron (Douglas) and Bernie (Fedderly) to the mix that is a lot of brain-power. We are constantly working on things at the Brownsburg shop and Jimmy and I talk all the time. I think we are getting better every time we run these Ford Mustangs down the track.”
Hight has been victorious at The Strip three times including an emotional win in 2007 following the tragic loss of teammate Eric Medlen during a testing accident at the Gatornationals. The win at this year’s Gators was also an emotional roller coaster considering the race was postponed one day and concluded on Monday five years after Medlen crashed on a Monday testing at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
“It was good to get John Medlen back in the winner’s circle in Gainesville. It was five years when we have a tragic accident and we lost Eric (in Gainesville). It means a lot to get him back in the winner’s circle,” concluded Hight.
With the win last year at The Strip at Las Vegas Hight became the first two-time event winner at the Strip and Hight is hoping to make a third trip to the winner’s circle. The performance numbers the Auto Club Ford Mustang put up on Sunday (and Monday) at the Gatornationals were nothing short of amazing and put Hight in a good position for a repeat win.
He recorded the quickest pass of each session posting 4.051 and 4.039 second runs on Sunday with whopping miles per hour of 316.38 and 317.12 both track records. On Monday crew chief Jimmy Prock gave Hight a 4.044 second tune up that gave him lane choice over Johnny Gray. In the final both Prock and Johnny Gray crew chief Rob Wendland dialed their Funny Cars back a little too far causing both 8,000 horsepower Funny Cars to smoke the tires.
Hight wasn’t expecting any surprises but the veteran driver was ready for anything. He pedaled his Auto Club Mustang to the finish line with a time of 4.866 seconds, his slowest time of the event but good enough for the historic win.
“I wasn’t expecting that (smoking tires) at all. Jimmy said he was going to back it off because the track was warming up. We were trying to run 4.08 or something. I think he backed it off too much and it shook. You saw Morgan Lucas run 3.74 right behind us and that showed you how good the track was. We probably would have been better off to leave it like it was and try and run 4.03 or 4.04. It really doesn’t matter how you get here as long as you get the win light,” concluded Hight.