It was sort of a back-to-the-future scenario for Toronto-native Fuel Funny Car driver Jeff Arend during the recent NHRA season opening event held at Pomona….
At that race, as a consequence of some off-season developments, the talented Canadian driver was behind the wheel for a different Funny Car team. Instead of wheeling the Jim Dunn Racing Dodge Charger as he had for the past couple years – Jeff was at the controls for the Steve Pleuger Racing Chevrolet.
For Arend that assignment is for sure a bit of a return to his Funny Car racing roots. Compared to his more corporate rides in recent season’s Pleuger’s California-based independent team is a much closer resemblance to that of Paul Smith’s team of the mid 1990’s where Jeff first got his FC license and NHRA event starts.
“Because of some sponsorship contractions I found out that I would not be driving for Jim Dunn Racing,” Arend explained. “It was a amicable decision. When their major sponsor Grime Boss pulled back their funding Jim Dunn’s team needed to adjust for that and find driver that could bring funding with him – and that was John Hale. That’s a norm in this class today because renting a FC ride can cost between $30-50,000 per event.”
“Soon after however, I got a call from Steve Plueger who wanted me to drive his car at Pomona,” Jeff continued. “I took some time to think about it — but after I took my family on vacation (to St. Maarten) I agreed and went and got fitted in the car. We went to Pomona without any testing before the event.”
At the Circle K Winternationals, the team’s first outing together — there were mixed results. Ultimately Jeff did qualify for eliminations (#15) but also had a couple fiery incidents, the most serious of which came during his round one loss to Tommy Johnson Jr. Thankfully in neither incident there was no injury and damage to the car was relatively confined.
But despite that somewhat staggered start, Jeff was still very optimistic about both the team effort and also what the future may hold.
“First of all Steve Plueger builds excellent premium race cars — all of the John Force Funny Cars are his chassis designs,” Jeff clarified. “They have the making of a great team. Even though they are independents, they run a lot of first class components and technology that was developed at JFR (by Jimmy Prock) and they have even brought in Danny DeGennaro (also from JFR) who is an excellent tuner.”
“We did have some decent short times at the race – but were plagued with some motor sealing problems,” he explained. “For some reason it was dumping boost into the crankcase and that pressure was blowing seals out – which causes atomizing and fire. So that and a couple of other little things held us back. Even though Danny has a lot of experience coming from John Force racing — this car it a totally different animal and it takes a while to get it all set up right.”
For Arend — he is embracing the new opportunity and is looking to the future.
“I’ve been lucky to drive from some real drag racing legends like Paul Smith, Connie Kalitta and Jim Dunn in my career,” he added. “Now coming over to drive for another legend like Steve Pleuger is good for my resume and I’m up for the challenge.”
Team funding will for sure limit Jeff Arend’s driving appearances this 2015 NHRA Mello Yello season compared to the full tours he participated in recent years. But instead the team is focused on making some quality starts at select West Coast events which will likely include appearances at Las Vegas, Sonoma, Seattle, and then the Pomona Finals in November.
Photos and Posting by: Bruce Biegler