Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – SONOMA, CA – Robert Hight is on the verge of a massive milestone and Sonoma Raceway might be the ideal place for it to take place.
The two-time Funny Car world champion is a win away from his 50th career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series victory and as the defending champion of this weekend’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals, it could be shaping up nicely for Hight to get the noteworthy achievement at a track where he has two career wins.
Hight’s immediate concern is maintaining a healthy points lead in the loaded Funny Car class. Driving his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS, Hight has been his usual spectacular self, winning four races and grabbing No. 1 qualifiers at half the events in 2019. He’s also put together record performances at Sonoma, which gives Hight added confidence heading to the second of three races on the NHRA’s famed Western Swing.
“I love coming to Sonoma,” Hight said. “This is a special place for me. It’s a home race, I’m from Alturas, Calif. We’ve won here before and we won it last year, but I set the speed record here, too. Now, coming in from Denver, after the season we’re having, I’m feeling good about this weekend. We’re ready for Sonoma and I’m excited to see what we’ll accomplish.”
Blake Alexander (Top Fuel), Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 5:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the 15th of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season and Hight is on another impressive pace.
He’s had the points lead for all 14 races this season, winning two of the first three races of the season. But Hight is a seasoned veteran and knows the importance of being at his best when the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship arrives in September. That means continuing to build something special, which he believes is the case with his team, led by crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham. Adding a win in Sonoma would only further that belief.
“These Auto Club guys are continuing to work hard and Jimmy and Chris know what they’re doing,” Hight said. “We brought out a new car a couple races ago and it’s only a matter of time before we are right back to winning races. Hopefully it’s right in time for the Countdown. There’s just a couple races left and we’ll be ready.”
Only two other drivers have 50 wins in Funny Car history (John Force and Ron Capps), meaning a 50th victory would be a major accomplishment. Still, it’s not Hight’s main focus as a third world championship is within reach. He won’t be able to sweep the Western Swing, but a win in Sonoma is still vitally important. To do it, Hight will have to get past the likes of Tommy Johnson Jr., who won in Denver, defending world champ J.R. Todd, Force, who is a win away from 150 victories, and Jack Beckman, but the veteran standout is only focused on what his team is building.
“From here on out and heading to Sonoma, you really have to start getting your act together and working on your combination for Indy and then the Countdown,” Hight said. “The Auto Club team has been working really hard all season long and I’m looking forward to showing what we’re made of. The Countdown isn’t far now.”
Defending world champ and Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence will look for his ninth win in the past 10 races, racing against Brittany Force, Antron Brown and Clay Millican.
Three-time Sonoma winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. aims to add another in Pro Stock against points leader Bo Butner, and 2019 season winners Greg Anderson, Chris McGaha and Deric Kramer.
Andrew Hines will look to keep his hot streak going in Pro Stock Motorcycle. He’s won six of the eight races in 2019 and will compete against defending world champ Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana Jr. On Saturday, the class takes center stage with the Mickey Thompson Tire Pro Bike Battle, a special race-within-a-race on Saturday featuring eight top riders. Smith grabbed the win last year, taking home the $25,000 prize.
The event features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle school at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, as well as Nitro School to learn how the cars and motorcycles operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Sonoma Raceway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans can congratulate the winners as they celebrate their NHRA Sonoma Nationals victories.
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 3:15 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, July 26 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 27 at 1:20 and 4:20 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 28.
The first round of the NHRA Mickey Thompson Tire Pro Bike Battle takes place at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 27. The semifinals follow at 4:15 p.m. with the finals slated for 5:30 p.m.
Television coverage includes Friday Night Nitro Live at 7 p.m. ET on Friday on FS1, and live finals action at 2:30 p.m. ET on FS1 on Sunday before a live, two-hour broadcast on FOX starting at 5 p.m. There will also be a special hour-long Pro Stock episode at 10 p.m. ET on FS1 on Sunday.