Robert Hight, JR Todd staging epic NHRA Funny Car duel
Points leader Robert Hight, driving while healing from a broken collarbone, has to look over his sore shoulder at Kalitta Mototsports’ JR Todd, his closest rival in the Funny Car championship battle. Todd lurks in second place, a mere 11 points off the pace.
Todd won at Indianapolis to close the 18-race “regular season,” won the playoff opener at Reading, Pa., and since has been to two finals at the past two races to draw a bead on Hight.
“Really, it’s all you can ask for,” Todd said, “and hopefully we can keep it up. As a driver, this is pretty much all you can ask for, having a shot at a championship. This DHL Toyota team is a championship-caliber team.
“We ran well last year at a certain point and fell off in the Countdown. This year, we turned it around in Indy (Labor Day). And when the performance of the car comes around and you can make consistent runs like we have, it makes it more fun and really raises your confidence level as a driver,” he said. “I’ve never really been in this position before. In 2014, we finished second (in Top Fuel) but we weren’t really in the hunt. You definitely have to seize the moment and block out the distractions. You have to enjoy the moment and not let it get the best of you.”
Meanwhile, Hight has worked his way up through the standings from third to first, thanks to a semifinal finish at Reading and victories at St. Louis and Dallas. His most recent outing, at Charlotte, ended in the second round against No. 3 Ron Capps (who has gained three positions in the standings just since the Dallas event). He suffered a broken collarbone in his winning final round at St. Louis in a fiery engine-explosion incident.
“At the beginning of the Countdown, I felt like you would need to win three races and not have any first-round losses if you wanted to win the championship,” Hight said. “I am not sure three wins will be enough, but we are in a good spot to defend our championship. I love how [crew chiefs] Jimmy [Prock] and Chris [Cunningham] have this Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro running. We are going down the racetrack every run, and we are quick and fast. I need to be at the top of my game, too. This is going to be an exciting weekend and last two races.”
He said, “Racing in Las Vegas in the fall is all about the Mello Yello NHRA championship. We have the points lead, but we need to keep the pressure on the rest of the Funny Cars. No one can afford a mistake. I love racing here, and we have done well at The Strip. The key is to just treat this like any other race. You can’t change your routine or focus because there are only two races left.”
The season will conclude at the NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., in two weeks.
But Hight has won twice at this event at Las Vegas, and at this venue he has been No. 1 qualifier three times and started from among the top three nine times. It was at The Strip last October that he used a semifinal finish to take the points lead for good.
“We have a lot of data from The Strip, and that race track has been good to us,” Hight said. “Jimmy and Chris have a lot of confidence. I feed off their confidence and I think it makes its way through the whole team. We have been through this fight before, and we are going to give it our best.”