NHRA: Robert Hight begins bid for next 50 wins this weekend in Seattle

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When Robert Hight began working as a clutch specialist on John Force’s Funny Car in 1995, it was clear he had ambition and goals to achieve. He toiled in that role for eight years, earned his Funny Car driver’s license in 2004 and began racing full-time on the NHRA national circuit the following season.

And he never lost sight of that ambition and goals. He became president of John Force Racing and this past Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, north of San Francisco, became only the third driver in Funny Car history to earn 50 career wins (the others are John Force, with 149 wins, and Ron Capps with 62 Funny Car wins).

No. 50 couldn’t have come at a more special place for Hight.

“I’m amazed that we’ve racked up that many wins in 15 years,” Hight told NBC Sports. “It’s special to do it in Sonoma, where I attended my first NHRA national event and is the closest racetrack to where I grew up in Northern California (tiny Alturas, Ca.).

“Sonoma is really my home track. We came in there as defending champion and got it done again, and we did it from the No. 1 qualifying spot, which shows the domination we’ve had all year long actually.”

To further put Hight’s accomplishment in perspective, the two-time NHRA Funny Car champ is in a unique fraternity with Force and Capps.

“It’s amazing because if you look at the Funny Car racers of the past and who I think are the all-time greats, besides John Force, there’s Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Raymond Beadle, Ed McCulloch,” Hight said. “When I grew up those were the guys I watched in Funny Car. Those guys were my heroes. And now to say I’m ahead of them all in wins is pretty amazing. You only dream of stuff like that.”

Only one other thing would have made Sunday’s win even sweeter, but it was not to be.

“Honestly, I thought it was going to come down to John and I in the final, but then he had a mechanical problem and couldn’t even make the run in the semifinals,” Hight said. “That would have been pretty exciting, to race him in the final. One of us shooting for 50 and the other shooting for 150 and being teammates. That would have been a lot of fun.”

Ironically, Hight hit win No. 50 before he even turned 50 years of age: he hits the mid-century mark on August 20. He sees how his boss – and father-in-law (Hight is married to Force’s oldest daughter, Adria) – continues to have a successful career at the age of 70.

When asked how many more wins he can earn in his own career, Hight remarked, “You look at John Force, he’s 20 years older than me and he’s still going strong. No one will ever catch John for wins in Funny Car. Capps and I are racing for second, basically.”

Hight has won five of the first 15 races this season in Funny Car, as well as recorded eight No. 1 qualifiers. He’s led the points since the season-opening race at Pomona, California. The two-time champion is bound and determined to avenge last year’s end result: he lost the championship to J.R. Todd on the final day of the season.

Otherwise, Hight would have a third championship. Coming so close to the title at the end of 2018 convinced Hight and his team to do something that is somewhat unusual in NHRA. Typically after every season, even the most successful teams start from scratch and rebuild for the next season.

That wasn’t the case with Hight and Co. They knew they had a strong car and a strong team. So instead of re-doing anything, they merely refocused and built upon the success of last season with that elusive third championship in their sites in 2019.

“We really did a lot of hard work over the winter,” Hight said. “We won the championship in 2017, went down to the last day in 2018 for a chance to win it, didn’t get it done and (crew chief) Jimmy Prock and (assistant crew chief) Chris Cunningham, the whole team, a lot of times over the winter you work on new things to go quicker and faster.

“We didn’t do that this year. We worked on consistency and looked real hard why we didn’t get that championship last year. That’s what we worked on, to get more consistent.

“You take every run you make, especially the ones where you don’t make it down the track, smoke the tires or lose traction, and you start working on the areas to improve it. By doing that, you’re increasing your odds, and it really has paid off.

“Most of the time, when you lose a drag race you beat yourself. It’s not that you get outran, you smoke the tires and you beat yourself. So, you have to minimize all that. It’s been a very good approach.”

While the record books will indicate Hight has won 50 races, he doesn’t look at it that way. Rather, his team has 50 wins.

“It’s the team around me, that’s what I love most about a win, it’s not what I do in the car,” Hight said. “I used to be a mechanic, used to work on the cars and I know how hard each individual works. It’s really fun to go out and get a win as a team because this is a team sport. It’s not like golf, where you make a bad shot, it only affects you. That’s what really keeps me going.”

Hight goes for his sixth win of the season in this weekend’s NHRA Northwest Nationals in suburban Seattle, the third and final race of the annual Western Swing. Given the success he’s had this season, along with three races remaining until the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Hight feels he’s peaking at the right time.

“Jimmy Prock always says when you go out on the Western Swing, that’s when you really need to have your combination ironed out and worked out,” Hight said. “You don’t need to be testing and trying new things or fighting problems this time of year. This is where you really hone in on a combination and for better or worse, you stay with it.

“The Funny Car class is the hardest class to win in and it’s the most competitive. To have five wins shows these guys have done their homework and we are more consistent. Most of the races, we’ve been top speed and low ET. We have eight No. 1 qualifiers so far (in the first 15 races).

“Really working on the consistency and the areas where we needed to improve, I think that’s paid off. I don’t think we’re necessarily quicker or faster than we were last year, but just more consistent. And that’s how you win drag races.”

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Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.