Hight wins Auto Plus NHRA Nationals
READING, PA --- It took two days and repeated breaks in the racing action but Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team got their mo-jo back with three races remaining the Countdown to the Championship. On Monday afternoon Robert Hight defeated Johnny Gray to win for the fifth time in 2011.
“We knew coming in here this was our last chance race. If we had another bad showing it would be over because you put yourself in such a hole when you lose first round at the first two races of the Countdown. Then I have that monkey on my back from last year when we didn’t win a single round in the Countdown. We had won four races before that and then in the Countdown to lose eight races in a row in first round,” said Hight the 2009 Funny Car champion. “You have to get that monkey off your back. We have been struggling that is no secret. Jimmy has worked so hard and we have to thank Mike Neff and all the teams because we all worked so well together. Mike Neff helped get us back on track. Once Jimmy gets it he has got it. I am looking forward to heading out west to home for the final three. We are back into this deal.”
I got it a little outside down track and once you do that at this place it just pulls you.
Hight bested Jeff Arend in the semi-finals then a brief rain shower suspended racing action for over an hour before the final rounds could be contested. Hight’s semi-final win was the 2,000th round win for JFR in Funny Car. In the history of the Funny Car category 10,183 rounds have been run with JFFR winning nearly 20% of those races.
Hight made a major move up the point standings and closed the gap on the points leaders today. With the win Hight jumped from 6th to 4th. Entering the Auto Plus NHRA Nationals Hight was107 point behind points leader Mike Neff. As the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series moves to Phoenix Hight is now only 52 points behind points leader Matt Hagan and a mere 20 points out of third place. Drivers earn 20 points for every round win.
“This is a career for me to win five races in one season. That is most I have ever had. I have been in five finals this year so we are batting 100%. We are racing a tough car over there, Johnny Gray. They threw down some major league numbers this weekend and you can see that that eats at (crew chief) Jimmy Prock,” said Hight. “He wants to be out there running those numbers. We have to keep making baby steps and move forward. We can’t go out there and give it away. If we would have gone out there and pushed to try and run 4.01, something we haven’t done all weekend, we might have been like them and smoked the tires.”
In the final Gray smoked the tires at about half track and as Hight neared the finish line his Auto Club Ford Mustang began drifting towards the wall in the right lane.
“It wasn’t my greatest run of the day either. I got it a little outside down track and once you do that at this place it just pulls you. For a second I thought I was right on the wall. It started to spin a little and I lifted,” said Hight. “I saw that win light and then I heard my crew guys celebrating. That is the worst part of being a driver once you see the win light now there is no celebrating because everyone is on the starting line. You are down at the finish line by yourself. It is a great feeling to have (assistant crew chief) Eric Lane tell you that you won and it ran a 4.06.”
Hight started the race from the No. 11 qualifying spot. Throughout the weekend it appeared his Mustang was on the verge of breaking out in qualifying.
“We struggled a little bit. The Friday night run it slowed way, way down. We were on a good run on Saturday morning that we figured could run 4.02 real easy and it welded the clutch. Jimmy had to fix that. We haven’t been making good runs like that and throwing down so this has been a learning curve for us. We have had to do it as we have gone along and make baby steps,” said a confident Hight.
“It was smooth all day and that is what I am most impressed about. The last races it has been rattling and shaking. It was unfriendly to drive. Now this thing is smooth as can be and it is fast. There is no way we are going to win this championship is all the JFR Mustangs are not running good. We can’t just have Mike Neff pulling the team and holding us up. We have to be there for him and he has to be there for us. John is back in the game too. They made some real good runs in qualifying and they had some bad luck on Sunday. I believe JFR has a great shot at this.”
Prior to the final the Johnny Gray team appeared to be contemplating a lane switch from the left to the right for the final round. In the previous three rounds Gray had been in the left and Hight was winning from the right.
“We figured they were playing a little game. I knew they weren’t coming out of the left. They had been running well over there. They hadn’t done much in the right. Our guy, (track specialist) Lanny Miglizzi, who is out on the track from 7 a.m. until midnight said there is nothing wrong with that left lane. They were probably playing a little game with us. Luckily we went out there and found a path down both lanes so we were ready. I have to give it to my guys. We have enough people out there at JFR who are working hard and we have out head in the game.”
In 2009 when Hight’s team was struggling team owner shook up the teams going into Reading and it pulled Hight out of a funk that eventually led to his first Full Throttle Funny Car world championship. Last year it was a shocking first round loss at Maple Grove Raceway by Force that rallied the troops for a dramatic comeback for Force’s 15th championship. This race was once again a turning point for Hight and JFR.
“This is a turning point for us without a doubt. Our season was over is we didn’t pull this off. I have had great success at all three of the remaining races,” said Hight “I have been to the final twice at Phoenix. I made the quickest run in history at a quarter mile there. They have a new surface out there and it is going to be a learning curve for all of us. It is probably going to be hot sp what you learned here you throw it out the window and you go back to your hot set up and we are going to have to step that up a click. If you can run in conditions like this I believe we can back it down and run in any condition.”