Sonoma: Series round 15 preview

HIGHT LOOKING FOR MORE FUNNY CAR SUCCESS AT FRAM-AUTOLITE NATIONALS SONOMA, Calif. - At this time last year, Robert Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock were trying to figure out a way to get their Auto Club Ford Mustang into the Countdown to 1, ...

HIGHT LOOKING FOR MORE FUNNY CAR SUCCESS AT FRAM-AUTOLITE NATIONALS

SONOMA, Calif. - At this time last year, Robert Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock were trying to figure out a way to get their Auto Club Ford Mustang into the Countdown to 1, NHRA's championship playoffs.

Struggling for much of the season near the bottom of the top 10 standings, Hight and Prock ultimately pulled off a miracle save at the final hour to squeak into post-season play. Since then the duo has shined. They went on to win the 2009 Funny Car world championship title with an amazing three-win playoff effort. They've also had an incredible 2010 title defense so far, winning three straight races in the spring and currently holding down the second place position in the point standings.

This season Hight and his team are talking playoff strategy once again. However, this time it is about how to put the team in the best position to win another championship crown, rather than simply how to make the playoffs.

That's why Hight, a native of Alturas, Calif., is so excited about his opportunity to win the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals for a second time. The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event will be held July 16-18 at scenic Infineon Raceway, a multipurpose auto racing facility that sits just north of downtown San Francisco. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.

Hight, who won here in 2008, says he's never missed an NHRA race at Infineon and before he became a crew member on John Force's team and ultimately became a champion driver on the circuit, he always looked forward to making the trip to watch his heroes compete on the Northern California dragstrip as one of the sport's biggest fans.

"Sonoma is the first place I ever got to see a national event," Hight said. "It was the closest race track to where I grew up and it was still a long ways away, over six hours. I have been to every FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals. That was my summer trip when I was in college in Sacramento and that is what I would do is go watch the drag races. I looked forward to that race all year."

Hight, who started driving for team owner John Force in 2005 and now makes his home in Southern California, says he enjoys racing at Infineon, a track that he considers one of his home tracks on the circuit.

"It is one of those races that is a high priority race for me to win because of how close it is to where I grew up and went to school," Hight said. "There will be a lot of my friends who are also fans there. We won it in 2008 and I always seem to qualify well there."

Hight says doing well at the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals will have plenty of impact on every team's final standing in the regular season. Only two races will remain after Sonoma in the Countdown to 10 - at Denver and Brainerd, Minn. - before the top 10 fields are set for the Countdown to 1 playoffs.

He says while there is a big personal incentive for him to win this race, that also a victory here will help the team in the big picture goal as well.

"The biggest thing is after Sonoma you only have two more races before the cut-off for the Countdown," Hight said. "For my Auto Club team we want to be No. 1 going into the Countdown so having success at Sonoma is key. You want to be as high in the points as possible because you get the bonus points for being in that No. 1 spot. With as tough as the competition is those extra points can mean the difference for the championship. If you get that No. 1 spot and then can hold your own in the Countdown you can be in good shape for the championship."

In addition to Hight and defending winner Wilkerson, who has won the last two events on the circuit, other pre-race favorites in Funny Car include John Force, a seven-time winner at Infineon, along with Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Ashley Force Hood, Seattle runner-up Ron Capps and Del Worsham.

In Top Fuel, Larry Dixon has raced to seven victories in the Al-Anabi Racing dragster and holds the series lead over rival and seven-time defending world champ Tony Schumacher. Defending winner Brown, Seattle winner Cory McClenathan, Doug Kalitta and Brandon Bernstein also are among the drivers to watch in the ultra-fast category.

Series points leader Mike Edwards has been the class of the Pro Stock field this season, picking up where he left off with his 2009 world championship run. He's earned eight victories in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP and will need to stay on his toes to contend with top challengers like past Sonoma winners Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line and Greg Anderson, who has won the last two races in his Summit Racing Pontiac.

Defending world champ Hector Arana holds the series lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle on his Lucas Oil Buell. Past Infineon winners Matt Smith and Andrew Hines are second and third in the points order. Michael Phillips, Steve Johnson, rookie LE Tonglet and local favorite Karen Stoffer all will be in the victory hunt in the two-wheel category.

SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m. on July 16 and 11:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. on July 17. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 18.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals. For tickets call Infineon Raceway at (800) 870-RACE (7223) or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, July 17. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute race preview show, at 1 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 18. Also on Sunday, July 18, ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 6 p.m. (ET).

LUCAS OIL SERIES: The FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in several categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8:15 a.m. on Friday, July 16 and eliminations begin at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday, July 17 and continue Sunday, July 18.

-source: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Cory McClenathan , Karen Stoffer , Ashley Force , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Michael Phillips , Steve Johnson , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Mike Edwards , LE Tonglet