Bob Tasca III on an NHRA roll, thanks in part to a not-so-secret weapon

Bob Tasca followed up his fifth career win with No. 6 one week later at Norwalk, Ohio.

Bob Tasca III’s NHRA Funny Car victory at Bristol, Tennessee, two weeks ago was about keeping a promise. His triumph the following week at Norwalk, Ohio, was about making a promise.

As the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour shifts next weekend to Rhode Island native Tasca’s backyard, at Epping, New Hampshire, he’s showing promise for a strong Countdown run.

And on-loan tuner Mike Neff has made the difference for Tasca, who took seven years to record his fifth pro victory but only seven days to earn his sixth. He has vaulted from the precarious 10th position for the 10-driver playoff lineup to a midpack-status seventh place. Six more races remain before the Countdown to the Championship fields are set for the deciding six-event stretch.

“The beauty of what we’re doing with this team,” Tasca said, “is we’re really performing at a high level every time the car goes down the racetrack, and we’re gathering data. And the more data we have, the better this team will be. We’re not making wholesale changes anymore. We kind of landed in a sweet spot.”

After winning back-to-back races for the first time in his career Sunday, Tasca said of marketing partners Ford, Motorcraft and QuickLane, “This is what they pay us to do. They pay us to go out there and perform and win and compete for a championship. And anything less, we’re not delivering on the promises we made. And I’m just very excited to do that.”

He had lobbied Ford persistently after it stepped away from the sport at the end of the 2014 season, going so far as to scold the automaker he so dearly loves and the one that has defined his personal and professional life. At the time Ford bowed out, Tasca said, “I truly believe they have underestimated the passion and loyalty of the NHRA fans.”

That was a bold move for Tasca, who describes himself as “an all-Ford kid driving an all-Ford hot rod. I was literally born and raised in a Ford store. Know the whole Ford family.” Ford executives, who have known Tasca since his childhood and have worked with him for 20 years on its product advisory board (like his namesake grandfather and father before him), considered his point and reconsidered its involvement in drag racing.

But, as Tasca reminded at Bristol, “They don’t sponsor me because they like me. They sponsor me because the Ford brand likes to win. That’s why Ford races. There’s no other reason why they’re here. They’ve put an unbelievable amount of resources into engineering, aerodynamics. And they want to put me in a position to win. And I told them I would win. I said, ‘If you come back to racing, please give the opportunity for these Ford fans. I will win. I will get your car and I will compete for a championship.’”

To do that, Tasca said he knew he needed technical advice. So he turned to Don Schumacher, who fields four Funny Cars of his own with Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr. Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) and independent team owner Tasca have a technical alliance. So Mike Neff, who’s on the DSR payroll but unattached as Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel outfit sits idle without sponsorship this season, began guiding Tasca’s team.

Tasca had highly capable leadership in Eric Lane, who was key to Robert Hight’s first Funny Car series title for John Force Racing (JFR) in 2009 and Ron Capps’ 2016 crown for DSR. And in a “player trade” that’s nontraditional in drag racing, he sent Mike Green to JFR for Force crew chief Jon Schaffer. He said the change was “based on the long-term goal, and that goal is to win races and win the championship with this Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang. I didn’t feel like the setup that I had was capable of doing that at any point this season.” The opportunity to work with Neff fulfilled a longtime wish, Tasca said.

“I’ve always wanted to race with this guy. My whole career I’ve wanted to race with Mike Neff,” Tasca said. “I just knew we had this chemistry. And to bring him in our trailer with Schaffer and Lane, it has been exciting for me. Mike Neff has changed the whole attitude inside our trailer. He has helped me pick up my game. He has definitely helped our team pick up our game. He just looks at me in the eye with, like a fire.”

Clarifying Neff’s role on his team – or maybe not so much – Tasca called Neff “the chief consultant/engineer of the chiefs. What can I tell you? He’s the man. He’s the man in my trailer. What he says goes. What’s interesting is the chemistry. I think you see it on (Top Fuel dominator) Steve Torrence’s team. It’s not just Mike Neff. Mike Neff can’t win anything out here without a team. I see Schaffer and Eric bouncing things off of him. At the end of the day, you’ve got to have a boss. Somebody has to say, ‘That’s what we’re going to do.’ And Neff has been that voice in our trailer right now. And it has obviously worked. It has worked maybe better than some people have thought. But I really thought it was going to work the day that we pulled this trade off with John Force. That was a big trade we made.

“I have the utmost respect for Schaffer and Lane,” Tasca said,” and they have the utmost respect for Neff. That’s why it works. If they had egos and they were working against one another, it doesn’t work. Mike and Jon raced together for many years. Eric has been in that Force Machine back in the day with those guys, and it just works.”

Tasca revels in the fact Ford returned to the sport.

“They came back, and I just dreamed of being able to give them a hot rod like we have,” he said. “And when you’ve got the names of Neff and Schaffer and Lane up in that trailer and the guys that bolt that thing together, I always knew if I could get the right car together under me, we could do great things.”

And Tasca is fully prepared to keep on doing great things, knowing it would be only fitting that he proves it at the July 5-7 New England Nationals.

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