GLENDORA, Calif. – As far as Robert Hight is concerned, it doesn’t get any better than ending the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season at historic Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif. with a world championship on the line. That will be the scenario for a second straight year when the defending Funny Car world champion heads to the birthplace of NHRA drag racing for the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 8-11 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
After five of the six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Hight is second in points – 74 behind J.R. Todd – on the strength of two playoff wins in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS. He’s fought through a broken collarbone to stay in the Funny Car hunt and Hight will head to Pomona excited about the chance to win a third career world title.
“There’s nothing like racing in Pomona,” said Hight, who has 45 career wins. “Southern California, all the fans there, there’s nothing like that. I always remember back to my first run in competition coming there and just looking down the track. It was a dream come true getting to race a Funny Car and I still get all those same feelings every time I race there.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 11. The race is the final event of the year and the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and, once again, Hight has championship aspirations after getting hot at the right time.
In 2017, Hight won four of the final 11 races, including two in the Countdown to the Championship, advancing to three finals in the playoffs to edge out Ron Capps. This year, he posted back-to-back playoff victories in the playoffs at St. Louis and Dallas before a first-round slip up in Las Vegas. Hight broke his collarbone in a crash in the final-round win in St. Louis, but returned the next race to take the victory in Dallas. The pairing with crew chief Jimmy Prock has been a dynamite one, as the entire team has figured out a way to raise their performance when it counts.
“I think it’s all a mindset and really having a gameplan of getting your act together by Indy,” Hight said. “You definitely don’t want to go to Indy searching for a combination or struggling. What Jimmy is really good at is learning from mistakes earlier in the year and focusing on what we need to do better. That’s what he’s done the last two years and it’s all about having a gameplan. Jimmy and Chris (Cunningham) live this car night and day and I’ve never been around a team this focused.”
It has brought out the best in Hight, who remains one of the best in the class on the starting line. He’ll have to be in peak form in Pomona, as Todd won in Las Vegas and also has two playoff victories in the playoffs. With the Auto Club NHRA Finals using the point-and-a-half system, the winner earns 150 points and can earn up to 191 points. That makes for plenty of drama, but it seems to bring out the best in Hight, who didn’t qualify for eliminations until the final qualifying session a year ago in Pomona before racing to the final and clinching the world title.
“At the beginning of the year, all you can do is hope to be in this position,” said Hight, who has four career wins in Pomona. “Up until these last few years, we went through a period where we were going to Vegas and Pomona without a chance to win a title, and that’s tough. It’s painful and I think that makes you appreciate the team you have and everything we have going on this year. We all know what we have to do. We love our jobs, but we love to win and that’s our main focus. Fans love the thought of the championship going down to the last race and that gets me pumped up.”
Steve Torrence has won the first five races of the Countdown to the Championship in Top Fuel, claiming first world championship with his victory in Las Vegas.
Second-year Pro Stock star Tanner Gray has seven wins in 2018, including two in the playoffs, and currently holds a 140-point lead over Jeg Coughlin Jr.
It’s a tight race in Pro Stock Motorcycle, with two-time world champ Matt Smith keeping a slim four-point advantage on defending world champ Eddie Krawiec. LE Tonglet is 61 points back.The Auto Club NHRA Finals will also feature thrilling competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the spectacular Cacklefests during the weekend.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Auto Club NHRA Finals include Kenny Bernstein, Greg Sharp and more.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444. Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. All students can save 50 percent on general admission at the gate with a student ID. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, the final of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the final of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Pomona, Calif. Track is located off I-10 at Fairplex Drive. From I-10, go north on Fairplex drive and follow the signs to Auto Club Raceway at the Fairplex.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 1,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is north to south.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 8-11SCHEDULE:
THURSDAY, Nov. 8 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Nov. 9 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Nov. 10 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Nov. 11 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.TELEVISION:
Friday, Nov. 9, FS1 will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Nov. 11, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (ET).2017 EVENT WINNERS:
Brittany Force, Top Fuel; Tommy Johnson, Funny Car; Bo Butner, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, FC, 8; Kenny Bernstein, TF-FC, 6; Greg Anderson, PS, 5; Bob Glidden, PS, 5; John Myers, PSM, 5; Warren Johnson, PS, 4; Dave Schultz, PSM, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4.TRACK RECORDS:
Top Fuel – 3.628 sec. by Clay Millican, Feb. ’18 and 330.00 mph by Steve Torrence, Nov. ‘18
Funny Car – 3.822 sec. by Matt Hagan, Feb. ’17 and 336.32 by Matt Hagan, Feb. ’18
Pro Stock – 6.480 sec. by Erica Enders, Nov. ’14 and 213.84 mph by Drew Skillman, Nov. ’15
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.766 sec. by Andrew Hines, Nov. ’12; 198.29 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Nov. ’12
Top Fuel – 3.628 sec. by Clay Millican, Feb. ’18, Pomona, Calif.; 336.57 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ‘18, Phoenix
Funny Car – 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. ’17, Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct ‘12, Reading, PA.; 201.01 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ‘18, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call 800-884-NHRA (6472), of visit www.nhra.com/tickets/.
Photos courtesy of NHRA
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and E3 Spark Plug NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California.