It’s no secret the significance each driver and team on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit places on the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the world’s most prestigious drag race.
It has led to historic performances and some of the most memorable moments in NHRA history. For John Force Racing and Funny Car standout Robert Hight, it has led to a remarkable recent run that includes six straight victories at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
Hight and his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Ford Mustang has played a big part in that, as his victory at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis a year ago kept JFR’s impressive streak going. Hight, the 2009 Funny Car world champion, will try to push it to seven at this weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, where he will also be seeking his fourth victory at the sport’s biggest event.
“I think it is pretty impressive but winning Indy isn’t anything we take for granted,” Hight said. “It is just a special race on so many levels so to know that John Force Racing has had so much success there the past few years is a great source of pride. You have to focus a lot more during Indy and that might help I guess. You are going all day as soon as you get to the track because there are lots of press conferences and more meet and greets. The fans are great too so you want to make sure they have a special experience.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and John Hall (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on ESPN2. More than 1,000 competitors in 12 different categories will try to put their name in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals rich history book. It also marks the 18th of 24 events during the 2014 season and the final race of the regular season.
Since 2008, every Funny Car victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has featured either Hight, Mike Neff, who now serves as Hight’s crew chief, or Ashley Force Hood. Neff and Hood each have two wins in Indy, while Hight’s three wins include the victory in 2008 that started the impressive streak for the team.
Hight’s first victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals came in 2006, giving JFR seven Indy wins in eight years, and it remains a moment he will never forget.
“I have won Indy three times and each time was special,” Hight said. “I remember the first time I won in 2006 and I think it just gives you confidence that you belong. It does put more pressure on you since you want to win again. Last year was a great win and it really made our season along with the win to start the Countdown. The Indy winner’s circle is a special place and I want to get there again.”
Hight’s victory a year ago had a definite flair for the dramatic. Needing a strong performance to clinch his spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Hight left no doubt with the victory, knocking off Jack Beckman, who won the Traxxas Shootout earlier in weekend, in the final round.
It gave Hight huge momentum for the Countdown and he followed through by winning in Charlotte to kick off the playoffs. He got as high as third in the points standings during a thrilling championship run and there’s no doubt performing well under pressure at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals paid dividends.
“You really have to stay focused during Indy,” Hight said. “There are a lot of distractions and I mean that in a good way. There is more media and there are more press conference and fan events. In some ways it helps because when you get in your race car you can really shut everything else out and focus. I try and make every run down the track count.”
Hight will enter the weekend in the spotlight as one of the premier drivers in Funny Car, but that pressure to get into the Countdown is far removed. Hight is currently second in the standings, trailing John Force by 18 points, and has had a banner season, winning five races.
The competition level will be high and includes challengers Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon, Del Worsham, Alexis DeJoria, Tim Wilkerson and Tommy Johnson Jr. Hight, though, is more concerned with getting his performance on track heading into the Countdown after first-round losses at two of the past three events.
“We have been working on a couple of things and we haven’t been too far off the pace,” Hight said. “I think we are right where we want to be. We will either be No. 1 or No. 2 going into the Countdown and I would love to have that 20-point cushion as the No. 1 driver. I know this Auto Club team will pull together and we will be ready for Indy and for the Countdown.”
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 29. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Aug. 31 at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 1.
The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be contested Saturday, Aug. 30 with rounds at 4 p.m., 5:25 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car takes place on Sunday, Aug. 31 for the eight qualified drivers, with rounds at 12:30 p.m., 1:55 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.
ESPN2 will televise more than 11 hours of coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Five hours of qualifying coverage and coverage of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will air on ESPN2 at 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (ET) and 5-7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31. Monday’s (Sept. 1) eliminations for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be featured in six hours of coverage starting at noon (ET).
To purchase tickets for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, fans can contact NHRA’s Ticket Sales Center at 800-884-NHRA (6472), or get their tickets online at www.NHRATIX.com.