ATLANTA, Ga. – One of the quotes attributed to Atlanta Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson is: “there are no bad wins and there are no good losses.”
While he wouldn’t disagree entirely, Mike Neff would suggest that some wins certainly are better than others. For instance, his breakthrough first victory of the season last week at Houston, Texas, definitely was not the artistic success he had anticipated.
That’s why, when he sends his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang after the Funny Car championship at this week’s 32nd annual Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, the two-time former World Championship-winning crew chief (2005 with Gary Scelzi and 2010 with John Force) hopes to do it with a little more style.
“I don’t feel good about winning like that,” Neff said after beating Ron Capps in a bizarre Houston Funny Car final. “He was out in front of me (and) was on a good run when something happened to him. I definitely backed my way into it. It wasn’t the way we like to do it, but we’ll take it.
“I like to be able to run quick in all the sessions,” explained the man who serves as both driver and crew chief on one of the world’s most powerful race cars.
“Sometimes, it’s just your day,” he conceded, “and sometimes it’s not. Anything can happen. That’s what’s exciting about NHRA drag racing. You can’t make it up in the next turn. You get one shot at it. You either get it right, you catch a break or it’s over with – and you have to do that four times in one day.”
Before Houston, the breaks, unfortunately, had all gone the other way.
Neff was dominant at the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., but lost in the final on a hole shot to Force, his boss and teammate.
In the first five races, his was THE single most consistently quick-and-fast Funny Car in the category, one that averaged 4.176 seconds on 12 competitive trips down the 1,000 foot racecourse. No other car was even close to that average including the Auto Club Ford of teammate Robert Hight.
Nevertheless, Neff had nothing to show for his effort except a couple of runner-up finishes and second place standing in Full Throttle points.
That all changed last week at Royal Purple Raceway where the Castrol Ford was anything but consistent. In fact, it was all over the high speed landscape. The seven-time tour winner only made the field on his final qualifying attempt, started the race without benefit of lane choice and, in the first round, narrowly avoided a foul start against Jim Head.
His winning times were 4.495, 4.199, 4.176 and, finally, 4.239 seconds. In addition to troubles on the track, there also were issues in the pits with malfunctioning parts and pieces that had to be changed on the fly.
All-in-all, it was a wholly atypical performance for the meticulous former off-road truck mechanic and motocross racer.
He expects his 8,000 horsepower Ford to be far more consistent this week in a Southern Nationals event in which he was runner-up to Jack Beckman a year ago and in which he and his John Force Racing teammates will be trying to extend their season-opening winning streak to seven straight
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