John Force Racing press release
“Major” win for Mike Neff at Mac Tools US Nationals
INDIANAPOLIS, IN --- Today at the richest and most prestigious drag race in history driver and tuner Mike Neff etched his name into the history books, making one of the most improbably runs to victory in the 57 years of the NHRA Mac Tools US Nationals. Neff qualified No. 9 but on race day he took a chance on a tune up change that paid off with four round wins and gave the Fishers, Indiana resident a leg up on winning the four NHRA “Majors” in one season as well as possibly his first Full Throttle Funny Car world championship. So far this season Neff has won a category leading five events including most notably the 42nd annual NHRA Tire Kingdom Gatornationals, the 42nd annual NHRA SuperNationals and today the 57th annual Mac Tools US Nationals, three of the four most prestigious drag races in the country. The final “major” is the 47th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals contested at the end of the season at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, where NHRA Full Throttle champions are historically crowned.
The last driver to sweep the four “Majors” was John Force in 1996, the same year he was recognized at the “Driver of the Year” by a national panel of motorsports journalists. Since 1996 in six different seasons a driver has won two of the four races by no driver has won three of the four “Majors” in a single season until Neff picked up his Mac Tools US Nationals win today.
I made some really big moves to try and get it back in the game.
Today was not about championships however for Neff, the driver and tuner of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, he was searching for the dominant tune-up that in one stretch this season saw him reaching seven finals rounds in ten races and picking up four wins. As a crew chief Neff looked at today as a crowning achievement to his already nearly Hall of Fame career.
This day without a doubt was our best day because coming from where we came from. We literally weren’t competitive yesterday or really for a while. To be able to qualify ninth and I really didn’t have a whole lot of confidence. I am realistic,” said the two-time NHRA Full Throttle championship crew chief.
During the five qualifying sessions Neff improved his elapsed time nearly every round moving from an opening session 4.747 seconds to 4.343 to 4.182 to 4.118 before he slowed in the final qualifying session with a 4.130 second pass.
“We weren’t looking good at all. It paid off being able to have the chance to race my teammate (Robert Hight) first round because it enabled me to make some really bold moves and not worry about losing to him or smoking the tires because he would go on,” said Neff.
“It took all the pressure off. If I would have been racing someone else I would not have been that bold. Unfortunately they had problems. They had been running good. After that first run (4.086 seconds) it put us close and then that next run it made a nice move and ran 4.06. At that point it was really looking good so I just left it alone the rest of the day. The conditions stayed the same so I was good. It is really quite amazing from where we came from.”
In four runs today Neff average elapsed time was 4.069 seconds. His slowest ET of the day was his round one race versus Hight, the 4.086 second pass. After that run Neff posted times of 4.062, 4.060 and 4.068 seconds.
At the top end Neff was feeling it as his tune up was starting to come around. Even a brief fire after the second round did not deter the focus of the Castrol GTX driver/tuner.
“(In the second round) I bet it was 600 feet and the next thing I knew I just saw fire, I mean flames coming up through back into where I was. I looked around and I knew I wasn’t at the finish line yet to I thought this isn’t good. It was wounded pretty good there. I was happy to get through that one.”
After his semi-final win over Matt Hagan Neff again gave credit to the chance he took against his teammate, “Racing Robert this morning I just jumped all over it. There was nothing to lose. I made some really big moves to try and get it back in the game. It worked out so it feels good to be competitive again.”
This was the seventh John Force Racing Funny Car victory at the Mac Tools US Nationals and the fourth in a row. Five different drivers have won at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in addition to Neff, John Force (2002), Gary Densham (2004), Robert Hight (2006 and 2008) and Ashley Force Hood (2009 and 2010) posted wins.
“It is pretty exciting when you look at this Castrol GTX Mustang with all those logos and this is its third win in a row at Indy,” John Force, a four-time Mac Tools US Nationals winner. “Ashley won two years in a row and Robert Hight won before that. I have won it. We are a great race car team. I am really proud of that because we stick together and we are like a family. Neff raced a great competitor in the final, Bobby Tasca in another Ford.”
This was the second all Ford Mustang final of the season. Robert Hight defeated Neff at in the Summer Nationals final in Topeka for the 200th Funny Car win in John Force Racing history. The only Funny Car final this season that has not had at least one Ford Mustang representative was two weeks ago when Johnny Gray defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in an all Dodge final at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota.
For Robert Hight the Mac Tools US Nationals has been feast or famine. In seven appearances he has four final round appearances and three first round exits. Today he felt he had the Mustang to beat and a malfunction derailed the Auto Club Ford Mustang. That setback has not lessened the enthusiasm of the 2009 Funny Car world champion has for this year’s Countdown run.
“My car is fine. We had something really bad happen first round. It was kind of a malfunction. We broke a ring. We could have beaten Neff without a doubt. It would have been a great race. I left on him and it could have been over. Then it dropped a cylinder and it was over on my end,” said Hight.
“I am excited because my Auto Club Mustang is starting to turn around. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) said right up until it dropped a cylinder it was two mph faster than yesterday. That is national record speed stuff again. He kept saying if it goes down the track it will run the speed record again. It is back to the way it was in Bristol and I am happy. I can’t wait to get to Charlotte. I wish we did not have an off weekend but I am glad we’ll have three in a row. I want to congratulate Neff and his team. That is four in a row for JFR at Indy.”
At the end of the day Neff was repeatedly asked what the Mac Tools US Nationals win meant to him and he recognized the importance of the win but it was obvious he had not really processed how meaningful it would be to his career.
“It really is unbelievable. This will take a while to sink in. This is just going to take a while to sink in for sure. This next week is really going to be a great week for me. Tonight I won’t be able to sleep because I am so wound up. Tomorrow it will start sinking in.”
Throughout the day as Neff was going rounds he tried to push the pressure out of his mind. Luckily, he said it felt like the day was moving along faster than usual.
“Everything just went so fast today. I was just really trying not to think about (winning the US Nationals). Every round I would tell myself, ‘This is just another qualifying run or just a test run that doesn’t mean anything.’ I was just going to go up there and make a run. I was trying not to get caught up in the moment. In the final you are sitting there strapped into the car in the water box and you hear Bob Frey talking about the Mac Tools US Nationals and I was trying to block that out. It was really hard. I was seeing everyone give me the thumbs up before I ran. I was just trying to down play it,” said a relieved Neff.
With six races in the Countdown to One John Force Racing will be led into the play-offs by Neff from the No. 1 position. Robert Hight slipped to 3rd place and 15-time Funny Car champion will enter the Countdown in 7th place. The silver lining for Hight, who for most of the season held down the No. 2 position, is that no driver or rider has won a Full Throttle championship from the No. 2 spot. Five different drivers have won from the No. 1 or No. 3 spot, easily the most championships from any of the top ten places.