SCHUMACHER GELS EARLY WITH NEFF
U.S. Army Dragster driver Tony Schumacher still has the highest respect for former crew chief Mike Green – and the highest hopes for that same kind of success with new tuner Mike Neff.
“Mike Green and the entire Army team, we had a lot of success over the years. We had a lot of great years. The last two weren’t as spectacular as we had hoped. I think, myself, even Mike Green, the Army, we just expected better results and we had to make a change,” Schumacher said.
“Mike is an incredibly capable guy, a fantastic crew chief, a great team leader, and everything about him is good. But we had to make a change. We needed to see results, and we were running out of time for that,” he said.
Even though he knew a switch was inevitable, Schumacher said at first he resisted not Neff himself but the notion.
“Drag racing is a special sport. You have to run well and beat the cars you’re supposed to beat, and the ones you’re not supposed to beat, you need to beat them half the time to win a championship. We had a difficult time trying to find that kind of success,” Schumacher said. “We didn’t beat enough of the cars we were supposed to beat, and we didn’t beat the guys who are difficult to beat. We just didn’t have the right timing. So, you have to make changes. You can’t just sit there and be stagnant.
“We’re a hard-working team and we’re great under adversity. We’ve won more championships digging out of these holes and figuring out how to win anyway. When we decided to bring Mike Neff on board, I struggled a bit with that,” he said, “because I didn’t want it to look like we were just giving up.”
The eight-time Top Fuel champion said, “What we’re doing is bringing in someone new with fresh eyes to a team that still has Mike Green and still has Phil [assistant crew chief Shuler] as part of our camp and let him bring his insight.
“You know, someone who’s done Funny Cars, a heavier car, it’s just different, to have someone that’s an outsider come to Top Fuel car and say, ‘OK, let’s see what you’ve got.’ I think it’s pretty brilliant. I’m looking forward to working with Mike. He’s a great guy, and he’s super calm. He’s won championships. We’ll take that knowledge and see what we can do.”
Schumacher said he’s “not concerned at all” that Neff never has worked on a Top Fuel program: “Guys who have never tuned with their hands completely in it, sometimes they get great thoughts because they are operating outside the box. We get trapped in this little box, sometimes, looking and working on the same things, seeing the same parts and pieces. I think there’s where the shakeups come. We brought in a guy who’s worked in this company before. The pool is fairly small to choose from for qualified crew chiefs who’ve won championships and know what they’re doing.
“Mike Neff had been with DSR for a long time. He went over to Force’s and has come back. He’s never worked on a Top Fuel car before, but it’s going to be exciting: a little fresh blood, a little insight in some different areas we might have overlooked,” he said. “When you get a guy from Funny Car over to Top Fuel, it’s just a whole new game. It might take a little time. It might not. But I’m excited to be a part of it.
In the first seven races of last season, Schumacher won at Gainesville as part of four event final appearances. But after that, the program stumbled with six first-round losses and nine quarterfinal exits.
“We had a big clutch-disc issue,” he said. “When you run out of discs and you’ve got to make a change, sometimes you just can’t get it back. We made a few changes to the car and the chassis and little things like that, and we just couldn’t get the car go quicker than the other guy. That was the problem. These drag races, unlike other forms of motorsports around the world, we don’t have 500 laps to make it up, and it’s simply amazing how people step up against our car. People run extremely well against us, and I like that. I enjoy it. But what happened to us last year cost us a lot of rounds."
Schumacher and Neff shined in their competition debut by reaching the final round.