Robert Hight capped an unlikely National Hot Rod Assn. championship season with a day to spare at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Saturday.
Hight won the funny car championship after the second qualifying session of the day. He posted the third fastest qualifying run of the weekend, but it was enough to clinch his first NHRA championship.
Hight was the last driver to qualify for the Countdown to One playoffs. The top 10 drivers in each of the top four NHRA divisions qualified, and he earned the final spot in the funny car Countdown with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in September, the last race of the regular season before the Countdown began.
Hight went on to win three of the first five races in the Countdown and entered the season finale in Pomona with a 105-point lead. He was among the top qualifiers all weekend, earning a few points each day and padding his lead.
“Almost not making the Countdown is what makes this so special, and some of the championships we’ve come close to winning over the years,” said Hight, a driver for John Force Racing. “I can’t believe it.”
Hight said his last qualifying run was an emotional one.
“I don’t even know what I ran with all the cameras and everyone telling me that I had clinched,” he said. “It didn’t really hit me until then. I couldn’t hold it back; I was tearing up. But I had to get it together and make a run. This is all I’ve ever dreamed about and all I’ve ever wanted to do. No we’ve got a race to go out and win.”
Hight will face Jerry Toliver in the first round of eliminations today.
Ashley Force Hood, Hight’s teammate with John Force Racing, was the top qualifier in funny cars. She knocked her father, John Force, out of the top spot by posting a faster top speed, a track record of 310.55 mph. Force Hood and her father had the same elapsed time, 4.059 seconds.
Mike Edwards won the pro stock championship in qualifying and was also the top qualifier in pro stock. He will face Larry Morgan in the first round of eliminations.
“We knew we were good, we just didn’t know how good,” Edwards said about his team and his championship season. “We got on a roll. We should have won more races. Unfortunately, that’s the way it was. We made a lot of good decisions in the middle of the year with the race car.”
The top fuel championship will be decided in one of the tightest NHRA races in the history of the Countdown to One playoffs. Tony Schumacher set a track record at 3.772 seconds to earn the top spot in qualifying and take a two-point lead in the top fuel standings.
Larry Dixon was the second-fastest qualifier, setting a track record and a national speed record at 321.58 mph.