St. Louis: Mike Neff preview

ROOKIE MIKE NEFF LOOKING TO ADD ROUNDS IN ST LOUIS ST LOUIS (April 30, 2008) --- 2008 Rookie of the Year contender Mike Neff thought we was having a bad day when he missed advancing beyond the first round of a few NHRA POWERade events. He found...


ST LOUIS (April 30, 2008) --- 2008 Rookie of the Year contender Mike Neff thought we was having a bad day when he missed advancing beyond the first round of a few NHRA POWERade events. He found out what a real bad day was during the first round of qualifying last week at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Atlanta when his Old Spice Ford Mustang burst into flames as it accelerated beyond 300 mph.

As the cockpit filled with fire and smoke the rookie driver and former crew chief from Hemet, Calif., managed to keep from slamming into the guard wall and avoided hitting his former driver Gary Scelzi in the lane beside him before wrestling his 8,000 hp fuel coupe to a stop.

"I don't know what happened. It was running pretty good and then it just went off. It was a big boom. My first thought was I have this big fireball in my face. Then I was just trying to get stopped," said Neff. "When I put the brake on the oil coming out underneath it just skidded the rear tires and it just slipped. Then it just started darting around. I couldn't really see. I could just feel where the Mustang was going."

His team was able to get his Mustang back together between qualifying sessions and they did not miss a beat for the rest of qualifying. The extended their qualifying streak to eight (including the last two races of 2007) which is the longest of the four John Force Racing Mustangs and their reward was a first round match-up with team owner and 14-time Funny Car champion John Force.

Neff had run beside Force once before during qualifying at the CSK NHRA Nationals in Phoenix and the impact of racing side by side with a legend was not lost on the up and coming driver at that time.

"(Racing against John) is something that not a whole lot of people in the big scheme of things can say that they have raced against John Force," said the rookie. "Irregardless he is my boss but he's still John Force and to be able to line up and run with him was really a neat experience. To run quicker than him was the icing on the cake."

Neff's second shot at the champ was not as successful. Prior to Neff's run versus Force -- a run which he had the quicker Mustang - Del Worsham oiled down the starting line area. Following a lengthy delay to clean-up Neff's Old Spice team opted to switch lanes. Neff lost traction and saw his boss blast down the quarter-mile track unscathed on his way to a runner-up finish against teammate Ashley Force in the final.

The loss kept Neff from grabbing his first round win of his young career. While he is confident his team is heading in the right direction he is the first to admit he is tired of being the first round bridesmaid.

"We are disappointed. It should have been a good drag race. We are just upset with the way it all worked out after Worsham oiled the track down and we are jockeying the lanes. We made a bad decision by changing lanes. We have no one to blame. It is unfortunate. It should have been a good race and we wanted to win it. We are tired of losing first round. We had a great car yesterday and should've had one today."

Heading into St Louis Neff is confident the cooler temperatures and added experience will get him on the winning track. As an NHRA veteran he knows that it just takes one break to get your team on a roll and he is hoping to get that break at Gateway International Raceway.

"I really feel that we are going to do well. Sometimes you just get into a cycle where things aren't going your way and then one day it changes" said the former world champion crew chief. "I've been on cycles when you can't do anything wrong, too. I know an up cycle is coming so we stay positive and keep working hard. There is no doubt that we are going to do well here."

Did you know...

With Mike turning the wrenches, Gary Scelzi won the Funny Car the Midwest Nationals in 2004 and was the No. 1 qualifier in 2004 and 2005.

With a win at the Midwest Nationals Neff would be the third different JFR driver to win there after John Force and Tony Pedregon.

Neff is trying to become just the second racer to win pro championships as both crew chief and driver. The only person to have accomplished that feat is Dick LaHaie, who won a Top Fuel title as a driver in 1987 and as crew chief to Scott Kalitta in 1994 and 1995.

When Neff does capture his first win for John Force Racing he will become the seventh different drivers to have won Funny Car races on the NHRA tour -- John Force, Tony Pedregon, Gary Densham, Robert Hight Ashley Force and the late Eric Medlen.

A strong season for Neff would also continue another John Force Racing tradition as he is trying to become the third John Force Racing, Inc., driver in four years to win the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year following Robert Hight (2005) and Ashley Force (2007).

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Scott Kalitta , Dick LaHaie , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Mike Neff