Infinenon Raceway Sears Point
Double Duty Leaves Neff No Time To ‘Overthink’
Much has been made this season of the exhaustive nature of Mike Neff’s work as both driver and crew chief on a Castrol GTX® Ford Mustang that has reached the Funny Car final seven times in 12 NHRA Full Throttle tour events.
Nevertheless, prior to this week’s 24th annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway, Neff acknowledged an unanticipated upside to a routine that for the most part has kept him busier than a fry cook on “5 cent burger night.”
“Before, when all I was doing was driving (in a 2008 season in which he was recognized as the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year and a 2009 season in which he earned a breakthrough first win), I would have all this time to just sit around and think about it,” Neff said, “and I believe that’s the worst thing you can do as a driver.
"When you start telling yourself, ‘I need to do this, I need do that,’ it seems like the more you think, the more trouble you get yourself into,” said the man who, as crew chief, directed two different drivers to NHRA Funny Car titles (Gary Scelzi in 2005 and John Force in 2010).
“So, I guess one of the positive things is that now I've got so much stuff going on that I don't have time to sit around and worry about my reaction times or anything like that,” said the 44-year-old with the Hollywood good looks.
“I think that helps me, because when it's time to finally get (strapped in the race car), I just go and do it and it doesn't feel like I'm playing all of those mind games with myself like I used to.”
Instead of playing mind games with himself, Neff this year has preyed on the minds of others with a performance that has made him the early favorite to succeed Force as Full Throttle Champion.
After all, he’s won a third of the races contested thus far and has led the points after all but the three races. Although his Mustang has flexed its muscles, consistency really has been the butter on Neff’s bread. He’s qualified no worse than seventh and has bowed out in the first round just one time.
In his most recent victories at Norwalk, Ohio, where he became the first John Force Racing driver to win the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, and Joliet, Ill., where he claimed Ford Racing’s 200th Funny Car victory, Neff won “ugly,” successfully manipulating less-than-ideal conditions and marginal racing surfaces, and because of that figures to be in the title mix again this week.
Although he pores over the technical data after every trip down the 1,000 foot race course, Neff admits that many of his decisions aren’t all that scientific.
“I don’t have some chart that I go off of, or 10 different whizbang formulas,” he told RACER Magazine’s Todd Veney. “I keep it basic. It’s a seat-of-the-pants, gut feeling. Sometimes, I’ll just look at the conditions and think, ‘it’s time. I’m all in.’”
A former motocross rider, Neff caught Force’s eye in 2005 when he directed Scelzi to the championship in a down-to-the wire duel that ended 12 years of JFR domination. Two years later, after the loss of up-and-coming star Eric Medlen in a testing accident, Force began a dialogue with Neff in an attempt to gauge his interest in a driving job.
“I guess I always wanted to drive,” Neff admitted, “but it didn’t seem like it would be realistic. I had never driven anything (competitively) outside of a dirt bike.”
Nevertheless, Force saw something from the outset.
“I liked his style,” Force said. “When he beat us (in 2005), he didn’t throw it in our face. He was humble. But, when we were in the fight, you could see he didn’t cave under pressure. He had the ‘eye of the tiger,’ just like Robert.”
Despite his 2011 success, when Neff looks into the future, he sees himself not as a driver, but as a tuner and he’s fine with that.
“I know my future is as a tuner,” Neff said. “I’m enjoying this opportunity but if I’m back tuning John’s car next year, I’m fine with that, too. Since this might be the last year I drive, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I give it 110 percent.”
By: john force racing