SONOMA, CA – Heading into the 23rd annual FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals 2009 Funny Car world champion Robert Hight is looking at the next three races as his personal countdown before the official NHRA Countdown to 1. Following this weekend’s race in Sonoma, his Auto Club Ford Mustang team will head to Denver and then in mid-August the final race of the regular season will be contested in Brainerd, Minnesota. Hight is 41 points out of first place, considering the qualifying bonus points system that equates to two rounds of racing.
“Qualifying will be very important the next three races if you want to get that top spot going into the Countdown. I don’t think you can make up a whole round of racing over the next three races but you could come pretty close. Our goal this entire season has focused on being No. 1 going into the Countdown and starting the last six races with a 30 point cushion,” said the 2008 FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals winner.
What a difference a year makes when you consider that in 2009 Hight was practically mired in 12th place in the point standing. Entering Sonoma it was the 8th consecutive race he was in 12th place and he would not move into the top ten until the last race of the regular season in Indianapolis. His attitude then was to just get into the top ten and then help his teammates as best he could in their bid for the Full Throttle championship.
“Last year we were struggling. We thought we might have turned the corner in Sonoma racing to the semi-finals but we didn’t really get any help in the point standings. It seemed like everyone we needed to get around also went rounds. We came into Sonoma in 12th place and left in 12th place. We had high hopes for Brainerd and then didn’t qualify. John switched the teams around and that was a wake-up call. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) and my guys got it fixed but I don’t want to go through that pressure again,” said Hight.
“I never lost faith in Jimmy, my guys or John. The whole time last year we were in our situation together. We battled through the hard times as a team and came out on the other side stronger I think.”
This year a sluggish start did not bother Hight too much and in May he got on his best performance roll as a professional driver winning three races in a row for the first time in his career (St. Louis, Atlanta, and Topeka) and coming within a round win of becoming just the fifth driver to win four or more races in a row.
“May was a great month for this Auto Club Ford Mustang team. I think we can get on a roll like that again. In Englishtown we made a few changes with our clutches and have been working through some growing pains. We have an inventory in our Brownsburg shop outside of Indianapolis of the stuff we were running when we won fifteen straight rounds and were qualifying consistently in the top three. The key is learning a much as we can and helping all our JFR Fords,” said Hight.
“John Force has really built a great team where we are One Ford. We race together on Friday and Saturday in qualifying and then on Sunday it is anyone’s race. To have that kind of support is incredible. That helped us last year and I think it will help us this year as well. We are battling John for that top spot and I am not counting out Ashley,” said Hight.
Team leader and 14-time Funny Car champ John Force has four wins in six final rounds this season, the points lead and a swagger that many observers have not seen since the late 90’s. He is the only Funny Car driver to have clinched a spot in the Countdown. Hight could clinch in Sonoma by qualifying his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Ashley Force Hood is solidly in position to make the Countdown but will have to wait until possibly Denver and for sure Brainerd to get the official word.
Still the battle between Force and Hight for the top spot in the points coming down the home stretch is just the kind of drama the NHRA wanted when it created the Countdown concept.
“Last year was a magical year for us. This year we wanted to come out and dominate all season to win our second championship. We have dominated in sections and are in second place in points behind the most dominant Funny Car driver ever. That is the position you want to be in. Every driver out here gets pumped up to race John Force and to beat John Force. I honestly have a hard time doing that sometimes because without him I would not be driving this Auto Club Mustang,” said Hight.
“Force tells me all the time you have to have the eye of the tiger. He has it and he never lost it. He used that passion to get himself back in shape after his Dallas accident for sure. He has a great race car and it will be a great battle for that top spot.”
In addition to racing for the top spot in Sonoma Hight will also be going back to the track that was the starting point for his motorsports career. It is a career that has lead to the pinnacle of Funny Car racing, Full Throttle Funny Car world champion. Hight has never missed a FRAM/Autolite Nationals and in the beginning he was just a spectator with a dream.
"Sonoma is the first place I ever got to see a national event. It was the closest race track to where I grew up and it was still a long ways away, over six hours. I have been to every FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals. That was my summer trip when I was in college in Sacramento and that is what I would do is go watch the drag races. I looked forward to that race all year," said the Alturas, California native.
"I don't really look at going into (Sonoma) with any different idea of how to race the track. The biggest thing is after Sonoma you only have two more races before the cut-off for the Countdown. For my Auto Club team we want to be No. 1 going into the Countdown so having success at Sonoma is key. You want to be as high in the points as possible because you get the bonus points for being in that No. 1 spot. With as tough as the competition is those extra points can mean the difference for the championship. If you get that No. 1 spot and then can hold your own in the Countdown you can be in good shape for the championship."