It is good to be on top. Robert Hight knows this firsthand, and he finds himself on top of the mountain as NHRA heads to Bristol Dragway for the June 15-17 Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers.
The 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car champion heads to Thunder Valley as the defending event champion and the points leader. After a stellar start to the season, Hight looks to add another Bristol win to his already-impressive resume.
“We are having a good year,” Hight said. “We come in leading the points, but we still have to step it up a notch and try to defend this win from last year. We’ll try to get qualified well on Friday and use one of Saturday’s runs to experiment. You always have to be working. We are lucky to have enough stuff in our shop that we are able to constantly look for more.”
While he always considered Bristol one of NHRA’s premier facilities, his win at the historic track in 2011 only added to his love of Thunder Valley.
“It is always good to come to this racetrack,” the Yorba Linda, Calif., resident said. “Every track we go to has its own uniqueness. Thunder Valley gets its name for a reason. You come here, and two Top Fuel or Funny Cars go down the track, and you hear that echo in the valley -- there is nothing like it. For a fan, what you get to experience is unbelievable here in Thunder Valley. It is completely different than anywhere we go.”
One driver who hopes to put an end to Hight’s 2012 domination is last season’s Funny Car champion and local favorite Matt Hagan. The Christiansburg, Va., resident has yet to win at his home track but hopes to bring home the Wally this season.
“I am excited,” Hagan said. “The first drag race I ever came to was here at Bristol. One of my buddies scooped me up and brought me. I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m excited to be back here. We’re going to have a home crowd, and I just want to put on a good show. This is a Bruton Smith-owned track, so I know we can go out and put up some good numbers. I can’t wait to get out here and have some fun in Bristol.”
Hagan is having an uncharacteristic season, struggling outside the top 10 in points. However, his performance at NHRA’s last event in Englishtown has him optimistic about his return to Bristol.
“We are looking to turn the corner here in Bristol,” he said. “We were the fastest we have been all year last weekend. We have been struggling. Now that we have a little momentum, I want to come in to Bristol and put on a good show for my family and the fans.
“We want to do well and entertain, but we still have to beat guys like Robert to defend our title. We have to get ourselves in the Countdown. Robert has been showing the way, and we just have to step up.”
Another driver ready to turn his fortunes around in Thunder Valley is veteran competitor Brandon Bernstein. Bernstein, a two-time winner in Bristol, joined Morgan Lucas Racing at the beginning of 2012 after driving for his father since 2003. He comes to the event with momentum, something he hopes to translate into a trip to the winner’s circle.
“It is great to be back in Bristol,” the Dallas native said. “We love this track. It has been great to my family and the whole racing community. The last three races, our car has shown a lot of promise and consistent racing. We have some great momentum. Hopefully, we can go out and qualify well and get some more round-wins.
“The last three races, we have had two semi finishes and a runner-up. We are there. We just need to get over the hump and get a win. The competition in Top Fuel is immense. We are all on top of each other, so you have to be perfect. It is amazing what the category has been like this year.”
Much like the fans who visit Thunder Valley for the exciting night qualifying round on Friday, Bernstein says even the drivers get amped up for the most unique experience in drag racing.
“We have qualified well a lot this year,” Bernstein began. “For the night session, you have to be on your game and get ready for that session. We call that the 'hero run' because you want to get qualified up in the field. It is hotter on Saturday, and it is harder to get these cars to hook up. You have to be on your game to run a good number to stay locked in to the top half of the field.”
Three-day-combo and single-day event tickets are available. For more information, log on to www.thundervalleytix.com or call 866-415-4158.