LAS VEGAS, NV – March 29, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Robert Hight started to see things come together at the end of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, winning the fall Las Vegas race and putting together a string of solid performances.
It wasn’t enough to clinch a second career Funny Car world championship, but the valuable information gained in last season’s strong finish has already been beneficial in 2016. Hight took over the points lead after three races by winning in Gainesville, Fla., in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS – the latest example of how the entire John Force Racing operation hit the ground running this year.
Next up is this weekend’s 17th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Hight likes the direction the JFR team is headed. Brittany Force won her first Top Fuel race in Gainesville, giving JFR its first ever double-up win, and all three Funny Car drivers (Hight, John Force and Courtney Force) are in the top five.
“I think we have been figuring out so much in the last 18 months from new sponsors to working with Chevrolet as our new manufacturer,” Hight said. “Now we are hitting our stride and also the addition of Brian Husen and Alan Johnson on the Top Fuel program has been a huge asset.
“It has been very satisfying to see the start of this season. I think it shows what hard work can do for a team. I am excited about how consistent this Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro has been. We didn’t get discouraged after last season we just worked harder as an entire organization. That is what is great about JFR, we all work together.”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including three hours of live finals coverage starting at 5 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the fourth of 24 events and the latest stop for Hight to extend his early-season successes.
He posted back-to-back semifinal appearances to open the year, following it up with a complete performance in Gainesville. Hight hasn’t qualified lower than fourth in the first three events and the consistency of the rest of the team has been noticeable as well. Brittany Force and Hight both have the points lead in their respective classes and Hight said that’s pushed everyone in the process.
“You want to win as many races as possible so getting wins early is a great motivator,” said Hight, who has 37 career wins. “The biggest plus for me is getting that guaranteed spot in the Traxxas Shootout out of the way. That is one less thing to think about. Last year I got my spot at the last possible race. That is a lot of stress that I won’t have this year. Getting Brittany in the Traxxas Shootout is also huge. We are all doing well and I think our goal is to just build on this momentum for the whole year.”
It’s been a collective effort from everyone on the four-car team to find the sweet spot and that has meant a significant amount of work in the off-season. Hight was the only JFR driver to finish in the top six in 2015 and everyone has used that as motivation.
The improvements have been apparent, and the relationship between Hight and crew chief Mike Neff continues to be a key reason why.
“He understands a lot about the car, the parts and how it all works as well as I do,” Neff said. “He understands the driving part, and I’ve also driven. That’s probably the biggest thing that has happened to me as a crew chief is getting the opportunity to drive, to experience what it’s like, because it’s so hard to wrap your brain around what it would be like being in that car and the sensation of speed and what goes on.
“Unless you’ve done it you can’t relate. The feedback from him, too – ‘it did this’ – I can relate to because I probably experienced the same thing in the car. We have a really good working relationship, which shows in the performance on the track.”
But Hight knows there is no time to be content, as 21 races remain against a loaded and ultra-talented Funny Car field. It includes Ron Capps, who won in Pomona, defending world champion Del Worsham, Phoenix winner Tim Wilkerson, Alexis DeJoria, Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon and Tommy Johnson Jr.
The double-up victory in Gainesville was a monumental one for the entire organization, but Hight said getting locked in this weekend won’t be difficult.
“When we pull into The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway our total focus will be on qualifying well and winning the race,” Hight said. “John Force and Courtney Force have great race cars and I think this Auto Club team was one spark plug away from winning the race last season. I am excited to be getting to Las Vegas because I won there in November.”
In Top Fuel, Crampton powered to victory over Larry Dixon in the final round last year to earn his first victory of the season. He will face off against Leah Pritchett, who won her first career race in Phoenix, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who has eight career victories at the facility, Doug Kalitta, Winternationals winner Steve Torrence, reigning world champ Antron Brown, J.R. Todd, Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican and Brittany Force, who won her first race at the most recent event in Gainesville.
In the all-new Pro Stock class, Enders will look to get back to her championship-winning ways after suffering three first round losses to open the season. Standing in her way, though, will be her teammates Drew Skillman and Jeg Coughlin Jr., the Summit Racing duo of Greg Anderson and Jason Line, who have combined to win the first three races, Phoenix No. 1 qualifier Bo Butner and Chris McGaha.
The sleek new Pro Stock cars feature fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter.
The DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals is always a big weekend for Pro Stock drivers as the all-star K&N Horsepower Challenge kicks off the Pro Stock event in style. Eight of the best Pro Stock drivers will duel it out for bragging rights and a hefty paycheck on Saturday of race weekend. Enders is the defending K&N Horsepower Challenge winner.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 in motorsports 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.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 1 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 2, at 1 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 3.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
DENSO SPARK PLUGS NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 17th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, the fourth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The race also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of downtown Las Vegas off Interstate 15.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, April 1-3
FRIDAY, April 1 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, April 2 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:10 and 4:05 p.m.
K&N HORSEPOWER CHALLENGE at 1, 4 and 5 p.m.
SUNDAY, April 3 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11:15 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noon
SATURDAY, April 2, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (ET)
SUNDAY, April 3, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 9 p.m. (ET)
SUNDAY, April 3, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 5 p.m. (ET)
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Richie Crampton, Top Fuel; John Force, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Enders, K&N Horsepower Challenge.
MOST VICTORIES: Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Robert Hight, 3, FC; Greg Anderson, 3, PS; Jeg Coughlin, 3, PS; Kenny Bernstein, 2, TF; John Force, 2, FC; Cruz Pedregon, 2, FC; Mike Edwards, 2, PS; Erica Enders, 2, PS; Allen Johnson, 2, PS.
MOST K&N HORSEPOWER CHALLENGE VICTORIES: Greg Anderson, 4; Kurt Johnson, 4; Jeg Coughlin, 3; Bob Glidden, 3; Warren Johnson, 3; Larry Morgan, 3; Bruce Allen, 2; Erica Enders, 2; Allen Johnson, 2; Jim Yates, 2;
Top Fuel – 3.722 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’15 and 332.67 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. ’15.
Funny Car – 3.931 sec. by Tommy Johnson Jr., Oct. ’15 and 325.92 mph by Del Worsham, Oct. ’15.
Pro Stock – 6.559 sec. and 210.28 mph by Erica Enders, Oct. ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.879 sec. by Jack Beckman, March ‘16, Gainesville, Fla. and 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C. and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 644-4444. Tickets also available online at www.lvms.com/tickets.
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings following the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
1. Brittany Force, 251; 2. Clay Millican, 210; 3. Doug Kalitta, 205; 4. Steve Torrence, 199; 5. Terry McMillen, 178; 6. Leah Pritchett, 166; 7. J.R. Todd, 157; 8. Tony Schumacher, 155; 9. Richie Crampton, 153; 10. Antron Brown, 149.
1. Robert Hight, 280; 2. Ron Capps, 279; 3. John Force, 221; 4. Jack Beckman, 205; 5. Courtney Force, 201; 6. Del Worsham, 189; 7. Tim Wilkerson, 183; 8. Chad Head, 162; 9. Alexis DeJoria, 119; 10. Matt Hagan, 118.
1. Jason Line, 337; 2. Greg Anderson, 331; 3. Bo Butner, 233; 4. Drew Skillman, 205; 5. Chris McGaha, 161; 6. (tie) Jeg Coughlin, 160; Allen Johnson, 160; 8. Vincent Nobile, 138; 9. Alex Laughlin, 121; 10. Erica Enders, 97.
Pro Stock Motorcycle:
1. Eddie Krawiec, 129; 2. Hector Arana, 99; 3. Andrew Hines, 79; 4. LE Tonglet, 74; 5. Chip Ellis, 62; 6. (tie) Michael Ray, 52; Jerry Savoie, 52; Jim Underdahl, 52; 9. Angelle Sampey, 35; 10. (tie) Scotty Pollacheck, 33. Melissa Surber, 33.