Neff Wins Norwalk; Extends Points Lead
Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang won for third time in six final round appearances this season taking the Wally trophy at the 5th annual NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals. Neff defeated Ron Capps in a tight race to extend his points lead over Jack Beckman to 124 points. At the top end Neff’s Mustang recorded a time of 4.211 seconds just a half a car length in front of Capps’ NAPA Dodge Charger’s 4.259 seconds.
The win was the first for John Force Racing at Summit Raceway Park in three final round appearances. The team has match raced here for over a decade and has more track data than most teams. Today it came down to racing conditions and battling rising temperatures.
“This is the only national event track John Force has never won a race. I was surprised when I learned that. I was hoping he would have made the final again,” said Neff, who tuned Force to the final in 2010 along with Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. “That would have been great for his team. They (Force) had a great car all weekend and today. Something went weird with it in the semis. We lost in the final here last year with John driving. To be able to get a win here feels great.”
Neff had a tough race in the semis versus two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon. They had met twice this season in final rounds with Neff coming out on top in both Gainesville and Englishtown but today Pedregon had lane choice and track conditions were tricky.
“There was a lot of pressure against Cruz. He is a great driver. His car has been running all year and even last year. That is one of the cars you have to keep your eye on. I felt fortunate to get past him into the final.”
“This was a tricky day out here. The track was pretty slick when you got on the asphalt. It was one of those places it was just hard to get a lot of confidence. Fortunately we hung in there and survived. It is a thrill to get this win. We love coming here. This is a great facility. We’ll be back August 13th for the Night Under Fire match race. It is just exciting to get another win. I just feel fortunate. I can’t thank my team enough,” added Neff.
In the final Neff chose the left lane for his final run of the day. As the team examined the lane a buzz went through the media center at Summit Raceway Park. Throughout the day every Funny Car that had lane choice had elected to run in the right lane.
“My car had just been getting real fast in the right lane out at about 80 feet. It was chopping the tire pretty good. It just looked kind of awkward to me. I was actually contemplating taking the left lane in the very first round but I went in the right,” said Neff the No. 5 qualifier. “It looked funny and kind of looked worse the second round so when we lost lane choice in the semis against Cruz I was like, ‘Good.’ because I would have taken the left lane in the semis if I had the option. We took it again in the final. It worked out. It was one of those things that you would look like a real idiot if it didn’t work since everyone was running in the right lane.”
Neff and Capps gave the capacity crowd in Norwalk a thrilling side by side final round. Both cars stormed down the race track under power and at the lights it was Neff who came out on top.
“You have to just keep doing what you do. We had been going down the track. The track was still hot in the final. We were just doing our own thing. (Capps) has a great team over there. If you give them enough shots you know they will get a win. They put up a great race. It was good to see a good drag race in the final.”
This was the fifth final round in six races for the crew chief turned driver and the first race of that streak was a loss in Houston when the elements overcame Neff. By his own admission he did not take care of himself throughout the day in Houston. He did not take anything away from eventual winner Jeff Arend but since then Neff has been more aware of his fluid and food intake on race day.
“The more rounds you go the better you get. That was what five or six finals so that is like training. I am getting the groove and my team has been in the groove. They went to eleven finals last year. They can hack it and I am getting better at it. I am getting in better shape. It is a long day especially when it is hot out there like today. It wears you down.”
Neff gave a lot of much deserved credit to his team. With the four round wins today crew chief Bernie Fedderly became the all-time winningest crew chief in either nitro category earning his 1,124th round win. Entering race day he was tied with Hall of Fame crew chef and former partner Austin Coil at 1,121 round wins. Fedderly earned his round wins with Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers Terry Capp, Gary Beck, Ed “Ace” McCulloch, John Force, and Mike Neff.
John Force moved up in the Full Throttle point standings from 8th to 7th place and more importantly he put some much needed distance between himself and the 11th place position. Only the top ten drivers will qualify for the Countdown to One championship race and with only six races left until the cut-off every round counts at this point.
Force took out veteran Jim Head in the first round, then newcomer Dan Wilkerson before falling to Ron Capps in the semi-finals. Dan Wilkerson, son of Funny Car veteran Tim Wilkerson, was the 129th different opponent for Force and the 123rd different driver he has beaten at least once.
At the end of the day Force had the smile of a satisfied team owner as Neff’s crew rolled his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang into the winner’s circle.
“When one car gets on a roll then everyone is taken care of. That is why all the sponsor names are on every Mustang. Right now Robert (Hight) and Mike are on a roll. At the end of the day I am still struggling but I got some round wins today,” said Force. “I moved up in the points and I got some distance away from the guys outside the Top Ten. It was cool that Mike Neff’s son Chase was here to see his dad win. That was the first time he has seen him win in person. He has the same eyes as Mike and he has the same personality. He is really cool too.”
The Auto Club Ford Mustang qualified at the top of the Funny Car class and Robert Hight took out Jeff Arend in the first round. He was also the quickest Funny Car of the session extending his streak of being quickest to six rounds going back to the second round of the Bristol national event.
That streak ended in the second round when Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang went up in smoke almost immediately and Cruz Pedregon took the round win 4.197 to 5.539. Hight did close the gap on Jack Beckman for second place in the Full Throttle Funny Car points standing. Heading into Chicago for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Rt. 66 Nationals he is only two points behind Beckman.