Robert Hight returns at Gainesville Raceway as the defending Funny Car champion of this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. But not much else will be the same for the 2009 Funny Car world champion at the race, at least when compared to last season.
Hight and his teammate John Force, the legendary 16-time world champion, have swapped teams with the changes effective for this weekend’s race in Gainesville. Hight will once again be paired with famed crew chief Jimmy Prock, reuniting a tandem that was successful for a number of years at John Force Racing. So while Hight and his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS will have plenty of changes ahead of the Gatornationals, he appears perfectly fine with the move.
“Jimmy and I — I think I was with him for nine seasons — we were best friends,” Hight said. “There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t talk about the race car and what we were going to do, and it was a lot of fun. He really included me in things, and I’m excited to be back with him. I was really excited when we got him over the winter, got him back in here, because I knew he was going to make all of our teams stronger. When I called the Auto Club and told them we had made the swap, their words were, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool. It’s a reunion.’”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals coverage on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET). After a slow start at the first two races of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Hight hopes the move also provides a quick way to get his season on track at NHRA’s traditional East Coast opener.
Hight has had strong recent success at historic Gainesville Raceway, winning three times since 2012. That bodes well for 2017, even with any transition period the changes may provide against a loaded Funny Car field.
“Going into a race as the defending champion always gives you a little bit of confidence because you’ve won before,” said Hight, who has 37 career wins. “A lot of race tracks — if you haven’t done well — it’s all mental. We’re going in with kind of a new team and changes at John Force Racing. I think change is always good. So I think that’s what we’re going to do at John Force Racing, and looking to go there and defend this title.”
Doing so will require yeoman’s work against a field currently led by Matt Hagan, who has posted back-to-back victories to start 2017. Others to watch in the star-studded field include defending world champion Ron Capps, seven-time Gainesville winner Force, and Courtney Force. Hight also knows there’s no time to waste in getting his season going. He is focused on performing at a high level at Gainesville, no matter who is calling the shots for his team.
“Everybody at John Force Racing, we build our own stuff, so the cars are basically the same,” said Hight, who is currently 10th in Funny Car points. “The setups are different, and how the crew chief tunes it and runs it, but I’m just going to have to do my job — leave on time and keep it in the groove and hopefully do that four times on Sunday.”
Brittany Force’s first Top Fuel win last year gave John Force Racing its first double-up weekend in team history. But Force will have to deal with Leah Pritchett, who has won the first two races of 2017, back-to-back world champ Antron Brown, and eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 and 4:15 p.m. on Friday, March 17 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 18 at noon and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 19.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.