BRAINERD, Minn. – NHRA Funny Car driver Robert Hight has seen this movie before.
In 2009, he played a starring role in the action-packed thriller where he threw a Hail Mary to get into the Countdown to the Championship playoffs at the very last instant. However, once in, he took advantage of the opportunity and won the championship title in a dramatic made-for-the-big-screen moment.
As the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series rolls into Brainerd International Raceway for the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals, Aug. 15-18, Hight finds himself in a similar position. He’s currently in 10th place in the standings, three points in front of veteran driver Del Worsham, currently 11th overall. Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca are in eighth and ninth, 36 and 33 points in front of Hight, respectively.
Knowing that he has pulled off an amazing late inning rally like he did in 2009, Hight has that special memory in the back of his mind as a confidence-booster, but he would prefer to avoid all of the last minute drama and get hot in the final two regular season races and be able to move up a few spots in the standings before the Countdown playoffs get underway.
“We are taking each race one at a time and not looking back at 2009,” Hight said. “It is no secret we struggled early in the year, but we are headed in the right direction now. I think the team that I am on now will be a contender to win this Funny Car championship. I don’t look at back 2009 because I think it would be nearly impossible to see someone win the championship from the No. 10 spot again. The competition level is just too high now. It was tough when I did it with the competition in 2009 and I think the competition is even tougher. Knowing that we need to get up to the No. 6 or No. 7 spot in the points, which I think we can do.”
So at Brainerd, it will be business as usual for his Auto Club Ford Mustang team. They are focused on winning to accomplish several goals. First, they need to secure their spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Second, they want to claim the final open position for the $100,000 Traxxas Nitro Shootout. Finally, the team would like to win a race at Brainerd. Hight has never been to a final round at BIR, nor has he earned a No. 1 qualifying position there.
“We are going to Brainerd focused on winning the race just like we go to every race,” Hight said. “There is a lot at stake in Brainerd of course. The Traxxas Shootout is huge, but we are looking at making the Countdown. We are looking at how high we can get in the points to be solid in the Countdown. We have two races left and Brainerd is the first of those two. Brainerd weighs heavier because there are two things at play. You want to move up in the Countdown and you want to get that last guaranteed spot in the Traxxas Shootout.”
Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang has typically been one of the most consistent Funny Cars on the track during the past several seasons. This year his team has been mired in a bit of a slump, losing in the first or second round 13 times in 17 events. His lone final round appearance this season came in Topeka, a runner-up finish to Johnny Gray.
With some mid-season team changes that includes Mike Neff moving over to the role of his crew chief, Hight feels the team is gaining some momentum at just the right time of the year.
“You want to control your own destiny against guys like (Tim) Wilkerson, (Bob) Tasca (III) and (Del) Worsham,” Hight said. “We have had that opportunity a few times and haven’t been able to capitalize on it. I still believe that is the way you want to do it is race these guys so you control your own destiny. We have a great car and great team and we are just focused on winning rounds and getting qualifying bonus points.”
While Hight looks to improve his position in the standings, everybody in the 8,000-horsepower category has been chasing Matt Hagan, as the 2011 world champion is back in championship form as the points leader with four victories this season in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger. Plenty of championship contenders are lurking, including Gray, who is making a move in his Pitch Energy Dodge Charger. Brainerd’s all-time wins leader, John Force, will try to win at BIR for the 12th time in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Others to watch include Force’s daughter, Courtney, a two-time winner this season, and past BIR winners Ron Capps and Cruz Pedregon, both of whom are in championship contention.
In Top Fuel, three-time BIR winner Tony Schumacher is hoping to continue his success in Minnesota, as will series points leader Shawn Langdon, who has four wins in what has been a dream season so far in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Others to watch include defending world champion Antron Brown, Spencer Massey, who has three season wins in his Schumacher Electric dragster, two-time BIR winner Doug Kalitta and Morgan Lucas, who won recently in Seattle and is seeking win No. 3 at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.
In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards is currently at the top after a banner season that has included four wins. Edwards also will be chasing his first victory in Brainerd. Other standouts include defending world champion Allen Johnson, who has posted four wins in 2013, Vincent Nobile, who has posted back-to-back wins in Seattle and Sonoma, defending event winner Erica Enders-Stevens, Jeg Coughlin, whose four wins at BIR are tied with four other drivers for the most in Pro Stock history, and the Summit Racing Equipment team of Minnesota natives Jason Line and Greg Anderson.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. No other sport offer fans an up close and personal experience like NHRA. Fans can stand within several feet of the crews as they crank up their high-horsepower machines.
What makes BIR unique among other tracks on the NHRA circuit is its on-site camping, specifically, The Zoo campground, which has a reputation among drivers, teams and fans alike for being the place to be at the end of race day. With live bands Thursday through Saturday, a spectacular fireworks display, 24-hour food, a constant parade of partywagons, bonfires and rickshaw races, The Zoo is certainly a major part of the overall experience at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at BIR.
For those wanting to make it a family affair, BIR and NHRA are offering an incredible ticket offer: Children 12 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult all weekend. Make sure to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley, where manufacturers and sponsors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and freebies.
Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals qualifying opens on Friday, Aug. 16, with sessions at 3 and 5:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Aug. 17, at noon and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 18. The race will be televised on ESPN2 HD with qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 17 at 11 p.m. (ET) and eliminations on Sunday, Aug. 18 at 9 p.m. (ET).