MIKE NEFF PILOTS OLD SPICE TO FIRST FINAL IN ST. LOUIS -John Force wins milestone 1000th round of racing with first round victory- ST LOUIS -- When John Force started racing there was little doubt in his mind that he would be ...
MIKE NEFF PILOTS OLD SPICE TO FIRST FINAL IN ST. LOUIS
-John Force wins milestone 1000th round of racing with first round victory-
ST LOUIS -- When John Force started racing there was little doubt in his mind that he would be successful. Today he reached a milestone that even the hard driving former truck driver thought was unbelievable. When he came out on the winning end of his first round match-up with veteran driver and friend Ron Capps to take competitive round win 1,000 the energetic and vocal Force was almost at a loss for words.
"You can't win without a good crew, sponsors like Castrol, Ford, the Auto Club and Old Spice and crew chiefs like Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly," Force said. "Five hundred races (a milestone he achieved at Atlanta) just means you showed up a lot. But winning a thousand rounds, that means that at a point in time, we were pretty good."
A few minutes after Force stopped down at the top end for the obligatory photo op, new driver Mike Neff grabbed round win number one at the O'Reilly Midwest NHRA Nationals with a victory over seasoned Nitro driver and Funny Car rookie Melanie Troxel. As Neff wrapped up his top end interview and headed back to the pits to get ready for a second round match-up the reserved Neff took inventory of his day so far.
"It felt like I was going 1,000 miles per hour in there," said the California former off-road truck racer. "We are glad to be going rounds. (This round win) was a big shot in the arm. We were getting a little frustrated."
Neff wasn't satisfied with getting one round win as he worked his way through a tough second round match-up with Mike Ashley. In the semis Neff had to race teammate Robert Hight. He once again powered down the quarter-mile as Hight had to pedal his Auto Club Mustang to set up a final round with veteran Tim Wilkerson.
Just before the final Neff was able to get perspective on his ninth race and how he hoped to turn his early season struggles around.
"I was nervous before first round just because this first round thing - 0-8 in previous races - was really starting to wear on me. Once we won first round I actually got calmer as the day went on," said the front-runner for 2008 Rookie of the Year honors. "I was probably as calm in the final as I have been all day."
Wilkerson has been arguably one of the hottest drivers in the Funny Car class this year and in the final both drivers left together but at the top end Wilkerson was able to just hold on for the win as Neff was charging beside him.
"We didn't back our way into the final. We made four good runs and we lost on a squeaker. It was a good drag race we just came up a little short," said the former crew chief turned driver. "We aren't greedy it was a great day for us in the Old Spice Ford Mustang camp."
Team leader John Force was beyond pleased with his newest driver's performance.
"It is exciting for Mike, new driver with a new sponsor Old Spice and the Boss 500 motor. That is cool get that into the Final. At the end of the day what makes it special win or lose is that it will always be Eric Medlen's car. I just felt Eric was riding with him," said the winningest driver in Funny Car history. "(Tim) Wilkerson is a great racer. It was his day and he got the win. It was some great racing for the fans. I thought we won that final it was side by side and both drivers left on time with 70 lights and both cars ran good. The fans in St. Louis got what they wanted. They got great side by side racing."
Even though Hight was stopped in the semi-finals by his teammate he knows that the success of Neff and the Old Spice team is not a negative for his Auto Club team.
"(Mike) Neff is going to be good. He and I work well together. He is big asset to the team and I am glad he is here. I knew of Mike but I didn't know him before he joined our team. He is just a great guy," said the 2006 and 2007 Funny Car championship runner-up. "I honestly thought he has going to get his first win today. He'd never won a round and then goes to the final. He is going to have a bunch more finals."
Entering the event sophomore driver Ashley Force was on a tear through the Funny Car class racing to three consecutive final rounds and picking up her historic first win last week in Atlanta. Today, she ran up against a tough competitor and it took the reigning Funny Car champion to slow down the Ashley Force Castrol GTX juggernaut.
"For about 40 minutes after I lost I was in a pretty crappy mood. You always get over it. You see other things that are going well. Seeing Neff win completely brought me out of my funk. I thought you can't win every one of them," said the 2007 Rookie of the Year. "Dad won his 1000th and getting cars going rounds is good for the whole team and exciting. It would have been neat for Neff to win but I still think it was awesome that he made it to the final."
With four drivers in the top eleven spots on one of the deepest Funny Car fields in recent memory as John Force Racing is poised to continue a tradition of excellence that started over thirty years ago.
"We have great team chemistry and that is why this team is going to have continued success. It is the way John has built it from the beginning. We will never get away from that. I think Neff is real close to being in the Top Ten and having four John Force Mustangs in the Top Ten that is how we need to finish up leaving Indy. We are all making strides to get there," added Hight.
JOHN FORCE, 59, Castrol High Mileage Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 6th at 4.797seconds, 320.36 mph
Race Results: Beat Ron Capps. Lost to Robert Hight.
Notable: Won 1000th round of racing... maintained top five points position
Quotable: "It's pretty exciting. We all stayed up in the points and Neff is moving up to being almost in the Top Ten. Ashley, Robert and myself are safe. It was a good weekend when your cars go rounds."
ASHLEY FORCE, 25, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 4th at 4.773 seconds, 325.45 mph
Race Results: Lost to Tony Pedregon.
Quotable: "Whoever wins the championship will not win all the rounds. Nobody ever does so as long as you can get over it and move on and look towards the next race then that is the only thing you can do."
ROBERT HIGHT, 38, Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 3rd at 4.771 seconds, 317.94 mph
Race Results: Beat Jerry Toliver, John Force. Lost to Mike Neff.
Notable: Maintained position in No. 4 position in points....lost to teammate Mike Neff in the semis
Quotable: "We still aren't perfect. It didn't go second round and I had to pedal it. I got lucky there. We tried to make some adjustments against Neff in the semis and it still didn't go. We are still not there yet. There are a few things Jimmy wants to try. We aren't going to give up."
MIKE NEFF, 41, Old Spice Ford Mustang
Qualifying position and performance: 7th at 4.796 seconds, 316.30 mph
Race results: Beat Melanie Troxel, Mike Ashley, Robert Hight. Lost to Tim Wilkerson.
Notable: Reached first final of his career...won first round of racing versus Melanie Troxel...moved from 14th to 11th in point standings.
Quotable: "It was a good day for all of us. The car ran great all day. We didn't back our way into the final. We made four good runs and we lost on a squeaker. It was a good drag race we just came up a little short. We aren't greedy it was a great day for us in the Old Spice Ford Mustang camp."