Mike Neff and his hot rod are finally on speaking terms again.
They’re even singing.
On Sunday in Norwalk, Ohio, they were in perfect harmony as he defended his title.
Neff defeated fellow Ford driver Tim Wilkerson in the Funny Car final at the Summit Racing NHRA Nationals. He becomes the first two-time Funny Car winner since the NHRA came to town six years ago. This was his eighth career victory and second of 2012.
Credit a test session following last weekend’s O’Reilly NHRA Route 66 Nationals as the catalyst for change in a team which has not maintained the same torrid pace it held at this time last season.
“We found a few things about the car which weren’t exactly right during the last few races,” said Neff. “We were able to get it back in line. We were able to get the car back to going up and down the track.”
Up and down the track might as well have been rocket science on a weekend when track temperatures hovered for most of the first two days in the 140-degree range. On Sunday they settled into the 120s.
“The weather conditions this weekend were so difficult,” Neff admitted. “Sunday provided a much better day for racing. It still got warm and the track went over 130-degrees and when you have that, it gets tricky. The surface gets slick and the challenge becomes more about getting the car to go up and down the track without smoking. That’s the key to winning on days like this.”
Neff saved his best run for last as he pounded out a 4.217, 298.21 to stop a determined Tim Wilkerson in the final round, who ran a 4.244. 296.96 in losing.
Neff believes it was Friday evening’s pass which set the stage for the entire weekend.
“Friday night was critical in knowing those were going to be the coolest conditions of the weekend,” said Neff. “That was the one run where you needed to make it in order to get a good place. Saturday wasn’t going to provide an opportunity for improvement. Fortunately I ran well on Friday night and it put me in the No. 2 spot.”
Neff was in a 4.2-second routine Sunday with runs of 4.289, 4.229, 4.281 to defeat Bob Bode, Jeff Arend and Cruz Pedregon en route to the final round.
However, the routine was for the most part accidental.
“I got a break in the first round when my car, which was supposed to run a 4.11, backfired,” explained Neff. “You kind of create your own luck when you qualify No. 2 and race No. 15 – your odds [of success] go up. That’s kind of the way I look at it.
“In the second round, I spun the tires at half-track to the finish line. In the semis, it put a hole out.
“The final round was a good solid run because I finally got it to run on all eight cylinders. It made a good, clean run when I needed it to.”
This was an understatement as Wilkerson had executed a winning formula all day long in eliminated two of the four John Force Racing entries. He opened with a win over John Force and then Robert Hight. Wilkerson beat former teammate Bob Tasca III to advance to the final round.
“Tim Wilkerson put up a heck of a run,” Neff said. “It had to be close at the finish line. It was just our day.”
Certain drivers have a comfort zone with particular facilities and Neff has found his groove with Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
“This is a fairly tricky track and we’ve managed to do well when it gets hot here,” said Neff. “Some places you go to, you just do well regardless. Others you go to, you can’t seem to do anything right no matter how well you have done up to that point. I don’t know how it all works, but Norwalk has been good to me.”
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