POMONA, Calif. — After putting together the most consistent and impressive season of his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career in 2019, Robert Hight already knows how he can top his championship season this year.
It’s been nearly 20 years since someone has won back-to-back championships in the class, and it’s something Hight would love to accomplish this year.
That end goal is a ways off, but Hight can get off to a great start in 2020 at his hometown track during this weekend’s 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
It’s a special facility for Hight, who started his 2019 title season with a win at Pomona in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS.
Adding a sixth Pomona win would put him on another ideal path.
“Three months is too long to be away from the track and the fans, so I’m excited to get back at it and try to defend this championship,” Hight said. “Nobody has done that since John (Force, in 2002), so it shows you just how hard it is. It’s a tall goal, but it’s one we have. Our goal last year was to win a championship where we were the dominant car all year long and we kind of did that.
“We can check that off our list, so to win two in a row would be really special.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Hight (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the Pomona opener, which will be televised on Fox Sports 1, including finals coverage beginning at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 9.
It is the first of 24 events during the NHRA season and Hight will have his work cut out trying to top his spectacular 2019 campaign.
He was the points leader at 23 of the 24 events on the strength of six wins, nine final round appearances and eight No. 1 qualifiers.
Hight grabbed his 50th – and then 51st – win throughout the course of the year, while the championship put him in exclusive company, joining the likes of Force, Don Prudhomme and Raymond Beadle as the only three-time titlists in Funny Car.
That certainly makes Hight proud, but he’s just as excited that his team has just continued to work.
“What I really take away from this off-season is we didn’t get lazy over the winter or celebrate too much just because we won the championship,” Hight said. “We worked on new things and worked hard, and they paid off in performance (during testing). They’ve stayed focused and our team had that mentality where they want to keep trying to get better.
“That gives you confidence going into the season, but confidence can only take you so far. You have to perform and your car has to perform.”
That doesn’t appear to be a problem heading into Pomona, as Hight and his team, led by standout crew chief Jimmy Prock, looked strong in testing at Las Vegas.
Hight stayed in the 3.80s on every run, furthering his belief he can compete for a fourth Funny Car world title, which would also tie him with Prudhomme and Bernstein.
But to do that, Hight knows he’ll be challenged by an elite group of standouts in the class, including Force, a 16-time world champion; Matt Hagan; Jack Beckman; 2018 world champion J.R. Todd; Ron Capps; Alexis DeJoria; Tommy Johnson Jr.; Bob Tasca lll; Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon.
“We’ve had a great car for three years now and testing went really well, so we feel good,” Hight said. “Pomona is my home track and it’s got a lot of history. There’s nothing like racing in southern California and I still get the butterflies because it is so special. But nobody on our team is second-guessing things.
“We’re all really excited to be back to perform for all the fans, and there’s nothing like opening the season with a win.”