Robert Hight has been in this situation before and it’s one that never gets old. The Funny Car standout is competing at his home track, at his sponsor’s race with the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world title on the line, and it’s a moment where Hight has often thrived. With a possible third world title in reach, Hight hopes to again come through in the clutch at the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 14-17 at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
He’s been a near wire-to-wire points leader in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS this year, entering the final race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and 2019 NHRA season with a 46-point lead on Jack Beckman. Two other world title drivers – John Force and Matt Hagan – are also title threats to Hight, but this is a moment he has always reveled in throughout his championship career.
“This year, it’s a lot like 2017 and I’m going in as the leader,” said Hight, who won his second world title that year. “It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s exciting and I can’t wait. I want to get going and it doesn’t get better than a shot at winning a championship at your home track in front of your sponsors. This is what it’s all about and we’re not going to change how we race. We can’t go there and protect points. That’s not how we got here. We’ll go into Pomona swinging and be aggressive.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 17. It is the final event of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs the last of 24 races in a 2019 season that has arguably been Hight’s best ever from start to finish.
His year started with a victory in Pomona back in February and he hopes to end it there on what could be a Funny Car showdown for the ages. The points-and-a-half scenario is in play at the Auto Club NHRA Finals as well, which means Hight still needs to perform at a high level. Hagan is just 56 points out of first after back-to-back wins, while Force is 72 points off the lead. Hight, though, remains driven to win after falling just short of the title on the final day last year.
“I just believe losing the championship on the last day kind of motivated everybody,” said Hight, who has 51 career Funny Car wins. “We didn’t make a lot of crazy changes to the combination or the car. We really looked at how we lost last year and we really focused on those things. We raced smarter and worked on the things that give you consistency. The trick is to be quick and fast, and consistent. It’s about going down the track and being consistent, and that’s what we’ve focused on. I think the results have showed from start to finish this year.”
It’s certainly been evident that Hight and crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham have been locked in from the outset. He’s recorded six wins and advanced to eight finals, racking up eight No. 1 qualifiers along the way. Hight has been the points leader at 22 of the 23 races thus far, an impressive mark considering the standouts in Funny Car. In Hight’s mind, that leaves only one thing remaining to close out his dream season at his home track.
“If I go to the final it’s over, and if we go to the final we might as well win the race, too,” Hight said. “This is a dream year for me. I’ve had years where I led all year and we lost in the Countdown. I’ve had years where we were horrible until we got to the Countdown and we ended up winning a championship. This is what I’ve dreamed about, having a year where you’ve got the most wins and you’ve been in the lead all year. Now we’ve got to finish it off.”