Neff Needs Focus For Fifth Consecutive Funny Car Final
John Force Racing’s Mike Neff has a commanding 98-point lead over the rest of a very competitive Funny Car field.
Going into this weekend’s Ford Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals at Bristol Dragway, Neff knows the second half of the regular season schedule is going to be tougher.
What makes a champion in the NHRA is a consistent, quick car. He has that. What he will tell you is that he needs to improve on his focus. It could make the difference in a championship. His recent string of impressive finishes in not going unnoticed.
Now he’s on a tremendous hot streak of four straight Funny Car final round appearances. Out of the four, he’s only won one.
It started at Houston when he lost on a red light. Then in Atlanta, he lost again, this time to Jack Beckman in a close pair of 4.11 elapsed times. At Topeka, his teammate, Robert Hight, won the race giving JFR its 200th victory before finally he finally broke through in Englishtown, taking his second win of the season over Cruz Pedregon and adding JFR’s 201st victory.
The question now is how long he can keep this streak alive? He has two wins in 2011 in five final rounds. After what he’s learned in just these past four races, is Neff about to turn the tables and go on a winning roll? If his focus stays strong, he seems unbeatable. He doesn’t like losing and getting to this level is all about the learning the game.
As a former motocross racer from his native California, Neff has escalated his career from watching drag racing to working on good race cars to now driving one of the best Funny Cars in the nation. As a Don Schumacher Racing crew chief for Gary Scelzi in 2005, Neff led his team through one of the tightest points chases in the history of the sport.
Scelzi won by a scant eight points over Ron Capps that year and with Neff at the helm, Scelzi ended the 12-year reign of JFR Funny Car domination. That was news that shook the motorsports world.
Then in 2008, John Force redeployed his fourth team adding Neff to the Funny Car fray, not as a crew chief, but as a driver. It didn’t take long for him to learn all the bravado it takes to man handle one of these Funny Cars before reaching his first and second final rounds of his career in back-to-back races in St. Louis and Bristol in the spring of that year.
The transition from crew chief to driver seemed flawless as Neff qualified for his first No. 1 position in his career for the Bristol race in only his eighth start. He sizzled through eliminations earning lane choice against Melanie Troxel in the finals, her first in Funny Car.
After the initial burnouts, everything seemed normal. Neff’s crew chief, John Medlen, discovered he couldn’t get the latch of the carbon fiber body to release. That sent the crew scrambling trying to figure a way to get the car’s body up to put the final tune up on it. Finally, time ran out and they had to stage.
Troxel immediately went up in tire smoke at the hit of the throttle with Neff taking the reaction time advantage hustling the car down the track. Troxel tried to regain her sense of direction allowing the car to settle down. Neff, who hadn’t adjusted his car, simply blew up around 400 feet in a big fireball. Troxel recognized his struggles and persevered, pedaling her way to the finish line. It wasn’t pretty, but Neff learned a lot that day in Bristol.
Now with Neff being his own crew chief and driver, that doubles the duty. Yes, he has Bernie Fedderly and the entire Force armada at his disposal. He’s still taken on a big responsibility, and he has the background to get through it all. He just needs to keep that focus for four rounds on Sunday.
I’m picking him to win this weekend…how can you argue with his string of four consecutive final rounds? He won the last race in Englishtown. It now appears he’s clear and focused.
He knows he has to turn those finals into National event wins. Neff understands that runner-ups are very good, but if you’re going to be a champion, like his boss, 15-time Funny Car champion Force, then the win light needs to come on in your lane.
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