NEFF BACK IN THE COCKPIT, FORCE TAKES A NEW SEAT FOR 2011 TITLE BID
YORBA LINDA, CA (January 25, 2011) -- In the wake of daughter Ashley Force Hood's announcement that she is temporarily stepping away from competition in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series to focus on family and other responsibilities, John Force said Tuesday that Mike Neff will be back in the cockpit of a John Force Racing Ford Mustang in 2011.
Nevertheless, with his usual flair for the dramatic, Force announced that instead of climbing into the seat of the Mustang being vacated by Force Hood, Neff will drive the car in which Force himself won the 2010 championship -- and he'll tune it, too.
Neff, the 2008 NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year, was a Top 10 finisher in both 2008 and 2009. He won the season-ending 2009 Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona to become the first driver in 40 years to win an NHRA tour event in an all-Ford Funny Car -- a Mustang powered by the JFR-developed BOSS 500 Ford engine.
When the economy compelled Force to downsize in 2010, reducing his rolling inventory from four Funny Cars to three, Neff hung up his helmet and assumed primary tune-up responsibilities on the Force-driven Mustang that had won just once in the two previous seasons.
Force won his first race with Neff at the helm, then sealed the championship by winning the last two events of the 2010 season, giving Neff the unusual distinction of becoming the first to win a Funny Car race (the Auto Club Finals) one year as a driver and the next as a crew chief.
"Neff showed me that he could do double-duty two years ago," Force said. "When John Medlen had to step back for his health, that team never missed a beat with Neff tuning it and driving it. That's how it used to be, back in the match race days. You did everything. You financed it, you tuned it, you drove it and then you drove the truck to the next race. Neff has that mentality. If anybody can wear both hats, it's him."
Neff's new driver-tuner designation means that the team that directed Force to six 2010 victories and a record 15th individual championship essentially will remain intact with primary sponsorship from Castrol GTX and Ford. The only significant change will be Dan Hood's new responsibilities in assisting with the tune-up, the first step in his development as a Next Generation crew chief.
Force, meanwhile, will move over one pit spot to drive for crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas and the team that sent Force Hood to consecutive victories in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and second and third place finishes in Full Throttle points in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
After his success in 2010 with a special paint scheme recognizing his 25 years with Castrol sponsorship, the 15-time Auto Racing All-America selection's newest Mustang will return to familiar Castrol GTX High Mileage livery this season.
While changes abound within the Castrol GTX and Castrol GTX High Mileage teams, the supporting cast for 2009 Full Throttle Champion Robert "Top Gun" Hight essentially is the same as it was a year ago with Jimmy Prock as crew chief, Eric Lane as assistant crew chief and the Auto Club of Southern California as primary sponsor.
The team that owns the quickest Funny Car times at both the quarter mile and 1,000 foot distances (4.636 and 4.005 seconds, respectively) will try this year to extend to seven the number of consecutive seasons in which they have won multiple NHRA tour events.
First step toward achieving that goal will be pre-season testing in which all the JFR Fords, including Courtney Force's BrandSource Mustang, will participate, Feb. 5-9, at Palm Beach International Raceway, West Palm Beach, Fla.