Funny Car fan-favorite Jeff “the Surfer” Diehl will be back to riding the big waves of Funny Car competition at the Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals, his first outing since the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in April, where he reached the semifinals.
It’s been a bit of a star-crossed season for the Californian and wife Leeza, beginning with a short-lived stint with Jim Campbell as their driver in Phoenix at an event where everything went wrong, and they never got a good run on their new parts.
Diehl reclaimed the seat at the NHRA Winternationals, but new-parts blues relegated him to the DNQ list. Then, in Las Vegas, he ran a career-best 4.003 and finished second in his first-round quad and almost duplicated the feat in the semifinals but dropped cylinder and slid to third.
“Obviously, Phoenix was a real bummer, and then in Pomona we had some issues with all this technology we put on over the winter, and we're trying to figure it out, you know,” he said. “We just had to tickle some stuff, and you saw what happened in Vegas. We’ve made a lot of 4.0 runs over the last few years but still haven’t got that first three, but we were close. For some reason, that's a monkey on my back, but as soon as we get it off our back, we'll be running threes all the time.”
Diehl and crew chief Tony Shortall are debuting a new look this weekend at Pacific Raceways, with hot-rodding icon So-Cal Speed Shops large on the flank as they try to expand their relationship.
“A friend of mine made the connection for us with So-Cal, and it was the perfect connection. Those guys are into surfing and cars. They're the same kind of boys that I've always hung out with, so it just it was easy for us to get together. We're just trying to figure out how to make it work for both of us and bring back the So-Cal name in a big [way].
“We’re working on ways to generate money through advertising, and we have a bunch of irons in the fire, and hopefully, we'll get the proper money to run this thing the right way because that's where I'm at. I'm at my last steppingstone. I've done every personal thing that you can do on what we've had.
“Before, we used to go out, we're just happy to qualify, basically. Honestly, I was just happy to make it to the races, just with the logistics and the money and all that. Now, it's to the point where, ‘OK, we've been doing this long enough.' We know what we need to do, and it’s about money to have the parts and pieces in place.
“I want to run this thing. You put the effort out and things start to go the way you want them to go, and you realize, 'Wow, I can do this.' It's just finding the funds, so we're just working on a bunch of different stuff trying to do that, just trying to up the game. We want to play."
Diehl has never been to an NHRA final round, but he did reach the semifinals in Seattle in 2016, where he recorded his then-best of 4.02. He’s hoping to have another great weekend like that and finally get into the threes.
In addition to So-Cal, the Diehls also enjoy the support of a laundry list of backers, including Borrmann's Steel Co., Red Line Oil, So-Cal Speed Shop of Upland, Calif., Nitro*A*gogo!, CP Carrillo, Excel Drywall, Central Valley Auto Haus, Shirt Lizard, ARP, BR Motorsports, Spell Paving, Nitro Barry, Woody's Custom Headers, JS Solutions, The Real Deal Pepper Sauce, Thalia Surf Shop, and Shorty's Oil Pans, as well as new sponsors Top Fuel Records and Wildwood Express.
Diehl hopes that a successful weekend in Seattle will propel him through the other races on his schedule, which includes Sonoma, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Pomona for the season finale.
As part of his Dallas outing, he’ll face off again with Scott Palmer’s Top Fueler as part of the week-long Stampede of Speed that precedes the event and, of course, hope to get in some more surfing when he’s not racing or working on the business of being an independent Funny Car team owner.
“In between all this, I did go surfing in Hawaii a couple of times,” he said. “I have a big-wave surfer friend that lives over there, and we're building a tiny house on his property.
“There's hundreds of places to surf over there, but I don’t go to places like [the Banzai] Pipeline. There’s always, like, 75 professional surfers out there, so I'd be surfing against 75 John Forces, and that's not any more fun than it is to race against him at the drags.”