Neff Makes Historic Bid in Spring Nationals
HOUSTON, Texas – Although Mike Neff has enjoyed some success in his relatively short time behind the wheel of a John Force Racing Funny Car – qualifying No. 1, reaching the winners’ circle and even leading the driver points – the versatile 44-year-old this week is poised to forever make himself the answer to a drag racing trivia question.
That’s because Neff’s third tour victory, if it comes in this Sunday’s 24th annual O’Reilly Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway, would be his team’s 200th in the NHRA Full Throttle Series. That would be 200 race wins in 25 seasons. It’s simple math – eight wins a year for a quarter of a century.
“Yeah,” said the man who this year is doing double-duty on the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang as both driver and crew chief, “that would be something; to be remembered for winning the 200th race for John Force Racing.
“If it happens, it happens, but I know that John and Robert (team owner John Force and current points leader Robert “Top Gun” Hight) want to do it, too. Whoever finally does it, it won’t be easy,” said the winner of last month’s Tire Kingdom Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.
“We’ve got three good Ford Mustangs, but there are a lot of other cars out there that can win like Jack Beckman did (two weeks ago) at Charlotte (in the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 4Wide Nationals).”
Still, Neff believes he has as good a chance as anyone else in the field.
“I think I’m back up to speed (as a driver) and getting that win in Gainesville was big,” he admitted. “That was, without a doubt, the best day of racing I've ever had in my life. It was a lot of stress and a lot of nerves, but to end up winning the way we did (posting the quickest time during eliminations) was just very gratifying and just a great experience; a great feeling.”
Despite his recent success (he comes into the Spring Nationals seconds in points), Neff has no illusions. He knows his future at JFR, his future in drag racing, in fact, is as a crew chief. That’s why he’s trying to make the most of an opportunity that presented itself after two-time reigning Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion Ashley Force Hood announced plans to step away from the pro tour to start a family. She and husband Dan are expecting their first child in August.
This driving deal might be a one year deal for me (and) I’m trying to make the most of it.
“At the end of the year, I might want to go back to being just a crew chief,” Neff said, “but I want to give (driving) a run all year. I love tuning and that is what I will be doing for a long time. This driving deal might be a one year deal for me (and) I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Neff’s quick start this year might have been anticipated. After all, the car he’s driving is virtually the same hybrid Ford Mustang in which Force won six races last year en route to the team’s 17th Funny Car championship in the last 21 seasons. The only thing different is the paint – and the passenger.
Of course, wearing two hats has created some new problems for Neff.
“You can go up there thinking about the tuning part and not drive as well as you should,” Neff explained, “and in the end, if you don’t perform as a driver, it doesn’t really matter what you did as a tuner. You just have to do one job at a time and not let them affect one another.”
It’s a challenge that, thus far, he is managing quite well.