Neff Dominates Chicago
At the O’Reilly Rt. 66 NHRA Nationals the only thing hotter than Rt. 66 Raceway was the performance of Mike Neff and his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Throughout the day Neff’s Mustang laid down runs of 4.257, 4.223, 4.252, and 4.246 seconds all quickest of each session for the Funny Cars and he recorded his fourth win of the season and fifth of his career.
Neff also collected the 200th Funny Car win for Ford Racing and extended his points lead to 172 points over second place Jack Beckman. Since May 1st Neff is 22-4 with a winning percentage of 84.6%. He has raced to six finals in the last seven races with three wins in the last four races.
“(The success today) is just a tribute to our Ford Mustang body. I believe it is the best aerodynamically. It gives us lots of down force without the drag. It is just a great car. It comes down to preparation by the team,” said Neff. “Any time you get a race car that is that consistent you really have to give the credit to the team. All the guys that are changing those parts, building those motors, they are doing everything exactly the same. There are no variables. That is a key thing for a tuner. I had the luxury of not changing anything. They are so precise in what they do. The car just kept repeating itself. I am very happy about that.”
On Saturday night Neff, the No. 1 qualifier, said his goal was to not smoke the tires and he was wildly successful as the crew chief on Sunday.
“I tried to play it a little conservative today. I wanted to make sure it went down the race track. In the first round it put a cylinder out at 300 feet and ran a 4.25 and I fixed that. The next run it ran 4.22 I tried to just maintain that,” said the two-time world champion crew chief turned driver. “I slowed it down a little bit in the semis because it just kept getting hotter. It ran a 4.25 and then the conditions were the same in the final and I just left it alone. That is a tribute to my team and when you are only talking a hundredth of a second that is quite amazing.”
In the pressroom Neff credited his team for his recent success. While Neff is driving and making the key tuning decisions he has three key crewmen backing him up. Led by veteran Bernie Fedderly along with Jon Schaffer and Dan Hood they work together with the rest of the crew to make sure the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang remains a model of consistency.
“My crew is led by Bernie Fedderly who keeps an eye on everything and watches over all of us. He makes sure nothing falls through the cracks. My right hand man is Jon Schaffer. He oversees the car. Dan Hood is helping us out this year with fuel and keeping up with air duties as far as the tune up. We have been together for over a year now. It is like a well oiled machine.”
The car just kept repeating itself. I am very happy about that.
Neff raced to his second win in a row and he had to battle a tough Funny Car field without the support of his two teammates after the first round. The tough conditions bit both 15-time Funny Car champion John Force and 2009 Funny Car champion Robert Hight.
Force dropped a close opening round race with finalist Jeff Arend. Force left on Arend with a .088 reaction time but at the top end the DHL Funny Car had just a little more power getting to the finish line stripe in 4.331 seconds against Force’s 4.362 seconds. The heat was the biggest contributing factor in Force’s opinion.
"The drivers are struggling out here. This heat is tough. There is one of our Fords left in Mike Neff. They went A to B and we didn't. They (Arend) were just a little bit faster than us," said the 132-time winner at the top end.
Just prior to Force’s first round loss Robert Hight was dispatched by Jack Beckman. Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang hazed the tires at about 500 feet and that was just enough of a power drop for Beckman’s trouble free pass of 4.300 seconds to advance to the second round.
At the end of the day Hight was looking forward to getting to Denver, site of the next NHRA national event in two weeks, and working on with crew chief Jimmy Prock on his Mustang.
“We are ready to get to Denver. We have to get a few kinks worked out. Our Mustang is shaking and Neff’s isn’t. We probably won’t have that problem in Denver,” said Hight, the 2010 MOPAR Mile High Nationals winner. “We’ll go there with the same tune up we left off with and hopefully be as successful. We only have one Denver a year.”
“The relationship that Jimmy and Mike have is big. They talk a lot and we’ll look at what my Mustang is doing and what we can do to make it run a little better. We aren’t going to sit still. We have won four races but we also have some first round losses. We need to get this figured out and I know we can.”
The final was a rematch of sorts for Neff as he and Arend met again in a final for the first time since the Houston NHRA race which ironically was also sponsored by O’Reilly Auto Parts and featured tough hot conditions. In that final Neff by his own admission did not do a very good job of hydrating and red-lit in the final versus Arend after his Mustang had also been the dominant car of the day.
Today having learned from his mistake in early May Neff was never without a bottle of Dasani. The conditioning and awareness paid off as he was as sharp on the tree from the second round through the final recording reaction times of .086, .089 and .088.
“I am feeling pretty good. I am getting in better shape. That is quite a few finals in a row and it is like training. You just get in the groove. We have done it enough here lately that everyone is feeling pretty good,” concluded Neff.
By: john force racing