Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – POMONA, CA – Robert Hight has been in this situation before and it’s one that never gets old. The Funny Car standout is competing at his home track, at his sponsor’s race with the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world title on the line, and it’s a moment where Hight has often thrived.
With a possible third world title in reach, Hight hopes to again come through in the clutch at the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 14-17 at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
He’s been a near wire-to-wire points leader in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS this year, entering the final race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and 2019 NHRA season with a 46-point lead on Jack Beckman. Two other world title drivers – John Force and Matt Hagan – are also title threats to Hight, but this is a moment he has always reveled in throughout his championship career.
“This year, it’s a lot like 2017 and I’m going in as the leader,” said Hight, who won his second world title that year. “It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s exciting and I can’t wait. I want to get going and it doesn’t get better than a shot at winning a championship at your home track in front of your sponsors. This is what it’s all about and we’re not going to change how we race. We can’t go there and protect points. That’s not how we got here. We’ll go into Pomona swinging and be aggressive.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 17. It is the final event of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs the last of 24 races in a 2019 season that has arguably been Hight’s best ever from start to finish.
His year started with a victory in Pomona back in February and he hopes to end it there on what could be a Funny Car showdown for the ages. The points-and-a-half scenario is in play at the Auto Club NHRA Finals as well, which means Hight still needs to perform at a high level. Hagan is just 56 points out of first after back-to-back wins, while Force is 72 points off the lead. Hight, though, remains driven to win after falling just short of the title on the final day last year.
“I just believe losing the championship on the last day kind of motivated everybody,” said Hight, who has 51 career Funny Car wins. “We didn’t make a lot of crazy changes to the combination or the car. We really looked at how we lost last year and we really focused on those things. We raced smarter and worked on the things that give you consistency. The trick is to be quick and fast, and consistent. It’s about going down the track and being consistent, and that’s what we’ve focused on. I think the results have showed from start to finish this year.”
It’s certainly been evident that Hight and crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham have been locked in from the outset. He’s recorded six wins and advanced to eight finals, racking up eight No. 1 qualifiers along the way. Hight has been the points leader at 22 of the 23 races thus far, an impressive mark considering the standouts in Funny Car. In Hight’s mind, that leaves only one thing remaining to close out his dream season at his home track.
“If I go to the final it’s over, and if we go to the final we might as well win the race, too,” Hight said. “This is a dream year for me. I’ve had years where I led all year and we lost in the Countdown. I’ve had years where we were horrible until we got to the Countdown and we ended up winning a championship. This is what I’ve dreamed about, having a year where you’ve got the most wins and you’ve been in the lead all year. Now we’ve got to finish it off.”
It’s shaping up to be an epic duel in Top Fuel, as defending world champ Steve Torrence holds a slim 16-point lead on 2017 world champ Brittany Force, who won in Las Vegas. Doug Kalitta is 55 points and still in contention as the veteran is after his first career world title.
Erica Enders closed out her first Pro Stock world title in 2014 with a final-round win in Pomona, and she takes a 92-point lead into the finale this year. She’ll try to close out a third championship, but Jeg Coughlin Jr. is after a miracle finish in Pomona.
Andrew Hines will look to finish off his sixth world title in Pro Stock Motorcycle in Pomona. He currently holds a 115-point lead on Jerry Savoie, a two-time playoff winner in 2019. Eddie Krawiec and defending world champ Matt Smith are one and two points behind Savoie, respectively.
The Auto Club NHRA Finals will also feature thrilling competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes. And the 28 best E.T. bracket racers in the country will be competing for the Summit E.T. Finals World Championship. Fan favorite wheelstander “Nitro Mike” will be making his Pomona debut in his P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander throughout the weekend.
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 Pro Stock Motorcycle School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their 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. Hot Rod Junction will feature nostalgia favorites as well as the Heritage Series world champions.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:00 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 12:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17.