Phoenix: John Force Racing final report

NEFF REACHES EMOTIONAL 4TH FINAL PHOENIX --- Mike Neff rode a wave of emotion to the finals of the 25th annual Lucas Oil Slick Mist NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway outside of Phoenix. Handling the majority of the onsite...

NEFF REACHES EMOTIONAL 4TH FINAL

PHOENIX --- Mike Neff rode a wave of emotion to the finals of the 25th annual Lucas Oil Slick Mist NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway outside of Phoenix. Handling the majority of the onsite crew chief duties for the Ford Drive One Mustang in the absence of crew chief John Medlen, who was in Indianapolis recovering from a heart procedure he received prior to the race, Neff reached his fourth career final before a broken clutch linkage forced him to abort his final round run versus red hot Ron Capps.

"The clutch linkage broke and there was no was no way to push the clutch in to put it in reverse. It must have happened during the burnout. I tried to push the clutch in and there was nothing there. I tucked my foot underneath the pedal to see what was going on and I could feel that the clutch pedal was broken. I knew we were dead so I just had to take off to get out of the way."

Even though Neff had one of the strongest funny cars on the property all three days of the event the loss was easy for Neff to rationalize. His relationship with Medlen is very close and he communicated with him constantly throughout the event. Not being able to share the possible winning moment with Medlen in person weighed heavily on the 2008 Rookie of the Year.

"Medlen is one of the smartest guys I know, without a doubt. It is his car and he set all this stuff up. I didn't come in here and wave a magic wand. I just picked up and tried to do what he would do. I tried to continue on how he would do it. There is no question our performance would have been the same. We didn't do anything differently," said Neff. "It wasn't meant to be. We had a good weekend. We came here and we were dealt some bad circumstances with Medlen not being here. Our number one concern is his health and him getting better. That is more important than winning a drag race. We are just hoping he gets better and back out here. We'll save that win for another day."

While Neff was tearing through the rest of the funny car field his teammate Robert Hight was forced to race teammate Ashley Force Hood in the first round. The two John Force proteges were familiar with each other's routines and knew that they would have to have strong performances to oust the other from the race. Their match-up was one of the best side by side races of the day with Hight narrowly getting the win.

"Racing your teammate is never how you want the ladder to start out. Later on in the day is still a bummer but not quite as bad as the first round. There is nothing we can do about the ladder. At least we knew one of our teammates was going to the second round. That was a guarantee. We both made two good runs," said Force Hood. "That is all you can ask for when you are going up against a teammate. You have to think let us both have a good run. We were both able to learn from our runs. We were able to share our data with the other teams and maybe help them. We had a great run it was just a little short."

In the second round Hight's strong performance took a desert detour when he smoked the tires versus bowling pal Del Worsham. It was just a week ago that Hight and Worsham were sitting front row in Las Vegas for the season opening PBA event but today they were both trying to throw a strike to move to the semis. Unfortunately Hight landed in the gutter as his Auto Club Ford Mustang had a surprise clutch problem.

"We are still learning. The clutch did something totally different than we planned on. It didn't have a prayer. The other guys are doing the same thing. We have to get some consistency. Neff definitely has it. It is exciting to see him going to the final," said Hight a 2008 finalist at Firebird. "We have two weeks off we'll just have to keep learning. We won't be able to test but we are going to run the dyno. In the next two weeks we can try and figure out a better clutch application leaving the starting line."

Team leader John Force had a first round mishap that cost him at least one round win when a fuel line malfunctioned on the starting line. The 14-time champion smoked the tires as he watched Tim Wilkerson make a pedestrian but successful pass for the win.

"I was a little aggravated because my car didn't go. We have four Mustangs that are running. We have a lot of money coming in from Castrol, Auto Club, Ford, BrandSource, Mac Tools, Sanyo, Nordic Boats, and the DiPinto Brothers. I just want to deliver a win. I had a shot myself to have a car that good and to have parts malfunction...It is kind of a bummer but we'll move on," said the winningest driver in NHRA history.

This marked the third year in a row that both John Force and Ashley Force Hood were stopped from advancing to the second round. In 2007 they both lost in the first round, last season Force lost in the first round and Force Hood was relegated to the sidelines with her lone 2008 DNQ.

All four John Force Racing Ford Mustangs are looking forward to heading to sunny Florida for the historic Gatornationals. When he was asked if his team could build some momentum in the sunshine state Hight commented that anyone could get on a role then.

"Going to Gainesville is the same for everybody. You have to do something sometime. It is the same for everyone. The track is what it is. You just have to do better than the rest of them."

***

JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol EDGE Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.069 seconds, at 306.53 mph

Race results: Lost to Tim Wilkerson.

Notable: Fuel line malfunction ends Force's day in first round...third year in a row for first round exit for Force

Quotable: "Our deal is we make a lot of power. We just need to build up the consistency. We are starting to find that."

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD, 26, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 12th at 4.129 seconds, at 301.40 mph

Race results: Lost to Robert Hight.

Quotable: "Racing your teammate is never how you want the ladder to start out. At least we knew one of our teammates was going to the second round. That was a guarantee. We both made two good runs. That is all you can ask for when you are going up against a teammate."

ROBERT HIGHT, 39, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 5th at 4.077 seconds, at 303.71 mph

Race results: Beat Ashley Force Hood. Lost to Del Worsham.

Notable: Moved up to second in the Full Throttle point standings

Quotable: "We are still learning. The clutch did something totally different than we planned on. It didn't have a prayer. The other guys are doing the same thing. We have to get some consistency."

MIKE NEFF, 41, Ford Drive One/Auto Club Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 2nd at 4.050 seconds, at 309.06 mph

Race results: Beat Gary Densham, Bob Tasca III, and Tim Wilkerson. Lost to Ron Capps.

Notable: Neff's fourth career final...moved to No. 4 in Full Throttle points standings

Quotable: "This was a collective effort. All the other crew chiefs (Austin) Coil, Bernie (Fedderly), Guido (Dean Antonelli), Ron (Douglas), and Jimmy (Prock) plus Robert (Hight) were pitching in as well as all the other crew guys. That makes is a little more disappointing since it would have been nice to win that for everybody's sake. Like I said, it wasn't meant to be."

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Bob Tasca III , John Medlen , Mike Neff