Auto Club driver Robert Hight chases second consecutive Countdown victory from No. 1 spot in Reading
READING, Pa. (Sept. 23) – The only things that seems to slow down NHRA driver Robert Hight and his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS these days are his parachutes.
But Hight didn’t even need them in the final qualifying session for the NHRA Nationals on Saturday at Maple Grove Raceway.
Hight had just secured the sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season and 55th of his career with his run in Q4, but when he pulled the parachutes to slow the car, they didn’t blossom.
“My chutes got all tangled,” Hight said. “I was on time with the chutes, but when I hit them, they got all tangled up. That’s probably one of the biggest jolts you have in the car, when you hit those chutes, and it slams you forward. It’s negative-3 Gs, so it slams you around pretty good. So I knew instantly I didn’t have any chutes.”
The big Goodyear rear tires began to bounce, so Hight knew he had to get off the brakes, let the car settle, then get back on.
“I was able to stop it,” Hight said. “It would’ve been a shame to put the quickest and fastest Funny Car in history in the sand.”
Hight holds the NHRA national record for elapsed time (3.793 seconds) and speed (339.87 mph) – and he also set the Maple Grove track records for ET (3.844 seconds) and speed (339.02 mph) to secure the No. 1 qualifier.
Hight made four passes of 3.921 seconds or quicker this weekend, securing 10 qualifying bonus points as crew chief Jimmy Prock continues to tune Hight to quick times.
“It’s actually amazing,” Hight said. “He’s just got a really good handle on this thing. When he can run this thing, and run within a hundredth of what he goes up there to run, it just shows he’s got a great handle on this thing. It makes me confident. I’ve got to do my job.”
Even the Q4 run that nearly ended in disaster, 3.907 seconds at 330.88 mph, was second-best for the round.
“It was still good for No. 2 of the session, so we picked up two points,” Hight said. “That’s 10 out of 12 possible, so I’d say job well done by the Auto Club team. That’s exactly what we’ve got to do.”
Hight came into the race as the Funny Car points leader, having won in Charlotte to kick off the Countdown to the Championship. He added eight points to his lead, which is now 52 points, through qualifying.
Hight will face No. 16 qualifier Mike Smith in the first round Sunday, which is scheduled to begin at noon Eastern. Fox Sports 1 will broadcast three hours of live coverage on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Qualifying Round 1 (Right Lane): 3.921 seconds/329.02 mph; slow start but picked it up late for what ended up being a strong run (No. 2 of session and No. 2 overall; two bonus points in session)
Qualifying Round 2 (Left Lane): 3.844 seconds/339.02 mph; straight down the track to set both ends of the track record and the second-fastest speed of his career and in NHRA history (No. 1 of session and No. 1 overall; three bonus points in session and five bonus points overall)
Qualifying Round 3 (Left Lane): 3.883 seconds/333.58 mph; another solid pass straight down the middle and one of two drivers to run in the 3.8s in this season (No. 1 of session and No. 1 overall; three bonus points in session and eight bonus points overall)
Qualifying Round 4 (Right Lane): 3.907 seconds/330.88 mph; another strong run … parachute came out and malfunctioned, but Hight had car stopped just before the sand trap (No. 2 of session and No. 1 overall; two bonus points in session and 10 bonus points overall)
This marks the sixth time this season and 55th time in his career Hight has qualified No. 1. The last time he qualified No. 1 came last month at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota, when he set the NHRA record for elapsed time at 3.793 seconds.
Hight is looking for his ninth victory from the No. 1 position. He holds an 89-46 career record after qualifying No. 1. He has also been to 14 finals after qualifying No. 1.
This is Hight’s second No. 1 at Reading, both of which have come in the last three years (he was also No. 1 in 2015).
Hight’s first-round matchup against Mike Smith marks the second time this season and third time overall the two will compete against each other. The pair have each won once against each other, with both prior meetings coming in first-round matchups at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H., in 2014 and 2017.