Eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher says he’s confident that star Funny Car tuner Mike Neff will adapt well to the demands of dragsters and can examine the U.S. Army car with fresh eyes.
Mike Neff, who spent the last 10 seasons at John Force Racing, has previously worked for Don Schumacher Racing, from 2001 through ’07, but over the last 18 years his focus has been on Funny Cars. His seven-year spell at DSR yielded the 2005 FC title with Gary Scelzi as driver, while at JFR, Neff guided team owner John Force to the 2010 Funny Car crown.
However, he now rejoins DSR as crew chief on Schumacher's famous U.S. Army-sponsored dragster, as “The Sarge’s” previous henchman Mike Green has been shifted onto the team’s safety and performance projects. Schumacher and Green won the 2009 and ’14 titles together, but have scored only six wins over the past three seasons, and finished eighth in the points race in 2016 and ’17.
Explained Schumacher: “Mike [Green] is an incredibly capable guy, a fantastic crew chief, a great team leader, and everything about him is good. But we had to make a change. We needed to see results and we were running out of time for that.
“Mike Neff [has] never worked on a Top Fuel car before but it’s going to be exciting, a little fresh blood, a little insight in some different areas we might have overlooked.
“When you get a guy from Funny Car over to Top Fuel, it’s just a whole, new game. It might take a little time, it might not, but I’m excited to be a part of it. What we’re doing is bringing in someone new with fresh eyes to a team that still has Mike Green and still has Phil [Shuler, assistant crew chief] as part of our camp, and let him bring his insight.
“You know, someone who’s done Funny Cars, a heavier car, it’s just different, to have someone that’s an outsider come to Top Fuel car and say, ‘OK, let’s see what you’ve got.’ I think it’s pretty brilliant.
“He’s a great guy and he’s super calm. He’s won championships. We’ll take that knowledge and see what we can do.”
With the U.S. Army starting its 18th full season as an NHRA sponsor, it has expanded to not only include three-time champion Antron Brown but also Leah Pritchett, who last year scored four wins in her first full season in Top Fuel.
The NHRA season begins this week with the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, CA.