Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – TOPEKA, KS – Robert Hight is the Funny Car points leader on the strength of three wins, five finals and six No. 1 qualifiers through the first nine races in the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
But as far as the two-time world champ is concerned, there is still plenty to work on heading to this weekend’s 31st annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Motorsports Park.
In the midst of a grueling four-race stretch that includes the stop in Topeka, Hight wants to keep pushing forward in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS. Much of it centers around consistency in warmer temperatures, and after a final-round appearance in Chicago, Hight aims to keep building on that with a strong showing in Topeka, where he has two career wins.
“We’ve still got some work to do to run in the heat,” Hight said. “We’ve made some changes and now we’ve just got to put it all back together again. We’ll see what kind of conditions we have in Topeka. I have all the faith in this Auto Club team and Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham. We’ll be ready to get after it in Topeka.”
Clay Millican (Top Fuel) and Courtney Force (Funny Car) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including a broadcast of the finals on Sunday, June 9 at 5:30 p.m. (ET). It is the 10th of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season and action will be intense with a special Primetime qualifying session at 8 p.m. on Friday. Hight has thrived during those fast conditions during his impressive 2019 season, and he’ll hope to continue that trend in Topeka.
While that part of the racing equation seems in order, Hight and his team want the total package, which means performing well in all conditions. The wins and the final-round showing in Chicago certainly show there have been plenty of those moments in 2019, but Hight wants to keep pushing forward in the loaded Funny Car class. In Topeka, he’ll have to deal with the likes of Tommy Johnson Jr., who beat Hight in the final round in Chicago, defending world champ J.R. Todd, Ron Capps, who has two wins in 2019, John Force Racing teammate John Force, Jack Beckman, Tim Wilkerson, Shawn Langdon and Matt Hagan, and that’s all the motivation he needs.
“It was an interesting weekend in Chicago,” Hight said. “We were trying some things to try and get ready for the warmer weather that we know is coming. The conditions weren’t what we expected, but we were able to turn the weekend into something with a No. 1 qualifying pass under the lights after a weather delay on Saturday, and then got the Auto Club Chevy to the finals.”
Hight made the best out of the situation in Chicago, and he’s taken advantage of almost every opportunity this season, picking up victories in Pomona, Gainesville and Houston. He hopes to add Topeka to the list to maintain a comfortable points lead and ensure he’s building towards another run at a world championship. A final round appearance last weekend was a good start to the four-race stretch, but wins will always be a priority for the veteran standout.
“It’s always a bummer when you can’t get the win,” said Hight, who has 48 career Funny Car wins. “But we had some luck on our side, too, which is how it goes sometimes.”
Steve Torrence remains red-hot in the talent-heavy Top Fuel class, winning his fourth straight race in 2019 last weekend. The defending world champion and points leader will look to add to that in Topeka against the likes of defending event winner Clay Millican, 2017 world champion Brittany Force, veteran Doug Kalitta, three-time world champ Antron Brown and Richie Crampton.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the sixth of 12 stops in 2019 in Topeka. Stevie “Fast” Jackson is the current points leader in a class that also includes defending world champ Mike Janis, and defending event winner Rickie Smith. 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 2019 Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the spectacular jet dragsters.
Former Kansas City Chief great Christian Okoye will be the grand marshal for the event, and he’ll be joined by Chiefs players, cheerleaders and even the mascot during the highly-anticipated weekend. There will be a special Chiefs Ambassadors VIP tent during the race where fans can meet players, and get autographs and photos on June 8-9. Proceeds from the tent will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters.
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.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Heartland Motorsports Park will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate race winners as they celebrate their Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:45 and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, June 7 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 8, at 12:30 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 9.