ROBERT HIGHT AND AUTO CLUB DOMINATE RACE DAY AT NHRA HEARTLAND NATIONALS
TOPEKA, KS — Robert Hight and the Automobile Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS team put together an ideal Sunday to race their way to their fourth win of the season at the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties. The victory, which was his third at the Heartland Motorsports Park where he earned his Funny Car license, ties him with Don “Snake” Prudhomme at 49 all-time wins.
“It’s a real big deal. I can’t believe my name is used in the same sentence as Don Prudhomme. Forty-nine, that’s crazy. You know what’s really crazy is that I’m only 100 back from John (Force), but I’m coming,” Hight said.
The streak of perfection began for Hight in his fourth qualifying effort when he ran 4.015-seconds to be low of the session. The pass improved him from No. 13 to No. 9 entering race day, only the second time this season he’s qualified in the bottom half of the field. Hight would go on to be low of each elimination round on Sunday.
“It’s the second time this year we’ve been in the bottom half of the field and we just had bad luck. We didn’t miss it or do anything wrong. Just every run we had bad luck; something breaking, something falling off. Finally, we get it together Q4 as low ET of the session and then low ET of every round on race day,” Hight said. “Once you get going with this Auto Club Chevy team with Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham you just start rolling. Everybody knows their job, they work together so well, it’s a lot of fun.”
Hight and the Auto Club team picked up the win against Shawn Langdon in the first round when the Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham tuned hot rod blew the field away with a 3.897-second pass at 330.88 mph. The pass would go on to be the quickest and fastest of the entire event for the Funny Car category.
In the second round, Hight matched up with reigning world champion J.R. Todd. Todd would run into trouble on his pass for only a 9.547-second elapsed time. The Auto Club Camaro would have another impressive run at 3.921-seconds and 328.70 mph. The round win would set Hight to face Tommy Johnson Jr., a rematch of the final round from the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago just a week ago where Hight came away as the runner-up.
Both veteran racers would leave the starting line too early however, Johnson Jr. left first, fouling out at -.102 compared to Hight’s -.100 giving the Auto Club team the win. Though the race was won at the start, Hight would continue the streak of low ET of the round with a 3.900-second pass at 330.63 mph and take lane choice over Jack Beckman in the finals.
“I think there was a little bit of luck involved in the semifinal run. But when you go through the ladder like we did, this one was well-earned. Tommy Johnson Jr. double-stepped it up there. He was revving it up and I could hear it and then he blipped the throttle and I couldn’t hold it any longer because it was a .47 tree, which is about the longest it will go. As I went by the tree I looked and I was green and he was red, but I knew I left too soon,” Hight said. “For the final round, you have to go back up there and perform again, so you just have to put that behind you. I spent most of my time between rounds working on my tree, getting that out of my head.”
Beckman, who ended John Force’s run for his 150th win at the Heartland Nationals in the semifinals, beat Hight on the starting line but that was the only victory he’d have for the rest of the afternoon. Hight would cross the finish line at 3.895-seconds and 330.88 mph bettering Beckman’s 3.969 at 323.97 for his fourth win of the season, third at the facility and 49th of his career that began 25 years ago as a crew guy on John Force’s Funny Car. His first race running clutch with the legendary team? Heartland Nationals.
“It was 25 seasons ago that I came in here. I flew in and met the team and went to work doing the clutch. That was pretty cool, and then I got my Funny Car license here. I have a lot of fond memories here, and now getting to win this race here a few times is pretty cool,” Hight said. “This is a great racetrack, the fans are great, it’s one of my favorites.”
Hight continues to lead the Funny Car pack as the NHRA Mello Yello points leader, a title he has yet to relinquish this season. His closest challenger is 208 points away.
Starting race day from the No. 3 spot, Austin Prock and the Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team ended the weekend in their first semi-finals appearance of the NHRA season and moved to No. 9 in the NHRA Mello Yello points standings.
In the first round, Prock ran his dragster to a solid 3.760-second pass at 318.32 mph bettering Cameron Ferre’s 3.886 at 297.29. The first-year driver headed to the quarterfinals where he faced teammate Brittany Force for the second time this season. Both drivers had trouble and dropped cylinders down track but Prock was able to get ahead to run a 4.035-second pass at 236.46 mph to Force’s 4.348 at 193.29. He went onto the semis where he faced Billy Torrence but fell short of his first finals appearance after smoking the tires to make a 5.333-second pass at 138.20 mph to Torrence’s 3.796 at 321.81.
“We had our best day of the season today and just came up a little short of the finals. We lost lane choice after that second round and I think that maybe hurt us a little bit, but we had a good day,” Prock said. “Those Torrence boys, they’re tough but we’re still building this program and when we get it right, we’re going to give them a run for their money so we’ll see what happens in Bristol.”
Sixteen-time Funny Car world champion, John Force and his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil team started race day with a round one win over Dale Creasy Jr. when they ran a 3.904-second pass at 321.42 mph to Creasy’s 4.064 at 303.03. In the quarterfinals, Force kept the consistency powering his Chevy Camaro SS to a 3.951-second pass at 323.66 mph to advance past Bob Tasca III and his 3.940 at 317.05.
Making his sixth semi-finals appearance of the season, the legendary driver faced Jack Beckman. In a close battle to the finish line, Force had a 4.001-second pass at 323.74 mph that was narrowly defeated by Beckman’s 3.970 at 326.56. The third-round finish puts Force third in points.
“The PEAK Chevrolet that I have is really fast. I have to give credit to my people, Brian Corradi and Danny Hood. All of those guys have been working hard,” Force said. “There’s been a lot of changes for me and I’m getting used to them still. I just have to up my game but we’re ready for Bristol and hoping to get this hot rod in the winner’s circle.”
Brittany Force, 2017 Top Fuel world champion, had a strong start to race day at Heartland Motorsports Park when she powered her Advance Auto Parts dragster to a stout 3.690-second pass at 332.67 mph, the quickest pass of the day in the Top Fuel class, as she defeated Clay Millican’s 3.755 at 316.97. Going into the quarterfinals, Force paired up against teammate Austin Prock to make a 4.348-second pass at 193.29 mph but it wasn’t enough to get past Prock’s 4.035 at 236.46.
“It felt good to finally get past that first round. First round is always tough and I was excited to turn on that win light. We ran a 3.69, which was awesome. It was the low of the event,” said Force who is No. 3 in the points standings. “Second round, we got beat by our teammate Austin Prock. It had holes out from the step but I’m feeling good. We made some big moves, big changes and its finally starting to show.”
The John Force Racing team will head to Bristol, Tenn. June 14-16 for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, the third event of four-in-a-row and eleventh on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Season schedule.
ROBERT HIGHT, 49, Auto Club of Southern California Chevy Camaro SS
Qualifying: 9th; 4.015-seconds; 318.32 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +3 (quickest Q4)
Race Results: Beat Shawn Langdon, J.R. Todd, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jack Beckman
JOHN FORCE, 70, PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS
Qualifying: 3rd; 3.938-seconds; 323.27 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +6 (quickest Q1, 3rd quickest Q2; quickest Q3, 2nd quickest Q4)
Race Results: Beat Dale Creasey, Bob Tasca III; Lost to Jack Beckman
AUSTIN PROCK, 23, Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist Dragster
Qualifying: 3rd; 3.783-seconds; 315.42 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +1 (3rd quickest Q2)
Race Results: Beat Cameron Ferre, Brittany Force; Lost to Billy Torrence
BRITTANY FORCE, 32, Advance Auto Parts Dragster
Qualifying: 9th; 3.877-seconds; 316.15 mph
Bonus Qualifying Points: +1 (3rd quickest Q4)
Race Results: Beat Clay Millican; Lost to Austin Prock
Photo Credit: Gary Nastase, Auto Imagery