Mike Neff continued John Force Racing's dominance in Funny Car as he raced to his first victory of the 2012 season Sunday at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway. With the win, Neff gave John Force Racing its sixth consecutive win to open the season.
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also earned victories at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event near Houston.
Neff powered his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang past Ron Capps' NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T in the final round of eliminations. Neff's 4.239-second pass at 301.67 mph was too much for Capps, who hazed the tires in the Texas heat and clocked a 4.476, 211.79.
“This whole race was one of a kind," Neff said. "To not be qualified until the last session and then have a wacky couple of rounds today was a nail-biter. Racing Jim Head, my old buddy, it took so long for the Tree to come on. I never let go of the brake, but I blipped the throttle. Thankfully, I was staged shallow, so I didn't red-light. I looked down and saw green, so I legged it, and then it smoked the tires. It was a total mistake on my part as a driver and a crew chief.”
Neff struggled during qualifying and made it into the 16-car field during the final qualifying session in the heat of the day Saturday. That tune-up proved to be what the JFR driver needed throughout Sunday's eliminations as he beat first-round foe Head, top qualifier Cruz Pedregon, and defending event winner Jeff Arend en route to his seventh Funny Car victory.
Neff is second in the NHRA Full Throttle points standings behind his JFR teammate Robert Hight, who saw his four-race winning streak snapped with a semifinal loss to Capps.
“That was a heck of a string he had going," Neff said about Hight. "That's hard to do in Funny Car or any class for that matter. I'm just glad I could keep the string going for John Force Racing. I feel pressure, but that's just the business we're in. We're a top team, and we were built on winning. I feel it, but I don't get pressure from John or anyone else. Just myself.”
In Top Fuel, Lucas proved that he is a championship contender with his win as he posted low e.t. during each round of eliminations. The GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster driver outran Antron Brown's Matco Tools dragster in the final round with his 3.848, 320.81 to Brown's 5.894, 117.05.
“I'm just as proud as can be for this race team, the whole GEICO pit area, and my parents [Forrest and Charlotte],” Lucas said. “Just to be able to go up to the starting line on race day and feel like you can beat anybody is a feeling that I've never had before. This is probably the first time in my career, Top Alcohol Dragster included, that I've ever had low e.t. of every round of eliminations."
Lucas started from the No. 1 qualifying spot for the fourth time of the season, and the win moved him to third in points. With the runner-up finish, Brown took over the series points lead.
Nobile earned his first Pro Stock win of the season by outrunning veteran driver Dave Connolly in the final round. Nobile's 6.595, 210.14 in his Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger edged Connolly's 6.604, 210.41 in his Alamo Iron Works/KLR Group Chevy Cobalt to claim his second consecutive win in Houston.
“It's an amazing feeling [to win this event two years in a row]," said Nobile, who beat Greg Stanfield, Larry Morgan, and Mike Edwards to advance to the final. "In the semi's, we actually had to swap motors in that short amount of time [before the final], and the crew did it with no flaws, and everything was perfect. The crew produces a really fast race car. I owe it to all of them. My dad taught me everything I know about driving a race car and drag racing period. This win is a win for the both of us. He never won a Wally because he never had the power. But now we're doing it both together.”
Nobile's win moved him from fifth to third in the series standings.
Hines used a perfect reaction time to beat sophomore rider Hector Arana Jr. in the final round in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Arana's 6.886, 196.33 on his Lucas Oil Buell was quicker than Hines' 6.905, 194.52 on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, but Hines won the race on the starting line.
“I knew I'd need a good light, but I wasn't expecting a .000," Hines said. "I'm lucky I didn't roll in an eighth of an inch more or I'd have red-lighted. We had to add 20 pounds, so I figured I'd need to win on a holeshot in order to have a chance, especially after he [Hector Jr.] ran that 6.84 in the semifinals.”
Hines has won this event three years in a row and is now the series leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“I knew this was the 25th anniversary of this race, so I really wanted to win that silver Wally,” Hines said.
In the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx, No. 3 qualifier Danny Rowe earned his first victory.
Rowe's Sterling Bridge '68 Chevy Camaro powered to a winning performance of 5.969, 244.43 in the final round to beat Kenny Lang's 6.043, 238.51.
Rowe defeated Mike Knowles, Troy Coughlin, and Danny Walsh in earlier rounds en route to his first final-round appearance of the season.
The next Pro Mod event is at the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown May 31-June 3.
Lucas Oil winners:
Top Alcohol Dragster
Jim Whiteley, 5.264, 273.77 def. Duane Shields, 5.380, 268.97.
Top Alcohol Funny Car
Jay Payne, Ford Mustang, 5.631, 260.06 def. Steve Gasparrelli, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.652, 259.26.
Doug Baumgardner, Chevy Camaro, 9.468, 134.36 def. Gary Emmons, Pontiac Firebird, 10.005, 126.21.
Hagen Gary, Plymouth, 10.132, 128.79 def. Britt Cummings, Chevy Corvette, 10.503, 126.00.
Britt Cummings, Dragster, 8.920, 164.85 def. Shannon Brinkley, Dragster, 8.898, 167.97.
Luke Bogacki, Chevy Corvette, 9.918, 144.41 def. Jeff Lopez, Corvette, 9.878, 152.68.
Rob McKinley, Dragster, 6.303, 220.69 def. Todd Schumert, Dragster, 6.654, 203.68.