Robert Hight and his Cornwell Tools / AAA Chevrolet Funny Car team have worn full battle armor all season long. Between exhausting moments of test and grand glimmers of greatness, they've felt every high and every low. Now, Hight's branch of the John Force Racing team is positioned to make their best impression at the most important and biggest race of the regular season.
The 2022 season ended on a painfully disappointing note for Hight as he missed clinching a fourth world title by just three points, and he and his crew entered this new season with determination. After a modest Sunday at the season opener, they crossed the country to Phoenix and made amends with their first win of the year and a move to the top in the standings.
From there, though, their season became a bit disjointed, at least in terms of what the scorecard had to show. Back-to-back first-round losses were followed by a win in Charlotte at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, and a low qualifier award in Chicago came at the very next event. Another No. 1 and a semifinals performance in Bristol kept hope alive, but then there was another rash of mid-pack qualifying efforts and early exits as they worked and worked to hammer out what their race car wanted.
Topeka was bright, though, with another pole and another semifinals finish, and then, after winning the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on Saturday in Brainerd, Hight's spirits were truly buoyed.
"This is good," he said. "We've been chasing this all year, and we just haven't been able to seal the deal and get the job done. I do feel this Cornwell Tools Camaro has turned the corner, and we're getting to where we need to be."
The next day, Hight emphasized that point as he raced to the 99th final round of his career. His road to the final at Brainerd International Raceway was powerful as it included the quickest pass of the event, a 3.881, 330.88, in the first round. Ultimately, Hight's final-round offering in Brainerd came up just a little shy next to reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps, who claimed the win — and the points lead — with a 3.887 to his challenger's 3.900.
"We really wanted to get the job done, especially with [incoming points leader] Matt Hagan going out in the first round," said Hight, who remains third in the Funny Car standings, 138 points back from first and 117 away from second-place Hagan. "We knew it was going to take more to win in the finals, and I know Jimmy [Prock, crew chief] was shooting for better — but we're chipping away at it. We're close, and knowing that has me excited for the U.S. Nationals."
The prestigious Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals is an enormous event that spans six entire days and includes an intense trophy run in every professional and Sportsman category, as well as a generous offering of specialty and bonus events spotlighting both the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. Participating in the historic race matters deeply to those who respect the history of NHRA Drag Racing, and it holds magic and meaning for those who have been able to claim one of the coveted U.S. Nationals trophies.
Hight has accomplished the extraordinary and won the U.S. Nationals three times, and last year, he was runner-up to Capps. He also came one win light short of the Indy trophy in 2015, 2009, and 2005 – meaning he's reached the final round at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park an impressive seven times in his 18-year career. His most recent U.S. Nationals win was in 2013, and although there has been a 10-year stretch since that glorious day, Hight appears to be leaning into "peaking at the right time," as they say, and his Cornwell Tools / AAA Chevrolet is entering the event on an energetic surge.
"Our car is responding," he said. "Jimmy is seeing where it [just needs] little tweaks now, it's not wholesale changes every weekend. It's getting closer, our early numbers are picking up, and we've been working really hard at getting this thing where it needs to be for the biggest race of the year and the last six.
"It's been getting better every week, and what we're really doing is honing in and refining this combination. I feel we'll be ready, and we're in a good spot. It's not going to be easy — this is probably the toughest this Funny Car class has ever been — but Jimmy Prock, he lives this. He will have it figured out."