NEFF RACES TO 3RD FINAL OF 2011, ATL RUNNER-UP
COMMERCE, GA --- Mike Neff proved that you don’t have to have the best Funny Car to race for a title at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals. Over the course of the weekend and especially today his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was not dominant but he was able to get around Jon Capps, Matt Hagan, and Bob Tasca III before dropping a near photo finish final with Jack Beckman at Atlanta Dragway. “We weren’t at our best and we still runnered up. I am fine with that. Congrats to Jack (Beckman). They had a good day today,” said Neff who held onto his Full Throttle points lead. “They have had a good car these last couple of weeks. That final was a good drag race.”
Neff becomes the fifth different John Force Racing Funny Car driver to reach the finals at Atlanta Dragway. Neff was also in position to pick up the 200th Funny Car win for JFR but that record will have to wait for the 23rd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Summer Nationals in Topeka next weekend.
“I am happy to go to the final for sure. That is two in a row. I am encouraged to go to the final on a day like today when the car wasn’t running its best the weekend,” said the No. 6 qualifier. “We were able to hang on and hang in there and get some extra points.”
Two weeks ago in Houston Neff red-lit in the final versus Jeff Arend. That mistake weighed on the 2008 Auto Club Road to the Future Rookie of the Year winner. As Neff went rounds he became more and more comfortable inside his Castrol GTX Mustang.
“The fact of the matter is I was gun shy after that last race. I am not on my game driving. I am working my way back into it. I’ll be fine. It got easier every round.”
In the semi-finals Neff did not have lane choice versus Bob Tasca III and his Quick Lane Shelby Mustang Funny Car. Historically lane choice has been critical at Atlanta Dragway but today Neff was able to finesse his 8,000 hp Funny Car to a win even though at the top end he had to pedal his Mustang.
“I would call that one lucky. It surprised me,” Neff said at the top end. “The track should have been a little better. I caught a break there. Tasca’s Ford has been thumping this weekend so we definitely got lucky to get by him. I am glad to have one more chance in the final.”
“We got a break in the semis. I don’t know what happened there with the shaking. I don’t know if we missed the call but something weird happened there. We got a break there but for the most part we were going up and down the track. My team is doing a great job.”
... I was gun shy after that last race.
John Force continued an epic streak at Atlanta Dragway when he lost in the second round. For the past thirteen Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals the No. 1 qualifier has been denied a trip to the winner’s circle. Force was able to tie Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson as the NHRA all-time No. 1 qualifier with 138 top spots.
The Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang of Force’s defeated fellow Ford driver Tim Wilkerson in the first round, 4.160 to 4.257 seconds, but his winning time was not quick enough for lane choice against Jack Beckman in round two. Beckman made the quickest run of the session to defeat a tire smoking Force, 4.107 to 4.611 seconds.
After the first round win Force talked about facing off against Wilkerson at the top end.
“Last night (Wilkerson) said he was going to whip me,” said Force. “He says what he believes. That is what I love about Wilkerson. He is the other Ford. He has all that aero over there. I don’t know what happened to him but my Mustang went on down through there and I am just excited. Today I am focusing on getting a win.”
In qualifying Force’s Mustang had to drive through a bigger shake zone in the left lane according to his team. They said it ran a lot smoother down the right lane. There was no shake in right lane. In the second round the motor was slow early. As it was going down track the clutch finally wore in and it pulled the motor way down which caused the tire smoke.
When the race was over Force was philosophical about his personal performance and the performance of his team.
I have four weeks in a row as low qualifier.
“I want to win. I have a car that car win and a great team. (Crew chiefs) Dean (Antonelli) and Ron (Douglas) and all these kids are great. I have four weeks in a row as low qualifier. I tied Warren Johnson even though I never ran a Pro Stocker,” said the 138-time No. 1 qualifier. “That shows we are doing something right. Neff is holding his own really well in the points lead. Robert (Hight) has stumbled a little bit but I am not worried about him. I have no complaints and we are doing our job for Ford, Castrol, Auto Club, Mac Tools and BrandSource.”
“With all the struggles down through the south Auto Club of Southern California has teamed up with Penske and they sent truck loads of stuff from California to some of these families. You lose a race and you are not real happy but compared to what has gone on in the country helping those folks is what is important.”
Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang continued to struggle as they were dispatched in the first round by two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon. Hight and Pedregon left together and both Funny Cars smoked the tires at the top end. Unfortunately Hight’s Mustang lost traction a fraction of a second before Pedregon’s.
The three John Force Racing Mustangs will be on the track in five days at Heartland Park Topeka for the 223rd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Summer Nationals.