LAS VEGAS – When one finds himself on a hot streak, certain travel destinations are more favorable than others.
That’s why NHRA Funny Car driver Robert Hight is excited about an upcoming trip to Las Vegas.
For Hight, this trip to Sin City is all business.
Hight will roll into The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the 13th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, March 30-April 1, as the hottest Funny Car driver in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Not only is Hight the event’s defending Funny Car winner, but he is riding a two-race winning streak. The driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang scored back-to-back victories in Phoenix and Gainesville, Fla. at the circuit’s last two events.
You never want to take it for granted because streaks can end just as quickly as they start.
At Las Vegas’ SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, where Hight is the only two-time Funny Car winner (also 2007), he’ll try to keep the momentum going and add a third-straight victory to his early season collection. Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) also are defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Series event that will be televised on ESPN2HD.
“It is not that easy to get two wins in a season, so to get two in a row is huge,” Hight said. “I also look at the fact we won three races in a row last year and didn’t get the (world championship) title, so really it is too early to get too excited.”
In the ultra-competitive world of NHRA Funny Car racing, where 15-time world champ John Force has been the king of the hill for the past two decades, winning streaks come and go. Hight says the hard part of a streak is underway. Now, his team just has to keep their rally caps on and enjoy the ride.
“It is harder to start a winning streak than keep one going,” Hight said. “Once you have a couple wins, momentum carries over from win to win. Your team builds up confidence and it just seems to get easier. You never want to take it for granted because streaks can end just as quickly as they start.”
If not for a momentary lapse in concentration, Hight could be trying for his fourth win in a row. As the No. 1 qualifier at the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Southern California, he suffered a rare first round upset. Hight says the brief setback gave his Auto Club team a chance to hit the reset button right away on the season.
“That first round loss definitely motivated us,” Hight said. “We were the No. 1 qualifier and to get taken out by the No. 16 qualifier really hurt. We didn’t race smart. We learned from that and luckily we only had a few days to think about it before we got to Phoenix and got back on track. That race in Pomona also proved that you can’t take anyone for granted. You have to make smart decisions because if you make a mistake the team in the other lane will take advantage.”
In taking the win last year, Hight used a consistent tune-up that produced a trio of winning 4.15-second runs before he used a slightly quicker 4.14-second run to defeat Johnny Gray in the final round.
“It is cool coming in as defending champ,” said Hight, who has earned 25 career victories and the 2009 world championship crown. “I believe one of the keys (to racing well at The Strip at LVMS) is to stay focused. There are so many distractions in Las Vegas. When we get there we tell the guys have fun on Wednesday night and after that that it is all business. We have to be at our best on the track and do it better than the other guys.”
Those other guys (and gals) include series points leader and teammate Mike Neff, who has advanced to two final rounds this season behind the wheel of his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, Force, who has claimed three wins in Las Vegas during his record-setting career, Jack Beckman, Gray, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, defending world champ Matt Hagan, and highly-touted rookie drivers Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria.
“This class is as tough as it has ever been,” Hight said. “Only ten drivers will make the Countdown, so there will be some big names on the outside. Just because we have won two races, that doesn’t guarantee us anything. We have to stay focused because we do not want to be one of the big names on the outside after Indy.”
In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher leads the series standings with two runner-up finishes in his U.S. Army dragster, but Morgan Lucas has the momentum entering the race in his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster after winning in commanding fashion at the Tire Kingdom Gatornationals. Defending winner Brown, Spencer Massey, Shawn Langdon, Brandon Bernstein and Doug Kalitta are all among the pre-race favorites in the 7,000-horsepower category.
Greg Anderson and Jason Line, who drive for Las Vegas native Ken Black’s Pro Stock team, will be the favorites in the 200-mph factory hot rod division. Defending event winner Edwards also won the most recent event, in Gainesville, and moved into second place in the series standings. Anderson, who has advanced to all three finals with one win this season and leads the points standings, has won this event three times and has seven total wins at LVMS during his career behind the wheel of his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. Others to watch in Pro Stock include Allen Johnson, Jeg Coughlin, Erica Enders, Vincent Nobile, Rodger Brogdon, Greg Stanfield, Kurt Johnson and Larry Morgan.