Arguably, no one is hotter in the Funny Car division of the Mello Yellow NHRA Drag Racing Series right now than John Force Racing’s Robert Hight. Over the last four events on the schedule, Hight has made three final round appearances, winning two of them. In fact, he’s beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in each final round in two of the last three races at Denver and two weeks ago in Seattle.
Now, Hight is hoping to carry that momentum through this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota and get a third victory of the 2017 season and 40th of his career.
“When you’re on roll like we’ve been on and the car’s running so well, this is what you want,” Hight said via a team press release. “Even though last week was a match race, we still got the win, and we ran great. You don’t want this to ever end. It’s going to at some point, but we want to roll into Brainerd and get right back in there.”
During that same time frame, he was the No. 1 qualifier three times as well, and has been in the top two of elimination qualifiying for seven of the last eight events.
He expects the same amount of speed out of his Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS.
“If conditions are good, Brainerd can be a fast race track,” said Hight, the 2015 Brainerd winner. “I’m looking forward to going there, having a successful weekend. We have a good shot at getting up to second points, and going into Indy No. 2 would be pretty cool. We’re looking for another win.”
Hight moved to third in the Funny Car points standings after the win in Seattle, only eight points behind second place.
Hight is approaching a milestone, too. His victory over Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Seattle final was the 399th career round victory. Only five other Funny Car drivers have reached that 400-win plateau, led by John Force Racing owner/teammate John Force’s 1,278.
“That’s big,” Hight said. “You’ve got to get round wins before you get race wins, and that’s how you get race wins. John has 1,278 round wins, so 400 doesn’t seem like very much. I don’t know how 400 stacks up to other guys who have raced the similar amount of time, but I’m happy that the round wins are coming more frequently than they were for us. That’s encouraging, and that’s exciting.”
But, he’s going to have some stiff competition from his boss John Force.
Force himself has 11 victories, the second-most of any track on the circuit, in 31 races, and his 74 elimination-round wins is also the second-highest at any track. Only at Pomona does he have more (16 victories and 127 elimination-round wins).
Of course, the memories are endless.
“I remember at Brainerd, in my early days, one of my cars caught on fire and burned to the ground,” Force also said via a team release. “I went to the hospital, the team worked all night, and we came out the next day with (crew chief) Austin Coil and won the race. I have a lot of good friends up there.”
Force says a 12th Brainerd win is very much capable of happening, but he has to stay out of the “zoo” if so.
“I stay out of the ‘Zoo;’ I went to the ‘Zoo’ in my early days and got in trouble,” Force said. “I’ve got to focus at my age on winning. I’m excited to come back. We know the race track well; there could be killer conditions. National records could be run there. I’m struggling, but Robert (Hight), Courtney and Brittany (Force) are fast.
“We’re going to be running a whole new combination here that we’ve been working on for months. It’s going to come together, and when it does, John Force will be there. We’re hoping to start at Brainerd. That’s what we plan on doing, going for the win.”
But, you can’t count out Courtney Force either. She’s made it to the semifinals the last two races and was the top qualifier at Denver. Last year, she watched her sister Brittany Force earn her first career Top Fuel triumph in Brainerd, and she’s obviously seen her dad win there 11 times too. Now, she’s hoping it’s her turn.
“We’ve had some success with several of our teams up there at Brainerd, and while we haven’t gotten a win up there yet, I feel good after a strong Western Swing,” Force said. “It feels like we’ve gone in the right direction. Having gone to the semifinals twice out west has put us in a good position going into Brainerd. This is ‘Zoo,’ this is where the fans come and have a great time, and this is the race that will really set us up for the U.S. Nationals.”
Force says she can now focus on wins moving forward because she’s clinched her countdown playoff berth and has nothing to lose at this point.
“The biggest thing that has come out of the Western Swing having our Advance Auto Parts team clinch a spot in the Countdown,” said Force, currently sixth in the points standings. “Now, we can go into Brainerd with our heads cleared and just focus on that win and not think about trying to clinch a spot. We’re definitely in a good position after our last elimination-round win at Seattle.
“I’m proud of my guys; they’ve done an unbelievable job so far. We’ve yet to get that win, but I know it’s right around the corner. I’d love for it to be in Brainerd. I hope we can get some good runs at Brainerd so we can be set up for the U.S. Nationals and the Countdown.”
JGR has won 17 times overall at Brainerd, 16 of which in Funny Car. They’re going to be the ones to watch this weekend.