ROOKIE SEASON WRAPS UP FOR STANDOUT NEFF POMONA (November 11, 2008) --- In the words of the Grateful Dead, "What a long strange trip it has been," for rookie Mike Neff and the Old Spice Ford Mustang team. Pressed into service for the final two...
ROOKIE SEASON WRAPS UP FOR STANDOUT NEFF
POMONA (November 11, 2008) --- In the words of the Grateful Dead, "What a long strange trip it has been," for rookie Mike Neff and the Old Spice Ford Mustang team.
Pressed into service for the final two races of the 2007 Neff entered the 2008 season with high expectations but also a very grounded senses of self. As the newest member of John Force Racing Neff was still getting acclimated to his 8,000 horsepower Ford Mustang as the season opened up in Pomona. The rookie driver was quickly tested over the first third of the season never making it past the first round in the first eight races.
Then there was the breakthrough weekend in St. Louis which saw the former crew chief not just win his first round of competitive competition as a driver but reach his first final before being narrowed beaten by Tim Wilkerson. The same day that Neff notched round win number one team leader and boss John Force won his historic 1,000 round in the pair that preceded his run. Force seemed as equally excited about Neff's first win as his 1000th at the top end.
The next race saw Neff qualify number one and then race to a final round match-up with Melanie Troxel. Neff had has the car to beat all day and the only thing that kept him from the winners circle was a freak problem with his carbon fiber chassis which prevented his team from arming the engine causing the streaking Mustang to grenade its engine in front of a tire smoking Troxel. She earned the win but Neff knew he had missed a prime opportunity.
"It was our best qualifying start. It was the first time we started No. 1. It was a positive day but it was also frustrating that we gave one away tonight. That is just hard to swallow. We should have won that race. For something that fluke like not being able to get the body open and I say that because we had that happen before. I am mad at myself because I should have said something and made sure that it got fixed and I didn't. I am mad at myself for that happening. I am not mad at any one person. It is just frustrating," said Neff following the Bristol event.
Neff continued to earn his stripes the rest of the season reaching one more final round in Englishtown before once again falling to the Wilkerson juggernaut. With just a few races to go before the Countdown to 1 cutoff Neff was battling with fellow rookie Bob Tasca III, funny car champion and former teammate Gary Scelzi, and veteran Del Worsham for the final play-off spot. Neff was able to prevail with a semi-final round appearance in Reading and he became the first Funny Car rookie to qualify for the Countdown to 1.
Neff has had limited success in the Countdown but his biggest win of the Countdown and possibly the season for John Force Racing was the first round win over Tim Wilkerson in Las Vegas. Prior to that win Neff as 0-5 versus Wilkerson and that win helped stall Wilkerson's championship momentum enough for Neff's teammate Robert Hight to get solidly into the championship mix.
"That was the biggest round of the year for us. It is that time of year. Wilkerson is the points leader and we needed to take him out to help our teammate. We wanted to keep him alive and give him the best chance for that championship going into Pomona. That was huge. He pressed a little too hard and smoked the tires. John Medlen gave us a good car that went down the track and we got the win light. That was exciting to be able to do that and contribute to the cause," said Neff.
Heading into the 44th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals Neff is still looking for his first win as well as keeping his eye on the competitors that could impact JFR's championship hopes. He also knows this will be the last race of a very eventful rookie season. One he hopes is capped off on Monday night with the acceptance of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award.
"I would be very honored and proud to accomplish that. That's a great award. Robert [Hight] has won it and Ashley [Force] has won it. I just think it's a neat accomplishment if that would be something that we could do. I look at it that it's a team effort, so it's not just about me but it's about the team. I feel like the team has as much to do with it as I do, really. A lot of it is based off of performance, and that's what makes you look good and get good results. So, I would be really honored and happy for all of us if we were able to accomplish that," said Neff.