With Full Throttle championship aspirations hanging in the balance for Mike Neff and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang every round of qualifying takes on new levels of importance. Neff, the driver and crew chief, needs to make up a nine point deficit to save a round of racing on Sunday. Entering today’s 48th annual running of the Auto Club NHRA Finals Neff is 88 points behind Jack Beckman and 84 points behind Ron Capps.
Today’s solid 4.062 second pass at 313.66 mph run was good enough to be the provisional No. 2 qualifier and earned Neff two qualifying bonus points. The two drivers he is pursuing were shut out on the first day of the race.
“We absolutely did what we needed to do today. It is raining right now and it could rain off and on all weekend. That will make you a little nervous. I just wanted to go out there and make a good run and get qualified,” said Neff.
“Hopefully we won’t have to worry about that this weekend. We made a good run about exactly what we were looking for. Everything looks good. It was a perfect start for us so far.”
Thanks to his efforts Neff and his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang will be one of the last two Funny Cars to make a pass on Friday’s second day of qualifying.
“Being at the back of the pack always helps too. You can know what other guys are running and what the conditions are. All those little advantages add up at the end of the day,” acknowledged Neff.
Right in front of Neff rookie of the year front-runner Courtney Force wowed the crowd with the quickest run of the day a 4.032 second pass at a whopping 315.93 mph. The Traxxas Ford Mustang has been one of the quickest and most consistent Funny Cars on tour.
“Coming out here being that it is my home track, I was saying earlier that it’s so surreal just remembering back to February what it was like and how sick to my stomach I was. Now our mind frame is a lot different. We’re trying to be blockers for Mike Neff to try to help him get that championship,” said Force.
“We’ve got a great car and a great team. They’re up for the Full Throttle Hard Working Crew Award. Ron Douglas and Dan Hood, they really know how to tune this car up in the right conditions. To go out there and run a 4.03 (ET) on the first lap out, it’s just pretty amazing.”
The youngest Force graciously attributes her success to not only her driving skills but also the crew behind her. Led by Ron Douglas and Dan Hood the Traxxas Ford Mustang team has been collecting low ETs both during events and at test sessions aimed at giving the rookie driver more experience and helping the entire JFR camp with additional data.
“I’ve got a great group of guys behind me and it’s definitely a great feeling being at my home track and knowing that we’ve had a great car since the start of the season. We’re hoping that the No. 1 spot will hold. It would be pretty awesome. Since Indy, getting that No. 1 spot it really showed (my team and I) that we’ve got a good car; we have some potential out here. It definitely builds our confidence.”
Behind Courtney Force and Mike Neff sits Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang in the No. 4 spot. Hight’s Jimmy Prock tuned Mustang led the way for JFR with a 4.096 second run before Force and Neff took to the track. It was the first run in the four ohs on Thursday after a lackluster session saw the first seven pairs of Funny Cars shake and smoke down the 1000 ft. racetrack at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“That was a good start. We needed that. We want to be in the top half and hopefully get some of the drivers that Neff is chasing. Glad (Jack) Beckman is OK. This Auto Club Ford Mustang will be ready to go back after it tomorrow,” said Hight.
Hight was referring to Jack Beckman’s massive explosion in the right lane. Luckily, the points leader was OK after the crash and even addressed the crowd over the PA immediately after his run. Going into tomorrow’s second day of qualifying team leader John Force will be looking to race into the top 12.
Today his Destination Force Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang had no oil pressure on the run and the 15-time Funny Car champion was forced to abort the run. Immediately after the Funny Car session sporadic shows moved over Auto Club Raceway and halted racing action before the first session of Top Fuel.