John Force Racing driver wants to close out 2014 on a high note.
Robert Hight is focused on finishing his 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season on a good note, in part because he knows just three months later he will be starting the 2015 season in the same location.
But momentum aside, a strong finish at the 50th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 13-16 at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, could set up a memorable finish for the three-car John Force Racing Funny Car team of Hight, John Force and Courtney Force. Hight trails points leader Matt Hagan by 150 points, while Courtney is two spots ahead in third and 121 points back. John Force sits in second, just 21 points behind Hagan to set up what will be a thrilling finale in Pomona.
Hight, who in addition to driving one of the team’s cars also holds the title of president of John Force Racing, is well-aware of what is on the line at the final event of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, which means a great finish in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Ford Mustang is that much more important.
“You want to win the last race of the season because that is the one you remember all off-season,” Hight said. “That gives you a positive feeling going into the Winternationals (in Pomona). This is also our sponsor’s race so you want to do well. The focus for us this race is on getting that championship. We aren’t out of it mathematically and strange things have happened at the Auto Club Finals. Whether it is me, John or Courtney we want that Mello Yello championship trophy to come back to the shop in Yorba Linda.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Hagan (Funny Car), Rickie Jones (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year's winners of the season-ending race that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. The 50th anniversary of the Auto Club NHRA Finals will make for a memorable 2014 finale on its own, but the added storyline of John Force Racing duking it out with Don Schumacher Racing’s “Hulk” Hagan makes for a must-see event.
Back on track
Hight got back on track after struggling in consecutive Countdown races, advancing to the semifinals in Las Vegas before losing to John Force. After losing in the first round in back-to-back races in St. Louis and Reading, which put a severe dent in his championship aspirations, Hight, who won a Funny Car world championship in 2009, was pleased with how his team responded in Las Vegas.
“That semifinal (with Force) was a close race and we were going after it,” Hight said. “We were in a no-lose situation since no matter what happened one of our John Force Racing Mustang Funny Cars was going to the final round. (Crew chief) Mike Neff, Jon Shaffer and my crew guys pulled together and getting those first two round wins were critical coming off a tough race in Reading. Making great runs gives you confidence and we will be ready for Pomona.”
A win or a strong finish in Pomona would be the perfect capper for a consistently solid season for Hight. It’s also been filled with plenty of highlights, including victories in Phoenix, Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta and Denver. In all, Hight, who now has 34 career victories, advanced to seven final rounds and stayed atop the points standings for the majority of the season in the highly-competitive Funny Car class.
Tough crowd in Pomona
He also meshed well with Neff, who was in his first full season as crew chief for Hight’s team. But a memorable result in Pomona remains the goal, though that will be difficult in a class loaded with talent and features many more capable Countdown drivers who will be looking for a victory, including Alexis DeJoria, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson, Del Worsham, who won the most recent event in Las Vegas, and Cruz Pedregon.
“Obviously going to six finals in a row and winning four of those races was a highlight,” Hight said. “No matter what happens in Pomona we led the points for 13 races and I am proud of that for this Auto Club team. I think the thing that really has me motivated for next season is we never gave up. We didn’t finish the season the way we wanted to but no one got down. We kept fighting.
“This was the first full season of working with Mike Neff as my crew chief and we built a great working relationship and he has given me a lot of confidence. I think when I look back on 2014 I will know we had a championship caliber team and we were one of the toughest Funny Car teams top to bottom out there all season.”
Seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher is closing in on an eighth world championship in Top Fuel, winning three times in the Countdown. Schumacher also has four wins at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, but will be challenged by the likes recent Las Vegas winner Spencer Massey, J.R. Todd, Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence, reigning world champion Shawn Langdon, 2012 champ Antron Brown, Brittany Force, Khalid alBalooshi and Richie Crampton.
In Pro Stock, one of the most intense playoff battles could be settled at Pomona. By winning in Las Vegas, Erica Enders-Stevens, who has five wins this season, took over the points lead from Jason Line. Enders-Stevens is trying to become the first female to win an NHRA world championship title in Pro Stock and leads Line by 17 points. Dave Connolly is 84 points back in third, while other Countdown participants are Shane Gray, Allen Johnson, Vincent Nobile, V Gaines, Chris McGaha and rookie Jonathan Gray.
The 2014 world championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle is coming down to Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Krawiec. Hines currently holds the points lead over Krawiec and stretched his lead to 92 points by winning in Las Vegas. It will set up an exciting duel in Pomona, as both riders are looking for their respective fourth world championship titles.
As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, NHRA will feature many of the sport's greatest legends and those drivers will share some of their favorite memories from 50 years of the Auto Club NHRA Finals. "The King of Speed" Kenny Bernstein, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, "TV" Tommy Ivo, Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen, Ed "The Ace" McCulloch, Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney and Don "The Snake" Prudhomme will be featured during the event and participate in a series of special NHRA Legends Chats and a special autograph session on Saturday afternoon in the popular Hot Rod Junction.
The NHRA Legends Chats will run from 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday and the special legends autograph session will take place between Saturday's pro qualifying sessions. Fans can attend the Legends Chats and autograph session by obtaining a special commemorative 50th Anniversary NHRA Legends Card, which will be available on a first come, first served basis at the Hot Rod Junction.
NHRA fans also will play an important role in the 50th anniversary celebration as they will help decide the most iconic moments in the history of the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Fans can vote for their favorite moment from the event via interactive pages set up on NHRA.com and via NHRA's Facebook page.
Special celebrations throughout the weekend are scheduled to highlight this significant milestone event. In addition to the NHRA Legends Chats and special autograph session featuring the legends, there will be several NHRA-exclusive Cacklefests showcasing the vintage dragsters of the sport's early days, a special car corral in the Hot Rod Junction featuring a wide variety of vintage dragsters and classic race cars and The SealMaster Track Walk, where fans can walk on the famed Auto Club Raceway at Pomona track prior to Sunday's final eliminations. The SealMaster Track Walk also will feature several of the sports legends.
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. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
The event also will feature thrilling competition and world championship finishes in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Nov. 14, with sessions at 11:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Nov. 15, at 11:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 16.