NEFF DRIVES TOTAL FORD TO FIRST WIN AT AUTO CLUB FINALS -HIGHT WINS CHAMPIONSHIP, FORCE HOOD SECOND- POMONA, CA --- Mike Neff and his Ford Drive One Mustang team capped a massively successful weekend for John Force Racing by winning the ...
NEFF DRIVES TOTAL FORD TO FIRST WIN AT AUTO CLUB FINALS
-HIGHT WINS CHAMPIONSHIP, FORCE HOOD SECOND-
POMONA, CA --- Mike Neff and his Ford Drive One Mustang team capped a massively successful weekend for John Force Racing by winning the 45th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway. It was Neff's first career win as a driver in fifty races behind the wheel and the 191st win for John Force Racing with 185 coming in the Funny Car class. For the former crew chief turned driver the win gave him a whole new appreciation for how a driver can get a win even when their car may not be dominant.
"Things just kind of fell our way today. That is not normally how I would like to do it. I would rather go out there and dominate, be low ET every round but I'll take it any way we can get it. It was a little hit and miss," Neff said of his day, "mainly miss. But it just goes to show you that when it's your day, it's your day. We ran good when we needed to and we caught some lucky breaks. It turned out to be a pretty exciting final there with Ashley. My car went up in smoke immediately and I saw her out there and just when I thought it was over, I started reeling her back in."
"I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to win one. We finally did it in the last race of the year and it's a good one to win because you get to (enjoy) it all winter. I'm from Southern California. Born and raised here (so) this is the place I wanted to get (my first)."
"It's awesome. The fans our here at Auto Club Raceway were great. Robert winning the championship, Ashley finishing second and me now getting my first win, it was just the perfect ending."
Neff had to out-pedal Force Hood in the final. The crowd was immediately on its feet when Neff's Mustang lost traction only to see Force Hood sashay all over her lane in front of him. Neff was able to gather his Mustang under control and blast past her at the finish line. For Force Hood the ride was dramatic but the outcome was very pleasing.
"That was a wild ride. I didn't see Neff for a long time. I kept trying to see if he was out there. Then I saw him go on down. Then I tagged a few things including the wall. It was exciting. The fans had a great show. I am OK and the Mustang is OK. We'll just go back and get ready for the start if the season. We'll be back here in a few months," said the 13-time finalist
"I wasn't sure I hit the wall or if it was just me hitting the roll cage padding. It wasn't too bad. We have so much safety stuff like padding and ear protection. We also have ear plugs that record how hard we hit. I'll take some Tylenol and I'll be alright by tomorrow morning. You never want to hit a wall you always want to avoid that. It disqualifies you if you hit it. You also have to get your car down the track which is what I was trying to do."
"It was great to see Neff win. I couldn't be any happier. Robert won the championship and we were able to clinch the second spot. I am so proud of them. They did an amazing job. Getting two cars in the final is awesome. No matter what happens one of us will get the winner's circle. To have it happen at our home track here in Pomona was cool too," said the 2007 Rookie of the Year.
"Sometimes you are just on a roll and everything goes the right way," concluded Force Hood. "It is just like magic happening. I think you really feed off of each other. Once Robert clinched it we were so pumped and excited. We are doing well and it sort of built up from there. You see that with teams. It happens when you are that close and you see them do well and it motivates you to do well. If Courtney wins I might just faint. I can't even believe how great this weekend was. I am just really excited."
Neff defeated friend Jim Head in the first round, Force in the second and most importantly fellow Ford Mustang driver Tim Wilkerson in the semi-final round. The win locked up Ashley Force Hood's position as the Full Throttle championship runner-up and the $100,000 payday for the Castrol GTX Mustang team. This was not the first pressure packed round for Neff in the Countdown. In Richmond Hight and Force Hood were eliminated early and Neff defeated Tony Pedregon minimizing any points advantage Pedregon could have picked up on his teammates.
"You want to be able to pull your weight and help your team out. You don't want to let them down. Everybody is counting on you. It is not like you have to win every race for them but there is a certain amount of pressure in certain situations that you don't want to let them down. Those are definitely two big wins for us. There was a lot of pressure racing Tim Wilkerson knowing that he was challenging Ashley for that number two spot. We definitely wanted to be able to pull our wait and help them out. Those are the kind of wins where you feel the pressure."
The second round win for Neff over Force was bittersweet. By ending Force's race day he stopped two of the most impressive streaks of the 14-time champion's career. For the first time in 22 years Force ended a season without a win and the last time Force ended a season without a final round appearance the year was 1984.
"I did feel bad. They have been running so good this week. We just got the lucky shot and picked them off. When you are racing John Force there is really no pressure. Even if we lose he is going to win. The pressure really builds when you are racing a non team member. It is always fun racing John Force even if he is your boss. It is still John Force in the other lane so you know it will be exciting."
The Funny Car win for Neff was personally big but is was a huge performance step forward for John Force Racing and the Ford Racing program. Neff drove a Ford BOSS 500 motor, underneath a Ford Mustang body, riding on a newly developed John Force Racing chassis. For over two year years John Medlen has been working with Ford Racing to develop a Ford power plant that could be competitive in NHRA Funny Car or Top Fuel competition. Neff had reached five finals prior to tonight's breakthrough win. John Force has also been racing the BOSS 500 motor.
The driver that was least successful today had the biggest weekend of his career. Robert Hight won his first round match up against Jerry Toliver but dropped his second round race against Tim Wilkerson. For the former JFR crew member getting the championship was the biggest thrill of his career.
"It is unbelievable. It makes it more special when you consider how we got into the Countdown. We were 12th going into Indy. Jimmy Prock just got this thing fixed. It is all about timing. He got it all right at the right time. It could not have happened better," said Hight. "You always believe in your team. I believed that they would turn it around. We worked hard. I tell you what you don't dream like this. This is absolutely amazing what we have done in the last two months. It is all about believing in your team."
Hight's name will join a list of Funny Car champions that previously was limited to Force, Pedregon and Scelzi. Throughout the '90s John Force reigned supreme in the Funny Car class winning nine of ten championships in the decade. Force also picked up titles in 2000-02, 2004 and 2006. The brothers Pedregon, Cruz and Tony, won four Funny Car titles; 1992 and 2008 for Cruz and 2003 and 2007 for Tony. Three-time Top Fuel World Champion Gary Scelzi won his lone Funny Car title in 2005.
As far as the future of John Force Racing odds are it will be in good hands. Force's two youngest daughters Brittany, 23, and Courtney, 21, both raced to the semi-finals where they met in a head-to-head race for the second time this season. In Seattle Courtney got the round win and went on to win the race. Today she also advanced to the final after she executed a spectacular reaction time of .006 (.000 is perfect) versus her sister but she hazed her Goodyear tires at about 300 feet in the final as Jim Whiteley pulled away for the win. While Brittany was disappointed to not advance to a final and have a shot at her first win she felt her 2009 season was a success.
"Getting better as a driver is all about seat time. We got a lot more this year and I think it showed in our performance. We raced a lot more and I got a lot more comfortable in my BrandSource A Fuel dragster. It is always fun to race Courtney and I really wanted shot at my first win. I know I'll get one sooner or later. I had a great season," said Brittany Force.
Team leader John Force summed up one of the most dominant performances by a team owner from Mike Neff's winner's circle.
"It was really emotional for me in the final after the wrap up for the championship with Robert and Auto Club, Castrol, Mac Tools, Ford, Sanyo, BrandSource, and everybody. Then to go out there and see Mike Neff race against my daughter. I want her to win but you know for John Medlen and everything that went on. It was almost like karma. For the memory of Eric Medlen to get that win in his car and for Mike Neff to be the driver and to have John Medlen working with the tune-up that was huge. That was an all Ford race car. It was Ford motor. It was an all John Force Racing and Ford chassis. That was big. At the end of the day it was pedal-fest. It was unbelievable. My kid, I could not be prouder of her. She had her Mustang sideways up against the wall but she was getting right back in it. Mike Neff earned it. It was well deserved he got the win."