Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – TOPEKA, KS – Returning to Heartland Motorsports Park, the site of this weekend’s Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, always brings back special memories for Robert Hight, the defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world champion.
Hight has two victories at the track in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS, but his enjoyment for returning to Topeka stretches much further back. His official start with John Force Racing came at the facility 23 years ago and Hight also earned his Funny Car license in 2004 at Heartland Motorsports Park. Those memories always come back to Hight this time of year, and he hopes to make a new one with his first victory of 2018.
“It’s always a highlight of my season to go back to Topeka,” said Hight, who has 41 career wins. “I’m very confident heading to there. We work together as a team and Courtney (Force) has had great success this year, so there’s no reason why we can’t join her and get some wins. Topeka is a great surface, we’ve won there before, and the fans are great. We’re looking forward to it.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including a live finals broadcast on Sunday, May 20 at 2 p.m. (ET). It is the eighth of 24 races during the 2018 NHRA season and Hight is currently sixth in points in the loaded Funny Car class.
His last win in Topeka came in 2011 and the timing couldn’t be better for Hight to pick up his third career victory at the track. He’s been close this year, posting two runner-up finishes, and has also been strong in qualifying with a first and a pair of seconds this year, but Hight and his team, led by crew chief Jimmy Prock, want to keep pushing forward. With a bulk of the regular-season schedule coming, Hight knows the time is now to pounce and make a strong move to the top.
“I feel we’re in better shape than we were at this time a year ago and the goal now is consistency,” said Hight, who has two career Funny Car world titles. “I know we have the power, it’s just being consistent. Looking back to last year, Jimmy said we needed to have our act together by the time we go out West (for the Western Swing) to practice the new combination. Then we won the first race (in Denver) and won in Seattle. This year, we would like to put it together a little sooner.”
That means turning in a standout week at Heartland Motorsports Park, but it won’t be easy in a loaded class that has seen five different winners in seven races. That includes Hight’s JFR teammate, Courtney Force, who has two wins and took over the points lead with her victory in Atlanta, as well as Gainesville winner Jack Beckman, Pomona winner Capps, J.R. Todd, who has two wins this season, and Charlotte winner Cruz Pedregon. That much talent brings out the best in Hight, who was quick to note the high level of competition in the Funny Car class.
“In my opinion, it’s the toughest class in the pros right now,” Hight said. “There’s a lot of good drivers and a lot of good cars, and a lot is won and lost on the starting line. You have to have your whole act together. You need a good car and you have to be on your game on the starting line as well. It’s definitely has to be a tighter package than it has ever been.”
Three-time Top Fuel world champ Antron Brown is after is first win in 2018, hoping to take down the likes of points leader Steve Torrence, who has three wins this season, defending world champion Brittany Force, Tony Schumacher, and Atlanta winner Leah Pritchett.
Tannery Gray will look for his second win in 2018 in Pro Stock. He won in Gainesville, but there have been six different winners through seven races, including points leader Vincent Nobile, defending world champ Bo Butner, Matt Hartford, Erica Enders, and Chris McGaha.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the fourth of 12 stops in 2018 at Heartland Motorsports Park. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the 2018 Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties include John Wiebe and Ray Motes.
Along with the exciting on-track action, the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals will honor first responders with NHRA’s “Salute to First Responders” celebration.
As always, fans can 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 gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, 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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 18 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 19, at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 20.