Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – MADISON, IL – Before the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship started, defending Funny Car world champ Robert Hight thought it would take a certain amount of wins to claim a second title. After a semifinal showing last weekend and only five races remaining during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, it now puts a supreme importance on Hight doing well at this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Hight is only 23 points behind leader J.R. Todd after the opening race of the playoffs, but wins in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS are the only thing on Hight’s mind heading to St. Louis. In fact, Hight has a clear number in mind for the rest of his 2018 season.
“I made a prediction before the Countdown for my team that I believe we need to get three wins and have zero first-round losses if we want to win this championship,” said Hight, who has 43 career wins. “I feel the same way now, but we only have five races to get three wins. There’s a lot of cars bunched up and it’s a lot of good cars. We had an opportunity (last weekend), but we just have to minimize the mistakes, both from the driver and with the car.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 23. The second of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship is the 20th of 24 in 2018.
Hight, a two-time world champ, took the blame for the loss last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway, going red on the starting line in his semifinal matchup against playoff competitor Tim Wilkerson.
It was a frustrating blow for a team that looked impressive during the first two rounds of eliminations, but Hight is ready to use that momentum and try to turn it into a second career win at Gateway Motorsports Park. That loaded Funny Car lineup also includes the likes of Courtney Force, John Force, Capps, Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Shawn Langdon, but Hight has always thrived in the big-pressure moments of the Countdown to the Championship.
“You just have to relax, believe in your team, believe in yourself and stay focused,” said Hight, who has two wins in 2018. “I promise my team is focused on nothing but this racecar for the next five races. This time of the year is fun. I’m happy with the consistency of the car, and we had a really great car (in Maple Grove) and I screwed it up. I’ve got to be better and more focused. But if our car can continue to run like it did last weekend, I like our chances.”
Hight delivered a number of thrilling moments during the Countdown to the Championship a year ago, claiming the title in a tight battle with Capps on the strength of two playoff wins and three finals appearances. Seeing the impressive parity in the class, Hight believes he’ll have to take that performance up a notch in 2018, but his focus remains on the continued progress of his team, which is lead by standout crew chief Jimmy Prock.
“You can’t control what any other teams do,” Hight said. “If we’re focusing on what they’re doing, we’re looking at the wrong thing. Jimmy tries to get the most out of every run and I believe in his tuning decisions, just like he believes in the team and he believes in me as a driver. This time of year, you have to put more focus on every single run you make because every little point counts.”
Defending Top Fuel event winner Steve Torrence is after his first world championship and will look to build on his points lead against talented drivers Tony Schumacher and Clay Millican.
Greg Anderson is currently third in Pro Stock behind Vincent Nobile, who won the Countdown to the Championship opener, and points leader Tanner Gray.
LE Tonglet will look to make up ground in Pro Stock Motorcycle in St. Louis against the likes of Hector Arana Jr., who won at Maple Grove, and points leader Eddie Krawiec.
The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 10th of 12 races, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will also 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. The legends scheduled to attend the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals include Shirley Muldowney.
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 4:00 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 2:15 and 5:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23.