Talk about a tale of two wildly differing racing outcomes.

With the lights shining brightly on the big stage Friday night, Robert Hight’s weekend began with a bang when his 11,000-horsepower nitro-burning machine detonated on the starting line in a spectacular and destructive fireball. That incident left the three-time champion behind the eight ball in the second of six races that make up the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.

But after an all-night thrash session by his team, Hight rolled his Cornwell Tools/AAA Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car into the water box Saturday night and completely flipped the script, driving to the No. 1 spot by one-thousandth of a second to collect his fifth top qualifier award of the season at the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

“Hats off to my guys for rebounding from a rough go of it yesterday,” Hight said. “We went up there last night to try to run an (3.)85 and when we saw Hagan run the 82, I’m thinking to myself 'We don’t have anything for that.' I’m backing up from that burnout and it is starting to not sound right, and I said to Jimmy (Prock) when I was pulling forward, ‘Is this thing alright?’ I saw him look at the pipes and he was hearing the same thing and he said he would be ready. It went about five feet and blew up. My guys had to work real hard and to come back today and run two runs in the 80s and get us qualified well in the show says a lot.”

Hight actually made up much of that lost ground in Q2 on Saturday, powering his way to third on the ladder before jumping up three more spots in the final session. Following a rain delay that pushed the session later into the night, Hight stabbed the throttle and completed the 1,000-foot course in 3.824 seconds at 330.15 mph to unseat Friday’s top qualifier, Matt Hagan. Hagan’s 3.825-second lap at 333.49 mph from Friday slipped to second on the ladder.

Bob Tasca III had a strong 3.836 at 331.94 mph to place his Ford Mustang third, followed by John Force (3.861) and Ron Capps (3.864).




“Sometimes when you go up there and push it doesn’t work out,” Hight said. “There are so many moving parts with a fuel car that everything has to work just right. It is a science, but there is some luck in it. We were pushing tonight. We really wanted to go out there and get the No. 1 spot because that is a bye first round, and in the Countdown, that is a big deal. We were pushing, but I never get too hopeful. You just have to do your job and hope it all shakes out. To do it by one thou, that shows you how close this racing is.”

While winning the race Sunday is the ultimate goal, qualifying points were front of mind for Hight on Saturday. Following a 2022 season in which he came up three points shy of earning his fourth championship in the Funny Car category, Hight was extra sensitive to his costly start to the weekend, but felt some redemption for his team’s ability to quickly turn that around.

“With the last six (races) being the Countdown, you are a little more focused and a little more amped up,” Hight said. “Coming off a year like we had last year where we had a career season -- winning all of those races and coming up three points short -- that was in the back of our minds tonight. Those points are going to all add up. We are counting every point trying to race smart and see where it shakes out.”

Coming off of a big win in the opening round of the Countdown at Reading one week ago, Hight highlighted the work that his team has put in over the past two months following a disastrous Western Swing that has led to such big strides the team has made to start the NHRA’s playoffs.

“In the Western Swing we were horrible. We ran terrible and won very few rounds,” Hight said. “We started a new combination when we went to the Norwalk Night Under Fire, and it started to come around Topeka and in Brainerd we went to the final. We tested following that event and it ran an 83 and I shut it off a little early. We had that data and we knew what we needed to do when we got into these kinds of conditions.”

With the top spot secured, Hight will get a first-round bye before racing the winner between J.R. Todd and Paul Lee in Round Two. Hight enters eliminations having already won at zMAX Dragway once before this year at the Four-Wide Nationals, and owns seven total wins at the Concord, N.C., facility.