Neff, Tasca - Ford interview 2008-10-22

Mike Neff, driver of the Old Spice Ford Mustang, and Bob Tasca III, driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang, are two of the five nominees for Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the NHRA Funny Car class. With only two races remaining in their...

Mike Neff, driver of the Old Spice Ford Mustang, and Bob Tasca III, driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang, are two of the five nominees for Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the NHRA Funny Car class. With only two races remaining in their rookie seasons, Neff and Tasca talk about the challenges they've faced this season and what each of them has learned.

MIKE NEFF:

ON BEING UNDER CONSIDERATION FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR. "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."

DURING THAT FIRST YEAR, IS THERE A POINT WHEN YOU STOP CONSIDERING YOURSELF A ROOKIE? THERE ARE ONLY TWO EVENTS LEFT IN THIS SEASON. "I'm definitely pretty comfortable now in the car in a lot of areas, as far as being able to have a good vision of where I'm going. For a long time it seemed like one big blur, you know? So, things have kind of slowed down. I've been able to get a better visual of the groove and feel like, as far as knowing where the car's at in the groove, I feel a lot better about that. There were times in the beginning where I'd hit the gas and it would go down there and I'd lift and wouldn't be able to tell you if I was in the middle of the groove or if I was on the inside of it or the outside of it. I wouldn't have been able to tell you where I was at. It just happened so fast and was just a blur to me, so I feel good about getting comfortable with that. But I do kind of feel like I've been doing this long enough that I don't really consider myself a rookie. I've made enough races, and now it's time that I need to be concentrating on being a better driver - having better reaction times, and just fine-tuning to be smooth and start concentrating on those areas, when in the beginning I wasn't worried about reaction times. All of my thoughts were when I hit the gas I need to make sure I can keep this thing straight and be ready for what's going to happen. I've experienced enough stuff - a fire, a cylinder out, smoking the tires, shaking - now that I've experienced enough things, I'm more comfortable, not up there wondering what's going to happen."

WITH ALL OF THE PLUSSES AND MINUSES, CAN YOU PUT THIS SEASON INTO PERSPECTIVE? YOU MADE THE COUNTDOWN. "Yeah, I am happy with making the Countdown. That's definitely an accomplishment. There were a lot of good cars that were out there last year that didn't make it this year. So, I'm definitely pleased with that - making the Countdown. Although, I must tell you, at the beginning of the year, with the team and John Medlen and everybody, I would've expected us to. It's not like I'm shocked that we made it, I kind of always had high expectations for us, so I honestly thought that we should be able to do that. I'm not trying to be arrogant; if you look at the past history of John Medlen and Eric [Medlen] and Robert, even though these guys were first-year drivers, they all did really well here at John Force Racing. So, I expected us to do good. My disappointments? I'm disappointed we don't have that first win. I really felt like, one, in particular, Bristol, that should've been a win right there, our first win. So, that really hurts, the fact that we let that one slip by, because I don't like carrying that monkey around on your back, you know, 'When are you going to get your first win?' You know, we should've already had it. That would've been a big thing for us, if we would've been able to do that then. So, I really want to get that first win. I think that's a really major focus right now at this point, is getting that over with."

YOU HAD ANOTHER VERY GOOD QUALIFYING EFFORT AT VIRGINIA MOTORSPORTS, TYING FOR THE FASTEST 1,000-FOOT TIME EVER. THE WHOLE TEAM, REALLY, QUALIFIES WELL. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RUNNING OF FRIDAYS AND RUNNING ON SUNDAYS? "Yes. Honestly, there is. Fridays are very important - every day, every run is important now, but things have changed over these last few years that Friday, you get that night run or that late session, well, that sets that top 12, you definitely want to try to be in that. Friday, the first run, you want to make sure you go down the race track and get something to look at it, in a perfect world, you make a good, solid run. Okay, now everything looks good, now we can be a little more aggressive and try to run good. What happens if you don't make a good run, that first one, now you're a little on the defense for Friday night. You can't get too carried away because you need to make sure you go down the track. That puts you at a disadvantage to qualify up in the top of the pack, somewhat. And Saturday's turned into - if you're not in that top 12, you're trying to outdo the rest of the guys who are trying to get those spots, and usually, at that point, you end up having to race a top-qualifying car, so you're just at a disadvantage all weekend, and that makes Sunday real tough. So, Fridays have become really important, especially with this. They always have, with that night run, but now especially now with the way they're structured it, it's critical."

YOU'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A COUPLE OF WEEKENDS OFF BEFORE THE SEASON CLOSES. HAS IT BEEN A LONG YEAR FOR YOU? ARE YOU WELCOMING THE BREAK RIGHT NOW? " I'm really glad to have some time off. It has been busy, and we've been gone a lot. You get to this point of the year and everybody wears down, the crew is tired. So, it's nice being able to be at home and be with the kids and family and just take a little breather and catch up on some home-life stuff that you've been missing out on and get a second wind. This is my favorite time of the year, going to Vegas and then going to Pomona, these are my two favorite races of the year, knowing that you're just winding the season down and everything is at stake. I love Vegas, that's a great track, and being that I'm from California, it's always nice to go there and see my friends and my family there. So, I'm really looking forward to these last two weeks."

YOU MENTIONED GETTING THAT FIRST WIN. IS THAT THE 100-PERCENT FOCUS FOR THE FINAL TWO RACES OF THE YEAR? "Yes, definitely. We want to win one of those things and get that over with. We've been close a few times and haven't gotten it. The car has run good all year. We've been a little hit-and-miss, a little inconsistent at times, but the performance is there and John Medlen had the thing really running last weekend, and that Ford BOSS 500 motor, that thing is looking fantastic. The power that it makes is better than what we had before. That thing has been a real nice thing to have. With all of that, if we get a little consistency, and I think we've got a good shot at doing it, to be honest with you."

***

BOB TASCA III:

YOU'RE ALMOST AT THE END OF YOUR ROOKIE SEASON, AND TWO OF THE TOP CANDIDATES FOR ROOKIE-OF-THE-YEAR ARE FORD DRIVERS WITH YOU AND MIKE NEFF. "The good news is that a Ford driver is going to win Rookie-of-the-Year. Obviously, Mike and I come from two very different perspectives. I'm extremely proud of my team and the whole program because November 1 of last year we didn't have an employee and we didn't own a part. It was something that we started from scratch. And for that, when you reflect on that and the business plan that we built around this 300-mile-per-hour billboard, is pretty phenomenal. With the training of Quick Lane dealers on the advantages of Motorcraft parts and different selling techniques, along with the awards-based contest that we've put together for Motorcraft distributors and vendors and dealers, and then couple that with the great charitable program we did this season with the JDRF and juvenile diabetes, and then with the midway. We've not only connected with fans out on the race track, we've connected with them in the pit with the Motorcraft Hole Shot Challenge, the Quick Lane pit crew challenge and the Custom Accessories display area, along with the business program that compliments this race car. It's an awful lot to take in. You look back and it's a blur, literally, for me. But certainly we're focused on closing this year out. We have two races and we're still searching for our first win, both me and Mike. Hopefully, one of us grabs a couple of wins here before the end of the season for Ford and for our Rookie-of-the-Year bio; it'd be nice to have a win in it for sure. And then it's about looking at next year. As a rookie, my off-season is going to really be dynamically different this season as it was last season. We're going to be testing. We test three days after Pomona, so talk about having a leg up on the 2009 season. We've got a big test session planned in Vegas on the way back from the West Coast, and a lot of moves that we've made approaching this off season here. We've got Marc Denner joining our team [as assistant crew chief], and we've got some good things coming out this season. From a planning and strategy point, we're already planning for the 2009 year. But it's been a great year for us. It's been a huge learning curve in multiple areas from the chassis that was thrown at us, the no testing ban that was put on, a new driver - I've got experience in an alcohol car, but it's completely different when you compare the two for driving characteristics. They're similar in some ways, but they're polar opposite in a lot of ways. So it's been challenging. I think that's probably a word that can sum up our year. It's been challenging. We've had a lot of highs, we've had some lows. But it's been a great year to build a foundation under our program. And when you compare our success as a first- year team starting from scratch, we've done an amazing job. I mean you can go back a couple years and not find a team that has performed as well as our team has, through the course of a season, starting with nothing on Nov. 1. So for that, I'm proud of the guys [on the team], led by Chris Cunningham, for the race car that they give us. From a business standpoint, I'm a little biased, but I don't think there is a program on the whole circuit that rivals our business activation plan. And that's a tremendous thing to accomplish in your first year. It's been an exciting year; it's almost been a blur. I can tell you that I'm really, really looking forward to 2009. We've got a little work to do here in 2008, and we're going to strive for our first win. But I think it's been a great year to spring off into 2009.

YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT YOUR ROOKIE SEASON BEFORE, SAYING THAT YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO RELIVE YOUR FIRST 50 TRIPS DOWN THE TRACK WITH WHAT YOU'VE BEEN ABLE TO LEARN THIS SEASON. "There is no question about it. It's almost scary, and I'm not afraid to admit it, but it's almost scary to think the first 50 hits of the throttle. I mean how do you prepare yourself for getting into one of these cars? I mean, an Alcohol Funny Car is the closest thing that you can do, but it's nothing after you cross half-track to what this fuel car can do. And I think from being a rookie to being one of these veterans, I'm a long way off from being a veteran. But I'm certainly well on my way of really dialing myself in as a driver in this race car, and to look back and just remember things that happened in the car versus when I'm in the car now, it's amazing how the human mind can speed up and everything slows down. I mean, from hitting the throttle. From rolling into the beam, to hitting the throttle, to feeling the race car go through critical points of the track where it can smoke the tires, it can shake the tires, where it can start to put a hole out and move around, to when you have to get the chutes out. And even being able to tell if one chute hit late, one chute didn't come out; it's just amazing how much you can gather in in such a short period of time. And it's because of seat time. You gotta get in one of these cars to get good at it and you just have to do it over and over and over again. That's why a lot of those three-in-a-row stretches, I look forward to. You get time; you get no weekend. This is a two-weekend-off deal for us, and I haven't done this all year. Because the last time we had two weekends off, I tested in Valdosta, so the next time in the car is two weeks off, and that's a lot of time out of it. The more seat time I can get, the better I'll become as a driver. And truthfully, the better our team will become, because as much as I learn, Chris learns in the car. And I really feel that that testing ban, on a single-car team with a rookie driver, has really put us at a disadvantage. More so than anything else out there, because you tell a guy that you can't practice. That's the worst thing that you can tell a rookie driver with a new team, that you can't practice. So what we've done is that it's forced us to practice a little bit here the last couple of races. And fortunately, you learn a lot even if the car doesn't go down the race track, because we're gathering data from the hit of the throttle to when I step off of it. But it takes time to come up with our strategy to get one of these cars to go from A to B down the race track. So it's been very challenging, it's been very rewarding. At the end of the day, I just think that we have a solid team; we've got all the key guys coming back for next year and we're rolling into '09 light-years ahead of where we were last year."

-credit: ford racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Bob Tasca III , John Medlen , Mike Neff