The 26th annual Sonoma NHRA Nationals at Sonoma Raceway hold a special place in many racers and fans memories. For Robert Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang team their pinnacle of success in the Wine Country was winning the event in 2008 a year after they lost teammate Eric Medlen in a testing accident the previous season. Medlen was the defending Sonoma National champion and Hight picked up the win to keep the John Force Racing win streak going. The next year John Force took home the Wally.
As the teams reach the midpoint of the Western Swing Hight has his sights on another Sonoma NHRA Nationals win and he has a new team to possibly take him to the top. Paired with two-time world championship crew chief Mike Neff for the rest of the season Hight is fired up to bring high performance to Sonoma Raceway.
“We really ran well in Denver and that is tough to do on the mountain top. We were the quickest of two of the four qualifying sessions and we almost made it to the finals. We are battling at the bottom of the top ten and we want to be solidly in the top ten leaving Sonoma. We think that is a realistic goal,” said Hight, finalist earlier this season in Topeka.
The improvement of the Auto Club Funny Car team was not just noticed inside the John Force Racing camp. ESPN analyst Mike Dunn moved Hight into the No. 2 position on his ESPN power rankings list. “With Mike Neff tuning Hight’s car, he makes a strong move back into the rankings,” said Dunn on the decision to move Hight onto the list.
A strong qualifying performance would put Hight in position to earn Neff his 300th round win as a crew chief. Hight wants to move beyond the magic 300 number and put four more round wins in Neff’s win column.
“Sure it will be cool when Neff wins his 300th round win as a crew chief but I would rather get him to 303 on Sunday. He has 299 right now and that would mean four round wins on Sunday and the winner’s circle. There is one guaranteed spot left for the Traxxas Shootout for the Funny Cars and I want to get that spot,” said an enthused Hight.
Sonoma Raceway has been a track where Hight has had a mixed bag of success. The 2008 win is by far the highlight but the 2009 Mello Yello NHRA Funny Car champion has a semi-final finish in 2009 and has qualified No. 1 and No. 2. Ironically, Hight won and reached the semi-finals from the No. 11 spot.
In his previous eight appearances Hight has started from the bottom half of the field half of his appearances and has only lost in the first round one time, his rookie season. A tough three race stretch at Sonoma Raceway of second round exits is a streak Hight would like to snap this weekend.
“The last three years we have been bounced in the second round twice by Cruz and once by Beckman. Cruz just won in Denver and Beckman is also looking for his first win of the season like me. This Funny Car class is so tough there are no guarantees no matter where you qualify. Neff and I had a good weekend last weekend and I am looking forward to getting to Sonoma and building on some of the momentum be got in Denver. There is so much positive energy in our whole camp,” said Hight.
“I might not have Jimmy Prock as my crew chief but we are still on the same team. John Force is making decisions to give everyone a chance to succeed and his idea of success is winning a Funny Car championship. Our sponsors want and deserve to see our Ford Mustangs in the winner’s circle and teaming up with Neff gives me a lot of confidence,” concluded Hight.