Points Leader Neff Finds Positives In Dual Role
ATLANTA, Ga. – In addition to an obviously unparalleled level of communication between driver and crew chief, points leader Mike Neff has discovered another benefit to his dual role with the Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang he’ll send to the line in this week’s 31st annual Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
... I just go and do it and it doesn't feel like I'm playing all of those mind games with myself like I used to.
“When all I was doing was driving (during the 2008 and 2009 seasons),” Neff said, “I had a lot of time to sit around and think and I believe the worst thing a driver can do is start thinking. When you get up there and you’re thinking, ‘I need to do this, I need do that’ it seems like, the more you think, the more trouble you get yourself into.
“Now I've got so much stuff going on (as both crew chief and driver of the car John Force took to the championship a year ago) that I don't have time to sit around and worry about the driving, or my reaction times, or anything like that,” Neff said.
“I think that helps me,” Neff explained, “because when it's time to finally get in the car, I just go and do it and it doesn't feel like I'm playing all of those mind games with myself like I used to.”
Indeed, Neff wasted no time in establishing himself as more than just a novelty. After reaching the semifinals in the season-opener at Pomona, Calif., he won the Tire Kingdom Gatornationals at Gainesville Fla., in convincing fashion and was equally impressive two weeks ago in the O’Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston where he was runner-up.
“I think I’m back up to speed (as a driver) and getting that win in Gainesville was big,” he has said. “That was, without a doubt, the best day of racing I've ever had in my life. It was a lot of stress and a lot of nerves, but to end up winning the way we did (posting the quickest time during eliminations) was just very gratifying and just a great experience; a great feeling.”
It’s a feeling he wants to replicate – especially after a heartbreaking final round loss at Houston where he was guilty of the first foul start of his career.
Although Neff beat himself up over the error, his boss did not.
"John is not the kind of team owner (who’s always) asking why you didn't run better," Neff said. "He's always positive, even if things aren't going well. He's pumping you up. He tells you he has confidence in you. He’s always real supportive and that’s pretty rare, believe me. It's not like that at a lot of these teams. They don't cut you any slack."
Neff came to JFR specifically for the opportunity to drive a Funny Car. He had distinguished himself mechanically at Don Schumacher Racing where he took Gary Scelzi to the 2005 championship.
It was during that championship run that Force saw in Neff the qualities he believed would serve him well as a driver.
"He can get the job done under pressure," Force told Terry Blount at espn.com. "He doesn't cave. He's able to focus. I get a little lost in the job with trying to run these companies and these teams (but) Neff is able to get his priorities right."
For his part, Neff plays everything low key, just like he always has.
"(Doing both jobs) really is not that bad with all the help I have," said the two-time Full Throttle tour winner. "The hardest part is when you're tuning the car, you're always thinking about it and second-guessing what you're doing.
“When it's time to drive, you need to focus on the driving,” he said. “You can't afford to have your mind wandering or thinking about something else because you will make a mistake that can cost you.
"When I get in the car, I'm just the driver," said the one-time motocross rider. "We've made the calls and it is what it is. It's not going to do any good to worry about it (because) no matter how good you set the car up, if you screw up driving, it doesn't mean anything."