HIGHT DOMINATES SUNDAY AT INDY WITH PEP BOYS FUNNY CAR CALLOUT WIN, U.S. NATIONALS POLE POSITION
You simply could not have written a script any more favorable for three-time Funny Car world champion Robert Hight on Sunday in Indianapolis.
Hight entered the third and final day of qualifying at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals pacing the field with an opportunity to add even more hardware to his collection in the Pep Boys Funny Car All-Star Callout specialty race. Three passes later, Hight had completed the first two legs of the Indy trifecta with a win in the Callout and the No. 1 qualifying position as he looks to complete the sweep with a win in the biggest drag race of them all on Monday at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
“(This weekend) we were low (elapsed time) in three of the sessions and second in two of the sessions, so we’re definitely coming around at the right time,” Hight said. “There’s been a lot of double-ups (at the U.S. Nationals). Don Prudhomme. I was working on John’s (Force) car in 1996 when we doubled up here. (Gary) Desham’s done it. (Jack) Beckman’s done it. Del Worsham. All of these guys have done it, and I’d like to add my name to that list. You’ve got to win on Sunday before you can double up.”
Hight defeated a trio of former world champions to collect the $80,000 payday and the win in the Pep Boys Funny Car All-Star Callout, bettering Matt Hagan in a tremenous final to earn his first win in the newest iteration of NHRA’s specialty nitro shootout.
Hight got away cleanly and never trailed in his Cornwell Tools/AAA Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, piloting his 11,000 horsepower machine to a 3.955-second lap at 321.58 mph in the triumph. Hagan, meanwhile, put up a fight but ultimately fell short with a 3.979 at 322.58 mph.
“It takes a team to win on any given day. It’s a team sport,” High said. “That’s honestly what is the coolest thing for me about winning anything is we do it together as a team. We all pulled in the right direction and things are turning around for us. We’ve made six really, really good runs so far, and that goes back to testing. I think we were on the right track, and it’s all happening at the right time. We’ve still got another full day tomorrow. Today was for the money, but tomorrow is what you want to win. I’ve already won (the U.S. Nationals) and I’d like to add my name one more time.”
Hight also collected wins over defending U.S. Nationals champion and current points leader Ron Capps as well as Cruz Pedregon. The format that features the higher-seeded driver selecting, or “calling out,” his or her opponent of the remaining competitors for the first two rounds of competition.
Hight actually kicked off the selection process by selecting Capps to race in Round One, a bold strategy that ultimately paid off for the savvy veteran.
“We knew that was our only round that’s guaranteed we have lane choice, so if there happens to be a better lane we might as well take it,” Hight said. “We always seem to, after qualifying, look at the ladder and say, ‘We got the easy side,’ and we never do good on those days. I think these better drivers bring out the best in us and we work harder. That’s what we did today. Let’s go out there and see what you’ve got and get it over with first round, win or lose. The way I look at it, we can beat Capps or lose to him in the first round or the final. It’s going to happen, so let’s do the best we can and let the chips fall where they fall. We beat three world champs today. We earned this thing.”
Of course, that is always easier said than done. Hight admitted that amid all of the chest beating and calling out the best drivers to lay it all on the line in the first round, there were quite a few butterflies swirling around underneath his firesuit as he awaited that first round matchup.
“You’re sitting in your car for first round and you’re thinking, ‘Boy, I hope I made the right decision. I hope I don’t go up here and choke and do something and really look stupid,’” Hight said. “Just because you call somebody out doesn’t mean you’re going to beat them. You’ve got to go out and get the job done, and it can go a million different ways.
“These are race cars that anything can happen. The driver can screw up, the car can break, you can overpower the track -- anything can happen. Another thing too, it’s going to be Hagan and Capps right to the bitter end. We’re going to be fighting these guys throughout the Countdown so this is practice. If you happen to get it done, you’re one up on them.”
Thankfully, the call-out strategy paid off as Hight drove to a 3.935 at 324.44 mph triumph in that opening-round matchup. Capps was glued to Hight throughout the run, but slowed just before the lights in a 4.082 losing effort.
In the other match-up, Hight drove around Pedregon in a wire-to-wire victory with a 3.997 at 314.97 mph to a 4.004 at 322.65 mph. Hagan reached the final of the Callout with wins over Tim Wilkerson and John Force.
Hight added that he had considered a different second-round opponent, but changed his mind before making the final call. “I considered calling Hagan out in the second round, and if you look at it, that would’ve been a mistake,” Hight explained. “We didn’t have lane choice in the final, and Hagan’s team has really been stepping up. We made the right decisions (today) and it paid off.”
Now Hight shifts his focus to the real prize -- an opportunity to earn a fourth win at the granddaddy of them all. He will lead the field into race day with a stellar 3.853-second pass at 329.67 mph run during Q3 on Saturday, jumping him ahead of Bob Tasca in the order.
Tasca dipped to second on the ladder with a 3.864 at 324.90 mph, while Alexis DeJoria (3.888), Hagan (3.912) and Capps (3.917) rounded out the top five.
Regardless of the result Monday, Hight’s success to start the weekend is a huge confidence boost to the team entering the Countdown to the Championship. With runs in the hot and the cold, under the lights and in the daytime heat, Hight has been at the top of the charts on each of the runs, a key factor during the unpredictable final few races of the season.
“During the Countdown you’ve got to be able to do this when it’s hot and cold if you want to win a championship,” Hight said. “I do feel that we’re coming together at the right time and it’s definitely different than last year. We came in here (last year) with a huge lead, and then on Tuesday morning we woke up and looked at NHRA.com and you saw that you had nothing. It was all gone down the toilet. That’s going to happen to somebody else this year.”
Hight will face journeyman Paul Lee in Round One on Monday.