There’s been a lot of talk about Clint Neff in the last few months, which very much should be the case. Neff and his colleague Harry Clack debuted a unique A/ED in Comp Eliminator this year, putting on a monumental feat with the most unexpected combination. For Neff, however, the remarkable has been the norm throughout his life, and the personal side of his journey is remarkable.
Neff’s father, Ron, ran Modified from the early 1960s through the mid ’70s before shifting his focus to Comp Eliminator. According to NHRA statistician Bob Frey, Papa Neff was “one of the best drag racers not to win a national event,” having contested five national event finals and reached thirteen division-level finals. Ron drove a split bumper Camaro followed by a decent selection of Econo Dragsters, was the 1990 Division 5 Champion in Comp and finished in the top 10 four times nationally. It makes sense that his son would get the bug.
“I was born in 1973 and my dad started running comp in 1975 if I remember correctly,” recalls the younger neff. “We came down and the duel wasn’t even stopped and I was out playing with my buddies. I used to run around the pits with my own little group, but that was about the time I turned around. At 14, my dad told me that if I ever wanted to start driving, I’d better start learning how to drive this one stuff works. So I started helping more and stopped disappearing.
“I’d like to say I got my driver’s license in his B/Econo dragster circa 1995 and that’s where I really got into it. Then, when you start winning a few rounds, the proverbial needle is in your arm.
Really, but Neff was done before he ever got in a race car. Well before his 18th birthday – before he was old enough to stand alongside his father’s car on the stages of Englishtown – Neff sat in the stands with the wives of the Comp Eliminator riders, impressing them with his knowledge. Before the indices were displayed on the scoreboard, the young neff knew them by heart and was able to quickly calculate how far each driver had fallen below the index.
“That appealed to the mathematician in me; Comp was just a class I’ve always loved,” he said. “Especially that I raced with my father for so many years. Before my grandfather Elmer died, he used to go there often. It was the three amigos, and we all did trips together in the ’90s.”
To date, Neff has five national Comp Eliminator event wins to his credit, and all were achieved in a Ford-powered roadster. His most significant win, and one that Neff considers extremely significant, came at the 2011 Mile-High Nationals in Denver. There, the native nephew from Arvada, Colorado, celebrated an emotional first victory with his whole family.
“That was the only national event I’ve won where we were all there – my dad, my mom Trudy, my wife Jaime and my kids Brady and Cali,” shared Neff, whose win was also her family’s first in was (what was then) seven collective finals. “I even got a couple of cards congratulating me on my first win – the Nickens clan sent me one, as did Alan Ellis.
Last year at a race in Belle Rose, La., Clack and Neff met and struck up a conversation. Neff’s line was, “I’ve got this engine I’m working on,” and Clack replied, “I’ve been building this car for a while,” and it went on. They debuted their collaboration this fall at the US Nationals in Indianapolis before taking them to St. Louis for the NHRA Midwest Nationals, throwing down a stunning 6.545-second pass at 215.34 mph. According to drag racing historian Bret Kepner, the incredible run was the fastest elapsed time in class history at one-hundredth of a second and faster than any previous speed at over six miles per hour.
Neff shared that Clack will soon be even closer as he has sold his gear business in Louisiana and is relocating to Colorado where he owns a large marina.
“It’ll be cool to have Harry and his wife here in a few hours,” Neff said. “It was a really good relationship; we get along well and have the same drive. I never stopped working on stuff and neither did he.”
Neff is also keen to expand his daughter Cali’s burgeoning potential behind the wheel. After the death of his best friend, Comp Eliminator veteran Kevin Self, Neff took over the line-six engine program for Cali’s dragsters.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my best friend,” Neff said. “Not a lot of people know I’m doing this deal, but I got really close with his son, and we were able to put it together. [Kevin] and I was already planning to do it and it will look quite similar to his modified one but with an updated look.
Cali’s first full season will come in 2023 after completing the points meet in Denver, the Topeka National and the Divisional race in Las Vegas last year. The former Jr. dragster fighter came to her father last year to ask him to explain all the intricacies of the class, and in Las Vegas she delivered a good run with a near-perfect reaction time to world title contender Adam Hickey.
“She got him to work for it and I thought that was cool,” he said. “I think she started to admire the class even more that day. On our way out of town, I walked into his pit area and said, ‘Hey, good job today.’ I went over and spoke to Craig Bourgeois and [Hickey] went to the truck, stuck his head in it and said to Cali, “You did a really good job today. I look forward to more races with you.”
In 2023, Neff plans to compete in Division 4 Comp racing with his daughter at the wheel, and he also has a plan for a second car — but he doesn’t intend to be the one driving it. The second driver has yet to be named.
“It’s just so hard for me,” he said. “I like being on the starting line with her all the time and I know she feels more comfortable that way. However, Cali wants me to race and I will run whenever we have time. Harry pulls a February, and he’s the type to say, hey, you own half of it — just go race it. But this is our deal together, and it was a pretty big deal for both of us. I don’t wanna do it without him The plan is to race the Winternationals with this car and then go from there.
Neff plans to race Chicago to show appreciation for the newly opened facility and he also has the Brainerd National on his schedule as it is his wife Jaime’s home track and one he and father have previously been successful at .
“If I catch up a bit here and there, that’s fine,” Neff said. “By next year Harry will be settled in at the marina and by then we’ll have a spare engine for the car. Right now I’m just having so much fun driving the Cali and Brady being the pit man. I don’t know if they’re going to continue this, but I just tell them, ‘Hey, you gotta do what your heart is for.’ ”