Hight, Neff - Ford interview 2008-08-19

This week in Ford Racing With one race remaining before the NHRA POWERade Series Funny Car Countdown to the Championship, all four John Force Racing teams have clinched a spot in the top 10 - Robert Hight is third; Ashley Force, fifth; John...

This week in Ford Racing

With one race remaining before the NHRA POWERade Series Funny Car Countdown to the Championship, all four John Force Racing teams have clinched a spot in the top 10 - Robert Hight is third; Ashley Force, fifth; John Force, sixth; and Mike Neff, 10th. Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, and Neff, driver of the Old Spice Ford Mustang, talked on Tuesday about the 2008 season to date, the upcoming Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, and the Countdown. Read More

With one race remaining before the NHRA POWERade Series Funny Car Countdown to the Championship, all four John Force Racing teams have clinched a spot in the top 10 - Robert Hight is third; Ashley Force, fifth; John Force, sixth; and Mike Neff, 10th. Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, and Neff, driver of the Old Spice Ford Mustang, talked on Tuesday about the 2008 season to date, the upcoming Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, and the Countdown.

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ROBERT HIGHT - Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang Funny Car

JOHN FORCE RACING PUT FOUR TEAMS IN THE COUNTDOWN AND THREE TEAMS IN THE SHOWDOWN. THAT'S GOT TO BE A PRETTY SATISFYING PLACE TO BE RIGHT NOW. "For sure. We definitely wouldn't want to be on the outside and not in. I think it's big going into our biggest race of the year, Indy, knowing that we're all in. You can't really relax, but there won't be the pressure of having to get in. We can go there and race to win the biggest race of the year."

YOU, IN PARTICULAR, AND THE TEAM, IN GENERAL, ARE NOT STRANGERS TO SUCCESS. BUT, CAN YOU PUT INTO PERSPECTIVE WHAT THIS SEASON HAS MEANT AFTER SUCH AN EMOTIONAL 2007? THIS SEEMS TO BE SUCH A DIFFERENT SEASON IN A NUMBER OF RESPECTS. "It is. You wonder how it's all going to shake out because you haven't been focusing on performance, you've been focusing on safety, and building new race cars that are - yeah, we had a lot of engineering data behind them, but until they hit the race track, there's always an element of doubt of whether they're really going to work, and what you're going to have to face and deal with in making them work. So, with all of the things on our minds with safety and really not focusing on performance, like we have in the past, I would say we're in pretty good shape right now."

YOU MENTIONED THE UNKNOWNS HEADING INTO THIS SEASON. WHEN DID YOU GET A SENSE THAT YOU'D BE COMPETITIVE THIS YEAR? DID IT TAKE A WHILE? "I guess going out and winning the first race of the year with a brand-new car and very little testing on it, I guess I started out with quite a bit of confidence, which was good, we didn't have to struggle for a few races, and the next race I went to the final. So, I guess at the very beginning I was convinced that we could win with what we had and with what we had come up with with all of Ford's help. I mean, that was big."

WITH YOU KNOWING ALL OF THE WORK THAT WENT INTO THE SAFETY ASPECTS OF THE CAR, WAS THAT ONE LESS THING THAT YOU NEEDED TO THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU WENT INTO A RACE WEEKEND? AND, SAFETY ASIDE, FROM A COMPETITION STANDPOINT, HOW WAS THE NEW CHASSIS DIFFERENT FROM LAST YEAR'S? "I think it's equally as good. I don't think we're at any disadvantage whatsoever, because other teams out there have met the new rules, but have not gone as far as we have. And, they basically have the old-style chassis with the bigger diameter and thicker tubing, and yet we redesigned the Funny Car from front to back, and we've all won races this year, we've all qualified - in fact, we have more No. 1 qualifiers than anybody else. So, it shows that we didn't hinder performance, and we've greatly - greatly - improved the safety on these things. I guarantee you, though, without Ford's engineering, with Niranjan Singh and Pat DiMarco and everybody that's been on this project night and day, we wouldn't be where we're at without them."

IS THERE A WAY TO BRING THE MOMENTUM FROM THE JUST-CONCLUDED PORTION OF THE SCHEDULE INTO INDY FOR THE NATIONALS, AND BEYOND THAT, THE COUNTDOWN? IS THIS LIKE TWO SEASONS, OR ONE SEASON CUT IN TWO? "Here's how I look at it: Anybody in the top 10 can win the championship, because there's six races left and there's not a big enough spread from No. 1 to No. 10 for that No. 10 guy to be at a big disadvantage. So, any one of those 10 can win. I think we've kind of had the outlook, the way this season's worked, of kind of being in test mode, because we haven't been able to test. There's a shortage on nitro and we haven't tested in months. So, we've had to test and race and try to win races while we're racing. Without all of that testing, it kind of put us behind. Yet, it got us all in the top 10. So, when we get to this Countdown, there isn't going to be any more testing. We need to make sure these cars are right and we have our tune-ups right, and we just need to go down the race track every time and be in the top-two or -three cars every single run. Our focus, I think, is going to change a little bit when the Countdown begins because we don't have the luxury of testing. If you fail to qualify, if you have a lot of first-round losses, you're out of it. So, we need to make sure we've got it together, and I believe we all do. Indy is going to be the same way. Even though we're all in, we need to go in there swinging and just know that we've got our tune- ups right."

WHAT'S THE MOOD AROUND JOHN FORCE RACING RIGHT NOW HEADING INTO INDY AND THEN THE COUNTDOWN? "Excited and relieved and confident. We know we have the best resources here, the best people. We have everything around us to win, and we're all in the top 10 so there's no reason if we do our jobs and do what we know how to do that one of these cars can't win the champion ship."

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MIKE NEFF - Old Spice Ford Mustang Funny Car

CONGRATULATIONS ON MAKING THE COUNTDOWN IN YOUR ROOKIE YEAR. "Thank you. That was definitely a relief, and that was definitely our goal going into that last race was try to get into that Countdown, and fortunately everything worked out in our favor and now we don't have to worry about that when we get to Indy."

JOHN FORCE RACING IS NO STRANGER TO SUCCESS. BUT CAN YOU PUT INTO PERSPECTIVE WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE ORGANIZATION TO PUT FOUR CARS INTO THE COUNTDOWN THIS YEAR AFTER SUCH AN EMOTIONAL SEASON LAST YEAR? "It's a huge accomplishment, first of all. There's so many Funny Cars that run so well that there's probably at least 16 or more that I feel legitimately have a chance of getting into that. And, John and Robert and Ashley, it's Ashley's second year and she's doing a great job driving, they've got that car running good. Robert is always a strong contender, and [John] Force is always in there, so I would've expected them to be in that Countdown, but for me and my team, being my first year, a rookie driver, and having to put a new team together, that's tough to do. It's tough to get the team working together so they're not making mistakes, and me trying to figure out what I need to do and do my job as a driver, so for us to be able to get into that top 10 here that first year and into the Countdown, I think that's quite an accomplishment for a first-year team."

IN ADDITION TO BEING A NEW TEAM, JFR WAS RUNNING A NEW CHASSIS, AND YOUR TEAM WAS RUNNING THE NEW BOSS 500 MOTOR, SO THERE WERE A NUMBER OF UNKNOWNS FOR YOU GOING INTO THIS SEASON. WHEN DID YOU GET A FEELING THAT YOU WERE GOING TO BE A TOP-10 TEAM? "You know, it's really been a rollercoaster year, honestly. It took us seven races - we lost first round every race. Then we kind of got hot and went to two finals in a row, and then we went, I think, to three finals in five races or something. So, we were cold, we got hot and then we kind of got cold again. Now, we're kind of starting to get rolling again, so it's really been up or down. To be honest with you, I haven't really been able to say, 'Ah, man, we've really got a handle on this,' you know? The other thing that's been a big issue for us, and I'm sure for everyone else, is the fact that there's been no testing. This team, the Force team especially, they've done more testing than any other team over the years and I believe that's definitely worked in their favor for success because you have time to work things out and try new stuff. And this year, like you said, we've got the new Ford motor, got the new chassis, it's stiffer, more weight, another 100 pounds on the car. So, all of that, it's tough when you're at the races because you just can't try stuff, you have to make sure you qualify, you can't really take any unnecessary risks, so it's really tough. Like I said, it's not just only been for our team, but for all the teams."

BECAUSE YOU'RE ALREADY IN THE COUNTDOWN AND INDY IS NOT A COUNTDOWN RACE, WILL THAT RACE BE AN OPPORTUNITY TO THROW EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT AT IT? "Yes, absolutely. If you could win one race in a year, it would be Indy. We feel pretty good about - we've made a couple of mistakes here the last few races, but overall the car's been running good. We qualified third last weekend, fifth the weekend before, so the thing's been going down the track. Threw a cylinder out this last race, or I think we would've been right there and have a good chance of beating Frank Hawley and been into another final. But, yeah, we're talking about that and what we need to do different, and it's really a huge thing to be able to have a spot locked into that Countdown, because Indy's got so much pressure, just being Indy, the biggest race of the year. If you were to throw that Countdown scenario in there as well, it would really take a toll on the nerves."

YOU MENTIONED THAT IT'S BEEN AN UP-AND-DOWN YEAR. SOME RACERS BELIEVE IN MOMENTUM AND OTHERS DON'T. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MOMENTUM, AND BASED ON HOW YOUR TEAM HAS BEEN RACING, DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU CAN OR CANNOT CARRY MOMENTUM NOT ONLY INTO INDY BUT THE COUNTDOWN AS WELL? "I definitely believe in momentum. What momentum is, as far as drag racing goes, the way I perceive it, when you start going rounds on Sunday and you do that for a couple of races in a row, say you go to two or three finals in a row, now you're getting more experience at racing on Sunday - because Sunday is a different day than Friday or Saturday qualifying. So, it just gives you more runs, it gives you more confidence. That's the big thing about what momentum does. Plus, you start creating some of your own luck, the better you do. I've looked at it as far as even being a crew chief, because every race starts pretty much at 11 o'clock and then the following rounds, and so when you get into that groove of 'Okay, we'll do this for the first round because the track's going to be probably the best of the day and then it's going to be a little bit worse second round so we'll do this. Third round will probably be a little bit worse so we need to do this, and then fourth round it should be getting a little better, maybe, so we'll go back to this.' So, the more rounds you go on Sunday - I've been on teams that have won five races in a row, and been to six finals in a row, and when you get into that groove on Sunday, the crew is getting used to going rounds and they're up to speed, and you take a team that hasn't been to a final, it's a tough day to go four rounds with a group that's not used to going four rounds."

WHAT'S THE MOOD AT THE SHOP RIGHT NOW AFTER PUTTING FOUR TEAMS INTO THE COUNTDOWN? "We're really thrilled. Everybody was really relieved to get me into that Countdown and have all four of us in there. I know for me, personally, that was my No. 1 goal. If you would've asked me at the beginning of the year, 'What are your goals?' Number one would be to make sure that you made it into that Countdown. Then, No. 2, winning races and so on. But that was a huge thing not for me personally, but the team, our sponsors, just everybody affiliated. When you're on a big team like this, success is expected, so we would definitely feel like we underachieved if we wouldn't have made it into that Countdown. I really feel relieved and feel it's quite an accomplishment for a first-year team to do that. Everybody is really excited about it - John and Ashley, Robert, just all the teams are really excited about having four cars, because you take another top team like [Don] Schumacher, they have four cars, well, only two of his got in there. So, it just goes to show you that it's not that easy that the big teams - it doesn't necessarily guarantee you a spot in the Countdown because you've got more cars."

-credit: ford racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Frank Hawley , Mike Neff