ENNIS, Texas — official release — NHRA photo — Robert Hight enjoyed a tremendous 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season, winning five times and leading the points for an impressive 13-race stretch, the most in his career.
But as noteworthy as that is, Hight knows his Funny Car season will ultimately be determined on how he performs in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Ford Mustang during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Hight, currently second in points behind teammate and reigning world champion John Force, can make a big step towards his second Funny Car world championship by racing well at this weekend’s 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex. The stakes are certainly raised during the Countdown, but that has often brought out the best in Hight.
“We had a great regular season but the key is to be leading the points after the last race of the season,” Hight said. “It is a whole new ballgame now. The first 18 races are in the past. If you want a championship you better be on top of your game. Winning in the Countdown is what it is all about.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event. It marks the second of six races in the Countdown to the Championship. The continuation of eliminations for the Countdown opener, the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals, will also be completed during qualifying rounds at the Texas Motorplex. In Top Fuel and Funny Car three rounds of racing remain, while Pro Stock still has all four to be completed. Four pairs of Pro Stock cars also need to complete their first round runs.
Hight won his first-round matchup in Charlotte and will face Jeff Arend in the quarterfinals. It sets up what could be a huge weekend for Hight, who knows how crucial it is to start well during the Countdown. With two races now being completed at the Texas Motorplex the spotlight will be even bigger in Dallas.
“With four races in a row getting a good start is important,” Hight said. “You want to build momentum and not fall behind. You better not waste any round wins. Also that all-concrete track (in Dallas) is key for qualifying bonus points. It might be hot but we have a good hot weather tune up so I am excited.”
Following a victory in Denver, Hight, who has 34 career victories, ran into a rough spot, dropping first-round matchups in three of the four races heading into the Countdown.
But Hight has always performed well during the Countdown, as his six victories are second only to Pedregon’s eight for most in Funny Car history. Plus Hight’s standout crew chief Mike Neff is aiming to win a Funny Car championship with a third different driver, something no Funny Car crew chief has done.
Standing in Hight’s way is an abundance of championship contenders that features Countdown participants John Force, Pedregon, Del Worsham, Courtney Force, Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson and Tommy Johnson Jr.
“There are so many tough Funny Cars and I have some of the toughest competition coming from my own teammates,” said Hight, who has two career wins in Dallas. “In the Countdown anything can happen. This is a tough, tough category and if you slip up just a little you aren’t going to get any freebies. Neff and I have been talking and we have a great game plan for the Countdown. I have so much confidence in Neff and my Auto Club crew guys.”
The Auto Club involvement also makes it a special event for Hight but that extra attention simply means the reward is that much better if he is able to come through with a memorable performance at the Texas Motorplex.
“I love racing for AAA Texas,” Hight said. “We will see a lot of AAA Texas people at the race and you do feel some pressure but I wouldn’t call it extra pressure. You want to do well for your sponsor at every race. With the championship on the line it is pretty cool to have your sponsors around at the Countdown races. We are lucky because we have sponsors involved in three of the six Countdown races with Dallas, St. Louis and Pomona.”