Robert Hight: "Who would have thought you'd ever see Funny Cars separated by inches at the finish line"
Robert Hight loves driving his Auto Club Chevy Camaro Funny Car in part because of its incredible elapsed times and high speeds. The jaw-dropping numbers have been self-evident since he worked as a crew member on John Force's team many years ago; but something that has impressed Hight, the defending 2019 Funny Car world champion, is how close the racing has become.
"Who would have ever thought you'd see cars running 330-mph and separated by inches at the finish line? That could have been the difference at the starting line, too," said Hight. "Back when I worked on John's car as a mechanic, we always looked at how close Pro Stock racing was -- and we're there now in Funny car and Top Fuel racing."
The average margin of victory in close races in Funny Car (races decided by less than a second at the finish line) was .197 in 2019. That's .05-second closer than Top Fuel and within a tenth of Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which is staggering given the unpredictable nature of nitro racing.
Hight averaged an elapsed time of 3.933-seconds in 2019, three-hundredths of a second quicker than the class average. He posted a Success Rate of 63.5-percent, helping him get to his third world championship while averaging a speed of 325.63-mph.
"NHRA has done a great job of creating parity, but it's also nice to dream and think of what's going to get you the next national record," said Hight. "If we had two or three-hundredths of an advantage this year, okay, well, how do we get two-hundredths more next year? That's a big gain and you leave it up to your crew chiefs and, you know, they make small changes here and there and hopefully we get there.
"That's what this sport is all about -- it's working hard to get better than everybody else. Be quicker, be faster, and that doesn't just happen by luck or stumbling onto something. It's hard work and science and a lot of effort."
The Auto Club team spent time over the offseason working on its biggest deficiency in 2018: Consistency. Hight improved his Success Rate from 58.3 percent in 2018 to 65.3 percent in 2019, a substantial improvement that followed the general trend of the category. He also got quicker, going from 3.97-seconds on average to the 3.933-second elapsed time average mentioned above. That combination made his Camaro lethal on Sundays -- and there's room to improve in 2020.
Hight drove the fifth-most consistent car (measured by Success Rate) in 2019, giving crew chief Jimmy Prock something to shoot for in the team's title-defense season. Hight has never won back-to-back titles, and there has not been a back-to-back Funny Car world champion since John Force won two-straight seasons in a row in 2001-02. The Auto Club team will be the favorite in February in a class loaded with talent because of its trademark speed; we'll have to wait and see what other tricks they'll bring to the track.