John Force certainly gets a lot of attention whether he or his John Force Racing (JFR) team are doing well or not. Even with the usual fanfare, Force went the first nine events this year without any visits to the finals. However lately, his Funny Car is getting even more attention and has become the car to beat. And maybe the biggest reason is his crew chief Mike ‘Zippy’ Neff. Zippy has put some major zip in John Force’s ground-thumping machine.
With crew chief Mike Neff calling the shots on the tune-up, Force has moved up steadily through the point standings and sits third overall after accumulating three straight finals including a win at Bristol (see related articles).
Neff made it known to Force and the organization last season that he didn’t want to be both driver and crew chief because it was pulling him in too many directions. He very much enjoys the mechanical and tuning end of 10,000 horsepower monsters and in the end, matching back up with Force this year has made Neff the great crew chief that he is.
Neff made his mark back about 10 years ago as the young crew chief of Gary Scelzi’s Funny Car and helped the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) team win the only class championship (2005) in a two decade span by someone other than a JFR car or anyone with the last name of Pedregon. Force saw how good Zippy was and hired him away two years later. Neff has been both a driver and tuner at JFR but had his best days tuning John’s Funny Car as was the case in 2010 as the crew chief of a world championship. Yet, 2011 and 2012 saw JFR’s rivals, DSR, win those last two championships in Funny Car, which necessitated bringing Zippy back to tune John’s Funny Car. Another championship may now be possible for the 64 year old Force.
Force is the oldest and by far has the most years under his belt for anyone currently driving full-time in Funny Car. The last two years saw Force nowhere near competing for a championship and many thought his career was over. On the other hand, Neff was a top driver plus he was his own crew chief as well. However, now that Neff is tuning John’s car, Force finally has a racecar under him capable of winning the title.
The combination of one of the best tuners for arguably the greatest Funny Car driver means others in the class have their hands full. Matt Hagan who won the championship in 2011 and two-time champion Cruz Pedregon are the only drivers ahead of Force with just six races left in the regular season before the Countdown (playoffs) start. Besides points leader Hagan in front of Force, there are three other DSR cars right behind Force: Johnny Gray, Ron Capps and reigning champion Jack Beckman. They all will be battling right to the end for this year’s championship
However, with Zippy who may be the hottest crew chief in drag racing tuning John Force’s fire-breathing Funny Car, don’t count this team out as being the ones to beat for the 2013 season … and beyond.
Sources: John Force Racing, NHRA