It might be the first day of the off season, but the Maynard Family Racing team has wasted no time in making an announcement for next season, and that announcement is that crew chief Mike Neff and Tony Schumacher have reunited and he will be joining the team in 2023.
Throughout the weekend, the rumors had been flying, but today they have been confirmed. “Yes, it’s official. Zippy will be the crew chief on our SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel dragster next season,” Tony said. “Truthfully, this is a huge deal, and I have no doubt we’re going to be a powerhouse team.”
Mike joins Tony after spending time on the Funny Car side of things where he tuned Bob Tasca III to six of Bob’s twelve total wins over a two year period. Joining Mike will be Jon Schaffer, who served as Mike’s assistant crew chief on the Tasca III car. Phil Shuler, who is currently a member of the brain trust will be staying onboard and will continue to lend his expertise. Todd Okuhara will be leaving his current role as crew chief on Tony’s Top Fueler.
Fans will remember that Tony and Mike have worked together before. Back in 2018 Mike was named the crew chief of Tony’s US Army dragster before the Army decided to redirect their marketing dollars away from motorsports. That led to the dissolution of the team at the end of the season. In that year though, they made quite an impact, advancing to six final rounds, including their victory in Bristol, Tennessee, and nabbing three No. 1 qualifiers. They both left that season feeling like they had unfinished business and are looking to pick up where they left off.
“We only got one year together,” Tony explained. “Ever since then, my intentions have been to team back up, and win a championship together. He’s wanted to win a Top Fuel championship and we finished No. 2 in the points that year behind Steve Torrence, who was dominant all season. When the opportunity presented itself for Zippy to come over here next year, to me, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to work with him again. I love his enthusiasm, I love his calm approach, he’s got a little bit of that cockiness, and he’s just a cool cat to work with.
“We were running low E.T. on a regular basis, we won a race, and we were getting better every day. We were a team that everyone knew was going to be awesome that next year, and we just ran out of time. Now our time is back. It took a little while to get moving, but once we got into our rhythm, we were kicking butt. We were trucking along in the right direction, and felt like it had all just started to come together.”
Mike coming aboard doesn’t just reunite he and Tony, it brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the team. For those that don’t know, he knows what it’s like both inside and outside of the cockpit. As a driver he owns 10 wins. As a tuner, a role he first took on in 2002, he has numerous race wins and two Funny Car championships, having worked with legendary drivers like John Force, Robert Hight and Gary Scelzi. With 8 championships and 86 national event wins, Tony himself is a legend in the sport and the winningest driver in Top Fuel driver in Top Fuel history, and being responsible for tuning his car could be a daunting prospect. But Mike, like Tony, is looking forward to getting back at it.
“I’m excited to go back Top Fuel racing with Tony. That was the only year I’ve been a Top Fuel crew chief and we finished second that year. We were on track to do big things, and I was bummed when it went away. When the opportunity came around to have another crack at it and team up with a championship driver like Tony, I couldn’t pass it up. Certainly, there will be a learning curve at first, but I don’t think it will take too long for us to be a legitimate contender, and ultimately, race for the championship.”
The SCAG Power Equipment team will kick off their bid for Tony’s 9th Top Fuel championship March 10th – 12th when the NHRA commence their 2023 season at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.