CHARLOTTE, NC – September 8, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – It didn’t take long for Robert Hight to shift his focus to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
In fact, the 2009 Funny Car world champion was already in playoff mode the moment he learned he would be starting from the sixth position in the NHRA’s six-race playoffs. That means Hight is locked in already for the Countdown to the Championship opener, the ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, Sept. 16-18, at zMAX Dragway.
Hight may have an off weekend following the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but the Funny Car standout is already honing in on starting the Countdown to the Championship on a strong note in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS.
“I started focusing on Charlotte and the rest of the Countdown as soon as the race in Indy was over,” Hight said. “I got together with my team and we have a plan to get some rest and get everything organized and ready to go for Charlotte. Right now the focus is on getting the last few bugs worked out of this new Auto Club Camaro SS Funny Car. We were just a couple of adjustments away in Indy and I think this race car might be better than the one we had before.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) bettered the competition a year ago for a race that will be broadcast on FOX Sports 1 for the first time.
All four winners at the Carolina Nationals ended up with world championships, further emphasizing the importance of a good start at the state-of-the-art facility that has hosted the Countdown to the Championship opener since 2007.
But Hight didn’t need convincing of that, relying on his own history to know the impact of a win in Charlotte to start the playoffs. He started from the 10th position in 2009, but won the Carolina Nationals, using that momentum to fuel his championship run. Having a Funny Car-best four wins at the facility gives the 37-time event winner added confidence as well.
“The first race is important because you can make up ground on the drivers in front of you with a good start,” said Hight. “I think it gives you a lot of confidence to start Charlotte on a strong note. We have had a lot of success in Charlotte as a team.”
Hight and his team, led by crew chief Mike Neff, will head to Charlotte following a productive showing in Indy despite a massive explosion during qualifying. He advanced to the finals of the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout before falling to John Force Racing teammate Courtney Force and won a round in eliminations before get knocked by eventual winner Matt Hagan.
Hight, who has one win this season, knows there is potential for more and is excited to see that come to fruition in the Countdown to the Championship starting in Charlotte.
“My team has been together for a long time and we know what we need to do,” Hight said. “I think we just need to stay focused and do our best. We have a great sponsor with Auto Club that gives us a lot of support and confidence. Three of the races in the Countdown are sponsored by Auto Club so that makes it exciting, too. The biggest goal every season is to win races and win the championship. Right now we are right on track. We are in the middle of one of the toughest Funny Car fields ever I think and we are one of ten teams that have a chance to get that Mello Yello championship trophy this season.”
That stout Funny Car field is led by Ron Capps, who has five victories this season and will start the Countdown to the Championship with the points lead. Hight will also have to deal with plenty of other superstars, including defending world champion Worsham, who won four races in the Countdown last year, teammates Courtney Force and John Force, two-time world champion Hagan, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson and Alexis DeJoria.
Despite the pressures and rigors of the Countdown to the Championship, Hight knows his team’s method for success will stay the same.
“My mindset doesn’t really change,” Hight said. “I want to have a good start on Friday of qualifying. That has been the key all season. When we start off Friday with a good run or two we do well. If you don’t start off on Friday well you are behind the eight-ball the rest of the weekend. Now is when you don’t need any little mistakes to trip you up.”
In Top Fuel, Brown sprinted past J.R. Todd in the final round of last year’s event and then won the next two events en route to his second world title. Brown will take the points lead into the Countdown, but he’ll have to get by a host of talented drivers, including Doug Kalitta, who is second in points, Steve Torrence, three-time 2016 winner Brittany Force, eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, who won in Indy, Shawn Langdon, Richie Crampton, Clay Millican and Leah Pritchett.
Enders raced past Vincent Nobile in the final round in Charlotte last year and went on to earn her second consecutive world championship. Enders starts the Countdown in ninth this year and will need a strong turnaround to catch the likes of points leader Jason Line and Greg Anderson, who both have seven wins this season. Others to watch include four-time 2016 runner-up Bo Butner, Denver winner Allen Johnson, Brainerd winner Drew Skillman, Nobile, Shane Gray, Jeg Coughlin and Chris McGaha, who won in Indy.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines rode past Matt Smith for the win and later earned his fourth world championship at the final race of the season. Hines, a three-time NHRA Carolina Nationals winner, has a grip on the points lead and is red-hot with four victories this season, including a recent win at Indianapolis. Teammate Eddie Krawiec, who has three wins this year, is second in points, while Englishtown winner Angelle Sampey, alligator farmer Jerry Savoie, Sonoma winner LE Tonglet, Hector Arana, Chip Ellis, Smith, Hector Arana Jr. and Cody Reed round out the Countdown field.
The NHRA Carolina Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
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 how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:15 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 12:45 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
NHRA CAROLINA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: Ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, the 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the first 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 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: zMAX Dragway – Track is located on Hwy 29 off I-85 at exit 49 (Speedway Blvd.) in the Concord, N.C. area.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 630 feet above sea level.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 16-18
FRIDAY, Sept. 16 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2:30 and 5 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 3:15 and 5:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 17 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 12:15 p.m.; first round of eliminations at 2:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:45 and 3 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 18 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noon
Friday, Sept. 16, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 18, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 10:30 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 20, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Del Worsham, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Top Fuel – 3.713 sec. by J.R. Todd, March ’15; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12.
Funny Car – 3.934 sec. by Alexis DeJoria, April ’16; 323.50 mph by Matt Hagan, April ’16.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15; 215.48 mph by Greg Anderson, March ’15.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.794 sec. and 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.832 by Del Worsham, Aug. ’16, Seattle; 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: Order tickets by phone at (800) 455-FANS. Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com.
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings (top 10) following the 62nd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park at Indianapolis, the 18th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
1. Antron Brown, 2,110; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,080; 3. Steve Torrence, 2,070; 4. Tony Schumacher, 2,060; 5. Brittany Force, 2,050; 6. J.R. Todd, 2,040; 7. Shawn Langdon, 2,030; 8. Clay Millican, 2,020; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,010; 10. Leah Pritchett, 2,000.
1. Ron Capps, 2,110; 2. Del Worsham, 2,080; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,070; 4. Courtney Force, 2,060; 5. Jack Beckman, 2,050; 6. Robert Hight, 2,040; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,030; 8. John Force, 2,020; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,010; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 2,000.
1. Jason Line, 2,110; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,080; 3. Bo Butner, 2.070; 4. Allen Johnson, 2,060; 5. Vincent Nobile, 2,050 6. Drew Skillman, 2,040; 7. Chris McGaha, 2,030; 8. Shane Gray, 2,020; 9. Erica Enders, 2,010; 10. Jeg Coughlin, 2,000.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Andrew Hines, 2,110; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,080; 3. Angelle Sampey, 2,070; 4. Jerry Savoie, 2,060; 5. LE Tonglet, 2,050; 6. Chip Ellis, 2,040; 7. Hector Arana Jr, 2,030; 8. Hector Arana, 2,020; 9. Matt Smith, 2,010; 10. Cory Reed, 2,000.
About National Hot Rod Association
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 23 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA J&A Service 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 for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates five racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville in Florida; National Trail Raceway in Ohio; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association