Neff Back As John Force’s Crew Chief
YORBA LINDA, Calif. – Mike Neff, whose driving resume includes 10 NHRA Funny Car, confirmed Thursday what many had speculated since the start of pre-season testing.
The 47-year-old Californian, who for the last two years functioned as both driver and crew chief on the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, this season will return to the job at which he excelled previously and the one about which he is most passionate.
Neff, who never has made a secret of the fact that he prefers the challenges that fall to the crew chief rather than the driver, will re-unite with drag racing icon John Force who at the age of 63 will try to add a 16th title to his resume.
Neff emphasized Thursday that the decision was his and his alone.
“It was just such a long weekend (doing both jobs),” he said. “Not only were you focusing on tuning, but you had to do the driving part and the media and you had to run here and there for sponsor appearances. There was no down time. After awhile, it got to be too much. It just wore me down. You could never seem to take five and focus. I just got pulled in a lot of different directions.
“Force was really good about it,” Neff said. “When I first brought it up (in the middle of last season), he wanted me to really think about it. He didn’t want me to make any quick decisions. He basically said I could drive as long as I wanted to. He left it up to me (and) I just felt that it was time. I never planned on driving for very long. The first couple of years I drove (2008 and 2009), I felt unsatisfied. I didn’t win like I wanted to and I just didn’t feel like it was a success.
“Getting the opportunity to drive again (after Ashley Force Hood stepped out of the cockpit to start a family) was totally different,” acknowledged the former off-road truck mechanic. “I‘m proud of what we accomplished. We won Indy twice (2011 and 2012) and led the points for most of the season. It was just a great experience.”
Neff led the points after 15 of 23 races in 2011, claiming the regular season championship before stumbling in the playoffs and finishing fifth. In 2012, he again led the points, won the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., for the second straight year and finished third as the highest-ranked of the Ford drivers.