Hight has big Western Swing goals heading to Sonoma
Friday, July 25, 2014

After an impressive winning streak early in the season, Robert Hight wanted to make sure he avoided repeating history. A win last weekend in Denver assured the Funny Car standout that would not be the case, leaving Hight now focused on unleashing another hot streak.

Hight’s dominant four-race winning streak in early 2012 in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series was followed by a 35-race winless streak, something the Funny Car points leader wanted to avoid after another hot stretch opened his 2014 campaign and included three straight wins in a run of six consecutive final-round appearances.

A spectacular performance in Denver erased those thoughts, giving Hight every reason to believe he can turn in another strong showing in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Ford Mustang during the second race of the three-week NHRA Western Swing at this weekend’s 27th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.

“We were doing well, and we just had some bad luck here and there,” Hight said. “It’s good to be back. I know back in 2012, we won four races in a row at the beginning of the season, and it took another year to get a win. Trust me, that was crossing my mind. If you look around, it’s not that easy to win in this Funny Car class. There are a lot of good cars out there.”

Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is the 15th of 24 races during the 2014 season and always serves as an important race for Hight, who grew up racing at the track.

He earned his lone Sonoma Funny Car win in 2008 but will be among the handful of favorites at this weekend’s event. Hight was seemingly dominant on nearly every run in Denver, paving the way for his own high hopes on the Western Swing.

Only Hight’s teammate and reigning world champion John Force has swept the Western Swing in Funny Car, but Hight is fully confident of what his talented team, led by crew chief Mike Neff, can do in Sonoma.

“We work well as a team, and we work well together,” Hight said. “I just hope both of our teams get on a roll here. We have some unfinished business, and we want to win this Western Swing.”

But in the next breath, Hight talks about heeding the approach Neff has brought to the team since he became Hight’s crew chief a year ago.

“Mike Neff just races one round at a time, and that’s how we look at it,” Hight said. “Usually, that pays off with a lot of round-wins. Nothing would mean more to me than to go to Sonoma and get a win. That’s my home track, and it’s where I grew up.”

The Hight-Neff combination has been thoroughly impressive in the past year, winning six times, including at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in 2013, which snapped that 35-race win drought. Four of those wins have come this season, and Hight has opened up a commanding points lead, becoming the first Funny Car driver to qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.

Winning the NHRA Sonoma Nationals will be no easy feat against a talented Funny Car class that includes Capps; seven-time Sonoma winner Force; Cruz Pedregon, who has two wins at the Northern California track; two-time Sonoma winner Tim Wilkerson; Courtney Force; Del Worsham; Alexis DeJoria; Matt Hagan; and Tommy Johnson Jr.

Hight, though, quickly found his groove in a new car that his John Force Racing team debuted last weekend in Denver and plans to dial it in even more at Sonoma Raceway.

“We want to make sure it’s ready for the Countdown,” Hight said. “If they wouldn’t have told me it was a new car, I wouldn’t have known. Usually, new cars drive me crazy because there is different stuff in them. These guys on this team are so good, they put it together perfectly. This car and this whole team is about perfection, and we want to show it.”

Sonoma Raceway will also host the MiraMonte Records NHRA Pro Bike Battle, a specialty bonus event in Pro Stock Motorcycle. The event will take place Saturday, July 26, and feature eight riders vying for the top prize.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds and enjoy cherished face time with and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.

Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.

The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 25, with sessions at 4:15 and 6:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 26, at 12:55 and 3:20 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, July 27. The MiraMonte Records NHRA Pro Bike Battle will occur Saturday, July 26, with rounds at 12:45, 3:15, and 4:40 p.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Sonoma Raceway, 800-870-RACE (7223), or visit www.racesonoma.com/tickets. Kids 12 and younger will be admitted free on the final day of qualifying, Saturday, July 26.