Robert Hight further cemented himself as one of drag racing’s all-time greats when he clinched his third career NHRA Funny Car championship in Sunday’s Auto Club NHRA Finals in Ponoma, California.
Having previously won the Funny Car title in 2009 and 2017, Hight is well-aware of what it feels like to be crowned the champion. But make no mistake, for Hight, winning title No. 3 is just as fun as winning the first one.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Hight told NBC Sports. “I honestly feel that this is probably the most special championship that I’ve won, because of how we performed all year long. From start to finish, we’ve had the best car, and we just had consistency and really did well all year long.”
Indeed, Hight was incredibly consistent in 2019, most notably during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, which he led from start to finish.
With his third title forever enshrined in the NHRA record books, Hight – who has 52 career Funny Car victories – has now joined a very special club featuring some of the best racers in NHRA history.
“It’s pretty cool to me that now I’m in a pretty elite group with more than two championships. Kenny Bernstein, Raymond Beadle, John Force, and Don Prudhomme are the only ones with more than two. It’s still hard for me to wrap my arms around that my name is on that list. It’s pretty amazing.”
Of course, Hight wasn’t the only driver to celebrate in the winner’s circle Sunday. He was also joined by Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, Pro Stock champ Erica Enders, and Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines.
Let’s break down each of the four pro classes from Sunday’s finals:
In Funny Car: The final round of the afternoon may have not gone exactly as planned for Hight, as his Auto Club Camaro quit on him during his burnout, handing the victory to Jack Beckman.
Beckman’s 3.920-second, 323.27-mph solo pass effortlessly gave the 2012 Funny Car champion his second and final victory of the 2019 season.
But for Hight, winning the final race of the 2019 season wasn’t a big deal; he had already done everything he needed to clinch his second title in three seasons with his win over Matt Hagan in the semifinals.
Although Hight had already been crowned World Champion twice prior, the California native had never won the title in such dominant fashion as he did in 2019.
“This is a dream year for me,” Hight said. “I’ve had years where I led all year and we lost in the Countdown. I’ve had years where we were terrible until we got to the Countdown and we ended up winning a championship. I think the results have showed from start to finish. This is what I’ve dreamed about, having a year where you’ve got the most wins and you’ve been in the lead all year.”
In Top Fuel: Another year meant another dominant performance by Torrence, who won his second consecutive Top Fuel title despite losing to Richie Crampton in the semifinals. Torrence entered the final race weekend of the year with a narrow lead over Brittany Force in the Top Fuel standings, whom he beat 3.74 to 3.77 in the second round of eliminations.
After defeating the 2017 champion, all Torrence needed to do was not cross the centerline in his semifinal versus Crampton to mathematically clinch the title, a task he easily accomplished.
“It’s been really special to be part of a team like ours; it’s not the driver who really does anything,” Torrence said. “The guys who work on this car – Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana, and the rest of the Capco boys – are the ones who deserve all of the credit.
“It’s special to win one championship but to be able to win two and do it back to back, I can’t thank everyone enough.”
Though it was all smiles for Torrence following the conclusion of Sunday’s racing action, the 36-year-old Texan was visibly upset following his round one victory over Cameron Ferre.
Torrence took offense at the way Ferre staged his dragster prior to the round, and shoved Ferre in the face when both drivers excited their cars following the run.
Following his round two victory over Force, Torrence apologized for his actions.
“I had to get my head out of my butt,” Torrence said. “I apologize to each and every fan out there, everybody who has supported me. I got to go find Cameron and apologize to him.
“Tensions are high, and there’s a lot of crap going on. I’ve been in his shoes where you go up there to win and you might not have the best car but you do everything you can on the starting line. With everything going on – and racing for the kid at home who lost his life – there’s no excuse to act that way. I apologize. I’m grateful for the team, and it kind of just soils the day. I’m sorry to every one of you guys.”
In the final Top Fuel round of the day, Doug Kalitta defeated Crampton to collect his third victory of the season, and his 47th overall. Kalitta ended the season second to Torrence in the overall points standings.
“It was a fun day for sure,” Kalitta said. “I was really proud of the effort we put in today but three rounds was tough to make up, but we gave it all we could, so, obviously, it’s still on my list to win a championship.
“There are a lot of people who would love to see me win a championship and I would love nothing more than to get it done.”
In Pro Stock: By defeating Chris McGaha in the second round of Pro Stock eliminations, Enders won her third career Pro Stock title, and first since 2015.
But to get to the second round, Enders first had to defeat Greg Anderson, who strategically qualified 15th so he could face her in the first round in attempt to help his K.B. Racing teammates Jason Line and Bo Butner with their championship chances.
But despite having a quicker reaction time at the line, Anderson was defeated by Enders at the quarter mile mark, as she quickly shifted through the gears to beat Anderson at the finish line.
“The first one was just epic in the fashion that we did it,” Enders said. “The second one we knocked them out before Vegas was over. This one symbolizes a lot because of what my team has gone through and what I’ve gone through personally. Obviously the other championships meant a lot to me, too, but this one is special.”
In the class finals, Jeg Coughlin defeated Fernando Cuadra by 0.33-second to collect his second and final victory of 2019. Coughlin finished second overall in the point standings.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hines’ hopes of winning a sixth championship were placed in limbo when the Hoosier fouled out in his first round. But luckily for Hines, title challengers Jerry Savoie and Matt Smith were unable to win the event, with both being defeated by eventual winner Jianna Salinas.
It was the first career win for the 22-year-old rookie, and it came in her first final round.
Thus, Hines was able to maintain his point lead and win his first title since 2015.
“This is a day that will live in fear for me for I don’t know how long,” said Hines after finally being declared the champion. “In the first round, I pulled a maneuver that I’ve done too many times in the past when I rolled backward out of the beams. I can’t thank my team enough for supporting me all day long. My Harley-Davidson team, that’s what they do best. I was so disappointed in what I did today, but we persevered all year to get those Mello Yello points and win the championship. I love my guys, and I love everything about this.”
The 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will kick off with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Feb. 6-9 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
FINAL FINISHING ORDER: