It’s been a few years, but Robert Hight is back on top.
The California native won his third NHRA Funny Car championship in 2019, but had to wait a few years before he could compete for the title once again.
COVID-19 prevented Hight from competing in all but two races in 2020. He went on to win just two races on his return to the sport in 2021 and finished a disappointing eighth in the standings.
But now, Hight appears to be racing toward his fourth title. He already has six wins this season and a 250-point lead in the Funny Car standings.
Of course, this advantage will be virtually eliminated once the countdown to the championship begins, the NHRA’s six-race playoffs, after this weekend’s US Nationals in Indianapolis. But Hight is proud of his John Force Racing team’s performance so far this season, and has high hopes for the countdown.
“This is what you dream of every year,” Hight said in an exclusive interview with Auto racing abstract. “Sometimes it’s a far-fetched dream with the level of competition in Funny Car. I think it’s harder than ever to win a race. But we’ve managed to get six of them and we’ve been to a few other finals.”
After missing most of 2020, Hight said last year was a very humbling season. The team hoped to return to the performance it had in 2019, but perhaps after a year off it caught them off guard.
“In 2021 we were all hoping to get back the way we were and it didn’t happen,” Hight said. “There are no excuses, but I think we tried a lot of things last year that didn’t work and hurt our performance.
“But you also learn in the long run from things that don’t work. You can still improve when you try something that doesn’t work. We really spent the winter focusing on where we need to go in the future and what we did wrong last year.
“We came out with a lot of energy and won the first two races. I think we all learned that maybe we took things for granted and that it was [going to be] easy last year. We learned very quickly that it wasn’t.”
The team’s progress during the offseason clearly paid off, and now Hight looks toward the countdown. He may have been the man to beat all year, but with the points restart coming up, there is no time to rest.
“You have to stay focused and humble and not get sidetracked,” Hight said of Countdown. “Unfortunately, you can have an amazing regular season and win every race. But if you don’t do it in the last six, it doesn’t mean anything.”
However, Hight is not the only JFR driver to have put together a phenomenal season. On the Top Fuel side, Brittany Force has four wins of her own and leads the standings. The duo have a chance to win the Top Fuel and Funny car championships for the team, a feat they did once before in 2017.
“This is probably the best four-car team we’ve ever fielded,” Hight said.
While Hight is hoping to clinch his fourth Funny Car title at the season-ending race at Pomona this November (if not potentially sooner if he dominates the countdown), he’d also love to win a fourth US Nationals title this weekend in Indianapolis.
“It’s the biggest race of the year,” Hight said. “It’s our Daytona 500 or Indy 500.
“(Top Fuel racing legend ‘Big Daddy’) Don Garlits once told me ‘you just won Indy. You can withdraw now. That’s the mindset of how important it is to win that race. For us, it would just cap off a perfect regular season and give us a boost heading into the countdown.
“If you win the biggest race of the year, you will be at the top of the first race. [of the Countdown] in Redding, Pennsylvania. I think it’s important to come out of Indy with some momentum and you always want to win the biggest race of the year.
“Drivers’ careers are measured by championships and how many times they’ve won Indy. I’m lucky to have been able to do both. I want one of each.”