Richmond: John Force Racing final report

NEFF RACES TO SEMIS AT RICHMOND, HIGHT REGAINS PTS LEAD PETERSBURG, VA --- 2008 Rookie of the Year Mike Neff drove his Ford Drive One Mustang to a semi-final finish at the 4th annual NHRA Virginia Nationals today. While he would have liked to...

NEFF RACES TO SEMIS AT RICHMOND, HIGHT REGAINS PTS LEAD

PETERSBURG, VA --- 2008 Rookie of the Year Mike Neff drove his Ford Drive One Mustang to a semi-final finish at the 4th annual NHRA Virginia Nationals today. While he would have liked to have gotten his first career win as a driver his first round victory over Tony Pedregon was a satisfying substitute. At the time Pedregon was in third place in the Full Throttle Funny Car point standings and looking to make a move on Neff's teammates Ashley Force Hood and Robert Hight who were sitting in first and second, respectively. Neff beat Pedregon in the first round freezing Pedregon with 2,314 point behind Force Hood and Hight. It was Neff's first opening round win over Pedregon in five attempts.

"That was a real big run for us. He is up there in the points and you know how much your teammates are counting on you. To be able to take him out was huge. Not so much for us but for the rest of the team like Robert and Ashley. It was big and I am glad we were able to get down the track. The bottom line is we got the win light and that is all that matters," said Neff.

The value of Neff's win was magnified when Ashley Force Hood dropped her first round race with Jeff Arend. This was the second consecutive race Arend has trailered Force Hood. While the points leader was upset with the defeat she was pleased that the loss was not devastating to her championship plans.

"It is frustrating to see (Jeff) Arend in the other lane having trouble. I think it would have been easier to accept if he had just gone right down his lane. He was able to recover his car and go. I was all over the place and not very happy. We are really bummed because we had been to the semis every race of the Countdown and to go out in the first round is tough. That hasn't happened too many times to us this season and you definitely don't want it to happen in the Countdown," said Force Hood.

"No scenario with this Mustang seems to be the same. I pedaled it (lifting off the throttle) last weekend and it hooked up and went. This weekend it wouldn't hook up and go. There are so many different factors that play a part. That is why it is exciting. That is why you can never think that just by looking at the eliminations ladder you will know what is going to happen. The number one qualifier went out the first round and the number one and two people in points went out by the second round. There is still time to gain back rounds if you do well in qualifying and go rounds in Las Vegas and Pomona. We definitely don't need to get into any slumps at this time of the year."

With two races left in the 2009 Full Throttle Drag Racing season Force Hood knows that her success is also dependent on her competition faltering in some cases.

"The fortunate part is people around us got knocked out early as well like Tony (Pedregon) and (Jack) Beckman. It looks like all the hitters kind of struggled this weekend. That is strange that no one that came in on top ran away with anything. (Ron) Capps could have really hurt us if he would have won."

In a John Force Racing versus John Force Racing first round match-up Robert Hight defeated team leader John Force. This was the second year in a row that Hight dispatched Force in the first round at Virginia Motorsports Park. The win gave Hight the points lead once Ashley Force Hood faltered in the first round. Unfortunately Hight was not able to extend his points lead when he fell in the second round to eventual finalist Tim Wilkerson.

"This track is very, very tricky. It is very good and it is so good you can't get initial wheel slip. It is a fine line. You saw that last night with John's Mustang blowing the tires off at the hit. My car almost did that now. We ran a 4.05 in the last session last night and the first round today we ran 4.10. It just got crazy upset in the second round. We have had the same trouble here over the years and we just haven't figured it out like some of the other guys have," said Hight who carries a thirteen point lead into Las Vegas.

"I am disappointed since we had a chance to distance ourselves and we let some guys back in here. If we would have just kept pace we would not have let them back in. We have had good success in Las Vegas and Pomona. The next two weeks will be very important for us to get everything prepared and do our jobs right so we give ourselves the best opportunity to win."

In the race Force tried to get every advantage versus Hight considering Hight had a performance edge. As Force pulled his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang into the staging beams he deep staged on his teammate, an aggressive move especially against your son-in-law. At the top end it was Hight's 4.104 besting Force's 4.353.

"I had Robert aggravated at me because I went deep on him. I went down the race track. I had him covered until half track. It dropped a cylinder I think I need to confirm that, but it also lost a blower belt. He went around me at the other end. I was trying to get a win. A lot of people are saying you want Robert to win or you want Ashley to win; what about me? I fought hard to get into this Countdown and I made it. I am still struggling but (co-crew chiefs) Austin Coil, Bernie (Fedderly) and I have been together for a long time. We'll get John Medlen in here and try and straighten this thing out. If nothing else we'll get a hot rod we can race next year," said Force.

Force made a crew chief switch leading up to Richmond in an effort to strength his team's chances of moving up in the points. For the rest of the season Ford Drive One crew chief John Medlen will be working with Force's crew chief brain trust Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. Mike Neff will once again take the reins of his Mustang as crew chief and driver. Earlier this year Neff raced to the final in Phoenix pulling double duty.

"We have struggled so bad over here Austin, Bernie and myself that I wanted to put the brain trust back together and let them evaluate what is going on. We brought John Medlen back which he was always part of the brain trust. We knew Neff would be fine on his own. We left him over there with his group and we tried to see if we could shake things around over here," said Force.

"When we lost Guido (Dean Antonelli) he'd worked with Coil and Bernie for fifteen years. Obviously he'd evolved and was able to do a lot of things working with them and that gave us a rounded program. We won the title in 2006. When he left in 2007 even though Coil and Bernie were tuning it Guido was a big part of making the calls on the starting line letting them know how the parts were performing. Guido was in the trenches and very much hands-on. Coil and Bernie were on the computers," explained Force. "Medlen has always been hands on. So when we lost Guido and he went to Ashley, her car took off and our car went down. We were looking for help. We have good car chiefs here but what I needed was beyond a car chief. John Medlen was the best move to make to try and bring me around. I am still trying to get a shot at this title. I don't even know if I have a shot. I think I'd have to win the next two races and have everybody in front of me fall off. That is going to be tough but I am still going to try just like I tried today."

Neff quickly got back into crew chief mode but it did take a few rounds to get comfortable.

"It is busy. It is stressful especially when you haven't done it in a while and you are not really familiar with the moves that you are making. You don't feel real sure of what you are doing sometimes. You start making some runs and seeing results which helps you with the changes. You sort of feel your way though. I was nervous before the first run I wanted to make sure we had everything covered," said Neff. "You just don't really know what to expect. This car has been running god for a while and John Medlen had it set up so this was the easiest deal to step into. Medlen was here all weekend helping me. It just added more responsibility. I was thinking about the car all the time. When Medlen was making the tuning calls I just bopped around here with no worries until I got strapped in before the run. It just seemed like the wheels were turning non-stop this weekend. Medlen has available all weekend. It was not like he was gone."

Neff managed to tune and drive his way to the semi-finals and a match-up with Tim Wilkerson. In the end Wilkerson had a little more power and Neff knew that a decision he made in the set-up had almost doomed him from the start.

"The positive thing here is we went down the track every run, seven times in a row. I made a change to the clutch and put more cutters in there today and I thought that would help. It appeared to be the wrong thing to do. It really fell off and then I was stuck. I couldn't make it run like I wanted to. That was kind of a mistake on my part. We still learned a lot and we went a couple of rounds," said Neff.

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Jeff Arend , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , John Medlen , Mike Neff