After a brilliant stretch that included wins and broken records, Robert Hight isn’t going to let one hiccup get him down. A second-round loss in Reading on Sunday bounced Hight from the Funny Car points lead in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, but recent history indicates the former world champion will bounce back in impressive fashion.
It could happen at this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, where Hight is after a second playoff win in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS. With three wins in his last seven races and several incredible runs taking place in that span, Hight, eight points behind leader Ron Capps, is confident about his chances.
“It’s a lot of pressure, because you’ve got a great race car and you don’t want to screw it up,” Hight said. “You’ve got to go up there and make perfect runs. You want to win a championship? That’s what you’ve got to do. We are all up to the task. It’s pretty cool when (crew chief) Jimmy Prock can up there and tell you within a hundredth or two what the thing’s going to run. That’s not easy to do, especially when you’re trying to run that hard. If you’re being conservative, that’s one thing to go up there and be consistent. But to do it and be quick, it’s an art.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 1. As the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ six-race playoffs hits the halfway mark in St. Louis, Hight will be looking to make a big impression on a track that is expected to be fast.
That’s great news for Hight, who has recent wins in Denver, Seattle and Charlotte, setting world records in E.T. (3.793) and speed (339.87 mph). He set track records last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway (3.844 at 339.02 mph), but lost in the second round to hand the points lead back to eventual race winner Capps, the defending world champ. Hight is set on impressing the St. Louis crowd with fantastic runs under the lights on Friday, but also performing well on Sunday.
“Can’t wait to get to St. Louis,” said Hight, who has 40 career wins. “The weather forecast looks great long-range. That’s a place you could see 340 mph. It’s a great racing surface and I love the fans there. It wouldn’t hurt to do it at a AAA event. I think we can do it. I’m excited about St. Louis.”
Sterling performances aside, Hight knows it doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t go rounds during eliminations. John Force Racing teammate Courtney Force sits just 39 points back of Capps, while Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman are 90 and 100 points back, respectively, meaning the run to a championship is just heating up. That’s fine for Hight, a 2010 winner in St. Louis, who believes there are plenty more great runs left in his Camaro in 2017.
“We made it a little interesting with everyone bunching up in the points,” Hight said. “We had a really good opportunity to pull ahead, but no one said this was going to be easy. The way I look at it is when our car goes down the track there isn’t anybody in our league. We just have to do our job, get some more bonus points in St. Louis, try to get a win and we’ll be right back on top.”
Steve Torrence jumped back into the points lead in Top Fuel, but will try to hold off the hard-charging Doug Kalitta, who won in Charlotte, and Reading winner Brittany Force.
Laughlin played spoiler a year ago in Pro Stock, winning his first career race, and will look to do the same in 2017 against the likes of points leader Bo Butner, Greg Anderson and rookie Tanner Gray.
Savoie’s march to his first Pro Stock Motorcycle world title started in St. Louis, and he’ll look to repeat facing off with LE Tonglet and Eddie Krawiec, the points leader who has three straight wins.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 855-RACE-TIK (722-3845). Tickets also are available online at www.gatewaymsp.com. Kids 12-under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.