Route 66 Raceway
Neff Holds Onto No. 1 And Force Steps Up In Chicago
Mike Neff’s Friday prediction of quicker elapsed time during Saturday’s second night session of the 14th annual NHRA O’Reilly Rt. 66 Nationals did not come to fruition. Track temperatures soared today reaching as high as 124 degrees for the first session and did not drop to the performance friendly zone that the 8,000 hp Funny Cars crave. Neff did run the quickest run of the second session picking up three more qualifying bonus points.
“We anticipated that it would be cooler and conditions would have been better than last night but as it turned out I don’t really think they were. We kept waiting for the conditions to change but they never did,” said Neff. “I think a lot of people were trying and that is why you saw so many people smoking the tires. I just backed it off there at the end. We were the last pair and there was nothing to gain. We wanted to make sure we got some points. We made sure it went down there and we got some extra bonus points.”
This was Neff’s fifth career No. 1 and first of the season. With half the qualifying sessions this weekend coming well after race day times Neff and the rest of the crew chief contingent will be going to the drawing board for Sunday tune-ups that can give their Funny Cars some consistency. For Neff a two-time world champion crew chief the lack of data will make it anyone’s game on Sunday
“Yes it will make tomorrow a free for all. It could be anybodies race. It is going to be hot and the track is going to be really slippery. It is just going to be a matter of getting the car down the track under power without smoking the tires. That is going to be the guy that wins it. That could be anybody,” said Neff.
While Neff has a number of skins on the wall as a crew chief his driving resume is still in its early stages. He has raced in seven final rounds this season and eight for his career but racing in tricky conditions gives even veteran drivers a moment of pause. He does have a prediction of a driver who could have a leg up in hot track conditions.
“Definitely a guy like John (Force) with that kind of experience pedaling the car and trying to get it recovered from smoking the tires has an advantage of someone like me. I haven’t had to pedal a Funny Car that much. You can probably count on one hand the number of times I have had to go out there on a race day and try to get the thing to the end smoking the tires. I don’t have the experience of someone like John or a lot of these guys. I just need to keep it from smoking the tires it sounds like.”
Neff has an advantage over many drivers who have to rely on crew chiefs to give them a good race car in hot conditions. He is the crew chief and he knows the best kind of car to give his driver to give him the maximum chance for success.
“I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t smoke the tires tomorrow. I’ll be trying to play it as safe as I can and to make sure it goes down the track. I don’t want to get into that type of ordeal,” said the Castrol GTX driver and crew chief.
Going into Saturday the winningest driver in NHRA history was on the outside looking in at the top qualified Funny Cars. The pressure did not get to Force or his crew chief tandem of Ron Douglas and Dean “Guido” Antonelli. The Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang made a solid run in the first session to get in the show.
Under the lights of Rt. 66 Raceway the Castrol Mustang was hopped up and raced to the No. 6 position in qualifying. His last run of the day was also the second quickest of the last session and scored Force two very valuable qualifying bonus points.
“We sweated all weekend. We are paid big bucks to get these cars in. I really wanted in. Not that you don’t have two chances left coming into Saturday. We had a throttle cable break on the first run on Friday then we smoked the tires,” said Force. “We got behind the eight ball. The first run today we ran a 4.30 and then Guido and Ron got a little nervy. It stepped up and ran 4.15 and probably could have run a little quicker. I am excited Neff stepped up. Robert is in too but those guys have a lot of points. I am battling to stay in the top ten. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
The Auto Club Ford Mustang and Robert Hight will go into race day qualified No. 13 and will face Jack Beckman in a race for second place in the Full Throttle Funny Car standings. Currently Hight is two points behind No. 2 Beckman.
By: john force racing