You couldn’t have scripted a better start to the 2019 NHRA season for Robert Hight.
Following a tumultuous offseason for John Force Racing, one filled with crew member turnover, sponsor changes and driver exits that left much of the team in disarray, the 2019 Winternationals is exactly the medicine this team needed.
Despite the distractions, the organization had a good week of testing coming into the weekend and turned that success into immediate results. Hight turned some of the quickest times of the weekend, grabbed the No. 1 qualifier and took the season-opening win Monday at the 59th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtecttheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“To come out here and be the No. 1 qualifier and win the race, that is quite an accomplishment for this team. We tested well in Phoenix and then come here and didn’t miss a beat,” Hight said. “It was a great day. All that we went through during the winter with all of the change, the new partners, the new faces, all we were really looking to do during testing was to get Austin (Prock) a license and hopefully find something for Gainesville. And at the last hour something came through and this team put it all together.
“Everybody, from my team, to John’s team, to Brittany’s team, everybody helped to put this together and get us here. Everyone worked hard all winter and made it all pay off.”
Hight defeated Jack Beckman in Monday’s rain-delayed final in a tremendous drag race that gave Hight his fourth career Winternationals victory. The top two qualifiers from earlier in the weekend, the rivals were putting up their best times of the weekend on Monday leading to Hight’s win as the former champ drove the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car to a 3.881-second pass at 329.75 mph to collect career win No. 46. Beckman had a 3.880 at 329.42 in earning the runner-up spot.
“I think you are going to see a lot of racing like that all year long. It is that close and competitive. You look at the Funny Car class and I think it is tougher this year than last year and that is really saying something,” Hight said. “Going up against Jack Beckman, you have to be on your game on the starting line and really get up. He is very, very good. But we were able to get it done today.”
Hight was solid throughout the afternoon Monday at his home track and in front of his sponsors, putting up some of his best times of the entire event. He had wins over Terry Haddock and Bob Tasca in the first two rounds, posting a weekend-best 3.856 at 331.61 in the second round to advance. In the semifinal, Hight faced team boss John Force in another great drag race with Hight taking the win on a 3.883 at 328.22 mph to Force’s 3.930 at 321.42 mph.
Beckman had wins over Tommy Johnson Jr., Cruz Pedregon and Phil Burkhart to start 2019 off strong after reaching only three finals all of last year.
“I think everybody could see today that there were a lot of cars running 80s and everybody is stacked up. It is not going to be easy. You have to be on your game all year long,” Hight said. “You have to be good on the starting line and have consistency with the car and, for us, I’ve never seen Jimmy Prock more confident. He is really happy with the way this thing is running and the way this team has come together. We had a lot of turnover on my team this year and to watch those guys that have been around mentor the young guys, was great. We were busting it today. We had to get the car turned around in a hurry and they performed flawlessly.”
With the win, Hight kicks off the new season on top after getting to the finals and falling short here one year ago. Now the team hopes to turn that early momentum into a fresh start, one that this team desperately needs after a long offseason.
“It has been a long winter with a lot of ups and downs,” Hight said. “But there are a lot of good people in our organization and that is how you get the wins. Everybody pulls together and does their jobs and that is what this is all about. This trophy is for all of JFR.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019