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JFR Retools, Parks Neff

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2010
Mike Neff, right, will not be on the track for John Force Racing in 2010. (Photo courtesy of John Force Racing)

Mike Neff, right, will not be on the track for John Force Racing in 2010. He will assist crew chief Austin Coil, left. (Photo courtesy of John Force Racing)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

John Force Racing, Inc., will compete for the 2010 NHRA Funny Car championship as a three-car operation, part of a wide-ranging corporate re-organization announced by the 14-time champion and team-owner.

Force said Mike Neff’s Ford Drive One Mustang team, which closed the 2009 season with its breakthrough victory, has been parked. Neff, the 2008 Rookie of the Year, will assist iconic crew chief Austin Coil on the tuning braintrust for Force’s Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang.

“I am dropping the fourth car for the 2010 season strictly as a business move,” Force said in a news release, “because in this economy we haven’t been able to fund it properly through new sponsorship.” Force had fielded four Ford Funny Cars during the last three seasons. All four finished 2009 in the top 10 in points following conclusion of the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to 1 championship, with Neff in 10th.

Robert Hight, the reigning Funny Car champion and Force’s son-in-law, will launch defense of his title next month in the Auto Club Mustang. Ashley Force Hood, the 2009 championship runnerup and Force’s daughter, will pilot the Castrol GTX Mustang in her bid to become the first woman to win the NHRA Funny Car championship. Despite a rare winless season in ‘09, “Brut” Force finished ninth in points.

Downsizing Neff’s team is part of an initiative reportedly in the works for over a year that includes re-location of all JFR resources from Yorba Linda, Calif., to Brownsburg, Ind.; creation of new revenue streams through production of the BOSS 500 nitro engine and the JFR chassis and further personnel consolidation.

“In this economy,” Force said, “I’m having to re-evaluate my programs and my people to create a game plan for the future. It’s all about the Next Generation.

“I have invested with the IMG group, headed by George Pyne, to help look for new sponsorship opportunities. But I also know that I need to insure that my current sponsors _ primarily Castrol, in our 25th year together, Ford, Auto Club, BrandSource, and Mac Tools _ are getting more value than they expect.”

Neff, who ended the 2009 season as driver/tuner of his Mustang, was crew chief for Gary Scelzi when he won the 2005 NHRA Funny Car championship. Neff will replace Bernie Fedderly, Coil’s partner for the past 17 years, on John Force’s hot rod. Fedderly, one of only three crew chiefs to have won NHRA titles in Top Fuel and Funny Car, will assume the new role of Special Projects Manager at JFR, as well as contributing to the Coil-Neff alliance.

Neff spent the last two seasons wheeling the Drive One Mustang, scoring his first victory in his 50th start at the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., in November. Ironically, Neff’s march to the final included a second-round win over Boss Force. In doing so, Neff put an end to two of the most impressive streaks in Force’s career. Force ended the 2009 season without a win for the first time in 22 years.  And the last time Force closed a season without a final-round appearance was 1984.

Besides the personal satisfaction associated with posting his first win, Neff’s victory marked a huge performance leap for JFR and Ford Racing. Neff won the event running a Ford BOSS 500 nitro motor, underneath a Mustang body riding on a newly developed JFR chassis.

Force Racing’s John Medlen has been working with Ford Racing for over two years to develop a Ford powerplant that could be competitive in NHRA Funny Car or Top Fuel competition. Prior to his victory, Neff had reached five finals. John Force also closed the 2009 season running the BOSS 500 engine.

The 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule will open with the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals Feb. 11-14 at Pomona. JFR’s drivers will be competing with new, sleeker front-to-back Mustang bodies using the BOSS 500 engine and in-house chassis.

Medlen now will concentrate on managing The Eric Medlen Project, which will continue to focus on racing safety, as well as the in-house engine and chassis programs he helped create. Force is confident those programs will generate new revenue streams for his company. Medlen also will also be available to work with crew chief Jimmy Prock and car chief Eric Lane on Hight’s championship team.

Additionally, Force has added track specialist Lanny Miglizzi to work with his crew chiefs and son-in-law Dan Hood, who last year served as track specialist. The combination of Hood and Miglizzi will give JFR more personnel to monitor changing track conditions. Miglizzi will operate out of the Brownsburg shop, leading the JFR in-house clutch program, as all race-car operations have been consolidated in the Indiana facility. The machine shop operation, previously split between the Yorba Linda and Brownsburg facilities, also has been centralized in Indiana.

“I’ve had to re-evaluate everything from show car programs to midway displays to help activate programs for the sponsors and help cut costs,” Force said. “Last year I started talking with Brian Wolfe, who came over from Powertrain where he was instrumental in managing Ford’s mass production capabilities. We talked about how to produce (components) in-house not only for our team but also to generate revenue by selling to other teams. I will continue to speak to Brian in this area as time permits because he is the expert.

“In Phoenix (during a pre-season test session) I had the chance to speak with Jamie Allison, the new Director of Ford Racing, and it was business as usual. We have to continue to be cost-efficient but at the end of the day Ford wants to win. I listen to these individuals because they’re successful in what they do and, with the 25th anniversary of JFR and Castrol and the continued growth of the NHRA, we need to know where we’re going for the next 25 years.

“It’s a tough economy, but these are exciting times, too, because of the way we are responding to the challenge. For me, the key word is ‘activate.’ We need to activate for our sponsors, but we need to activate for ourselves, too.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2010
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