BRISTOL, Tenn. — Robert Hight may not have gotten the results he wanted out his new 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car last weekend in Englishtown, N.J., but the former world champion remains upbeat when he considers the possibilities.
Hight’s new Camaro Funny Car is only two races old and his John Force Racing team is still making adjustments to the considerable change, but Hight has already seen the potential in places and that has him excited about his world championship chase.
The next step is building consistency and going rounds at this weekend’s 16th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, where Hight won in 2011.
“We didn’t have good results (in Englishtown), but I feel really good about my car based on qualifying and based on what we changed coming in here,” said Hight, who is currently seventh in the points standings after a first-round loss in Englishtown. “It just didn’t go our way (on Sunday). I really believe we’ve got a good car. I don’t ever go to the starting line feeling we’re going to get outrun. We’ve got a good car and we just have to put it all together.”
Bristol marks the 11th of 24 races during the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, where Hight will be seeking his second victory of the year. That in itself is an improvement over a year ago, when Hight’s first victory didn’t come until the penultimate race of the regular season in Brainerd, Minn.
Early success, including a win this season in Gainesville, Fla., has been beneficial, allowing the opportunity for Hight and his Mike Neff-led team to get accustomed to the new car.
“Last year we didn’t get our first win of the season until Brainerd and it was the last chance for us to lock up a Traxxas Shootout spot,” Hight said. “That is a lot of pressure and this year we have our spot guaranteed thanks to the win at Gainesville and now we can focus on getting consistent and getting geared up for Indy, the Traxxas Shootout and the (Mello Yello) Countdown (to the Championship). This stretch of the season will be a good test for our team to get into a groove of racing every weekend and hopefully going rounds on Sunday.
The possibilities of the new Camaro are enticing, especially after going 3.915-seconds at 333 mph to qualify third in Englishtown. But Hight also wants to start putting together deep runs in eliminations with the new car after back-to-back first round losses.
Hight, whose 37 career victories rank fourth all-time in Funny Car, hasn’t been to the semifinals since his victory in Gainesville, but his confidence hasn’t wavered a bit. The glimpses of outstanding runs are all Hight needs to see to know that many more will be coming soon.
“We are making progress and even though we had a short day on Sunday that doesn’t take away from my confidence,” Hight said. “My crew chief Mike Neff is a smart guy and my crew guys are some of the best guys out here. We have been making good runs in qualifying since we got the new 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car body but there is an adjustment period for sure. Plus we are trying a couple other things and getting everything to work together is a process. I am excited to be getting back to Bristol. I love the fans there and the track is awesome.”
Hight knows, however, that getting his second victory at scenic Thunder Valley will be difficult against a loaded Funny Car field.
Ron Capps has been red-hot in taking over the points lead on the strength of back-to-back victories, while other top challengers include Hagan, who won for the first time at his home track in 2015, Hight’s JFR teammates John Force and Courtney Force, reigning world champion Del Worsham, two-time 2016 winner Tim Wilkerson, Jack Beckman and Las Vegas winner Alexis DeJoria.
“It would be pretty special this year because my daughter is with me and we’re staying on the road for these four (races) in a row,” Hight said. “I’ve done well at Bristol and being with your family and kids, there’s nothing better. The fans are all really tight there and it’s another Bruton Smith track that is unreal.”