Over the last several years, nitro Funny Car driver Jeff Arend has found a niche competing on a limited schedule in the NHRA Mello Yello Series – and he also has served as a fill-in driver.
Arend’s next assignment will be substituting in for Jonnie Lindberg, the primary driver for Jim Head, at the Route 66 Nationals May 30-June 2 in Chicago. Lindberg is missing the event to return to his native Sweden as he pursues U.S. citizenship.
“I was at the NHRA Heritage race in Boise a few weeks ago driving the California Hustler car and my phone started ringing and it was Jim Head,” Arend said. “I know Jim and we started talking and he asked what was going on and then he asked me if I would be interested in driving his Funny Car at Chicago and I said sure. I thought it would be a lot of fun. I’ve known Jim a long time and they have a lot of really good people over there. I used to work with Marc Denner who was the co-crew chief on Del Worsham’s blue CSK Funny Car that I drove in 2007. Actually, I know quite a few of the guys on (Head’s team) so it should be a fun deal.”
Arend said this is just a one-race deal. Since 2016, Arend has driven a limited schedule in the nitro Funny Car owned by Peter and Helen Russo. He competed at three races in 2018, for the Russo’s including the last two of the season at Las Vegas and Pomona where he qualified at both with a 4.11 ET.
Lindberg had his best performance of the season at NHRA Virginia Nationals, May 17-19. He beat Blake Alexander and John Force before losing in the semifinals to J.R. Todd.
“That car is definitely capable of going in the 3.80s and the low 3.90s for sure, if the conditions are right,” Arend said.
Arend, who has won four career NHRA national events, served as a substitute driver for Kalitta Motorsports driver Alexis DeJoria at the 2016 season-ending Auto Club Finals in November in Pomona, Calif. DeJoria was sidelined because of a concussion.
Arend clocked a personal-best 3.930-second time at 317.19 mph during the event. Arend upset Matt Hagan in the first round before losing in round two to Courtney Force. Arend clocked a 3.979-second elapsed time against Force with a career-best 323.97 mph.
“I don’t know if there’s any real way you can prepare yourself mentally for this (being a substitute driver),” Arend said. “In a perfect world, you would have been driving all year and then you would hop into this car for a test session and everything would be good, but generally speaking that’s not the way things normally happen. So, you get a phone call like this and you weigh everything, and they are good people with nice equipment, and I have had some great history at Route 66, so it will be fun to go up there and mix it up with the boys. You want to qualify and win the race, but realistically you just need to take everything as it happens.”
In the Nostalgia ranks this season, Arend has competed in two events – the March Meet in Bakersfield and in Boise, Idaho where he qualified number one.
“No doubt driving a Nostalgia car keeps a little bit of the rust off, but when you look at how the two cars react once you hit the throttle, even though our Nostalgia car is one of the fastest ones, the big show car in NHRA is just so much quicker and faster,” Arend said. “If you run 260 mph in the quarter mile in a Nostalgia car, you are a bad hombre and we are going to go like 270 to 280mph in half that distance (in the big show car). You have to prepare yourself mentally to be on your game when you hit the throttle.”
Arend said his plans for the rest of the season are to go to three or four more Heritage Series races and then race in NHRA’s Mello Yello Series in Dallas (Oct. 17-20), Las Vegas (Oct. 31-Nov. 3) and Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 14-17) in the Funny car owned by the Russo family.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019