TJ Speed Motorsports is one of several new teams competing in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires this season, but the organization is bringing a level of experience few teams can match with team owner Tim Neff.
Neff is among the most veteran engineers in the industry, having spent many years with Sam Schmidt Motorsports as an engineer and as a partner in the organization. Together, they won many races and three Indy Lights championships in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Most recently, Neff was an engineer with Indy Lights teams Belardi Auto Racing and Juncos Racing.
His decades-long work has paired him with drivers such as Jacques Villeneuve, Townsend Bell, Alex Lloyd, Richie Hearn, Jay Howard, Mark Blundell, James Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly. Heff was an engineer for Daly at the Indianapolis 500 in 2015 in his on-and-off NTT INDYCAR SERIES career.
But at the end of the 2020 season, an interesting opportunity found its way to Neff. Belardi Auto Racing announced it was closing its doors. Neff saw this as an opportunity to re-enter the ownership side of INDYCAR, something he missed.
“I’ve worked in Indy Lights for a long time, as well as in INDYCAR, but with the opportunity being there when Belardi was selling his stuff, I just thought it was a good time,” Neff said. “That’s how it kind of worked out. Some days I question why I’m doing it.”
The day-to-day stress of operating a race team might be too much to bear at times, but Neff has already proven he can build a successful team right out of the gate. While he purchased Belardi Auto Racing equipment, he felt it was too late to enter Indy Lights for the 2021 season. So, he focused his efforts on Formula Regional Americas Championship powered by Honda.
With young driver Kyffin Simpson, the duo opened the season by winning five of the first six races, at Road Atlanta and Road America. They capped the season by winning the last two races at Circuit of The Americas for seven wins on the season. Simpson won the FR Americas title by 96 points for TJ Speed Motorsports.
Now with a year of running a team under his belt, Australian Neff is ready to take on Indy Lights. He thinks he has assembled a team that can replicate the results of their 2021 FR Americas form.
“I’m optimistic that we can do a good job,” Neff said. “We’re a new team, but everybody that’s here has a lot of experience. A lot of mechanics and our crew chief are extremely experienced in Indy Lights. I have another engineer that works with us from Europe who is very, very experienced in F2 and F3. For a new team, we have a lot of experience.”
Neff is bringing Simpson with him from FR Americas to Indy Lights this season, as well. He feels that for 17-year-old Simpson’s growth, it’s a natural progression through the open-wheel ranks. But he also believes Simpson is an extremely talented driver who will yield big results for TJ Speed Motorsports.
Neff said he expects 2022 to be a very competitive year for Indy Lights, but his goal is to finish in the top five in the championship with Simpson behind the wheel.
“We’re putting in every effort to win the championship, but I’m also realistic,” Neff said. “Kyffin is young, and (2022) is really only his third year driving cars. We’ll just see. No pressure.
“The way I always am is always no pressure. We just go out. If we’ve got a smile on our face and we’re having a good time, then we’re going to be successful. That’s kind of where it’s at.”
The ownership side of TJ Speed Motorsports is just another step in what has been a wide-ranging professional career for Neff, whose success goes beyond auto racing. In addition to his championships with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in Indy Lights, Neff is a three-time world champion jet ski racer.
And not only has he worked with Daly in the Indianapolis 500, but he raced jet skis against Daly’s mother, Beth Boles, and has worked with Daly’s brother, Christian, who is also a jet ski world champion.
“It’s different for me, but I’m excited about it,” Neff said. “Who knows where it’s going to lead, you know? It’s just exciting. We’ll see how it all works out.”