Robert Hight was this close to throwing away a victory in the 50th-annual Amelie Oil NHRA Gatornationals on Sunday at Gainesville Raceway.
The two-time champion had a bracket car this weekend, running 3.86 after 3.86 in rolling to the final round.
Lining up against Tim Wilkerson, Hight knew he had to hit the Christmas tree hard, as Wilkerson has been good on the starting line all weekend.
“I saw him last night, and I told him, ‘I’ve been watching. You’ve had great lights all through qualifying,'” Hight said. “He told me he poured a new seat and got more comfortable in the car. He had the best lights of any Funny Car driver in qualifying.
“I knew going up there I was going to have to be on my game. I got a little antsy; it was a long tree. I started to go, caught it, then went all the way down.”
Instead of a red light, Hight’s reaction time was .031 seconds, which in Funny Car is unusually good.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t deep-stage,” Hight said. “I think I got away with one, to be honest with you.”
Wilkerson, meanwhile, smoked the tires at the hit, providing no match to Hight’s brilliant run of 3.867 seconds at 331.61 mph. That gave Hight his second victory of 2019 and his fourth Gatornationals title.
“This is a big one,” Hight said. “The 50th, there will only be one of those. It seems like my boss always wins the big races. I finally got one. This is a cool race to win, especially with everybody that’s at this race. The who’s who of drag racing was at this event, a lot of the people I looked up to growing up as a kid. Now I’m holding the trophy and they’re watching me, so it’s kind of a cool thing.”
Whether Hight “got away with one” could be up for debate, but there’s no doubt he was dominant this weekend. He qualified No. 1 and then dispatched Terry Haddock, Ron Capps and John Force en route to the final. And his four runs Sunday were remarkably consistent: 3.869, 3.870, 3.852 and 3.867.
“I’ve never seen a fuel car so consistent as what I have right now, especially a Funny Car,” Hight said. “If you take last night’s qualifying run and the first two rounds (today), it was two-thousandths apart for three runs. We broke out, basically, in the semis and ran .85 and then back to an .86 in the final round.”
Hight said crew chief Jimmy Prock and assistant crew chief Chris Cunningham have been pleased with the clutch package in Hight’s Chevrolet, comparing their early-season performance to his championship-winning 2017 season.
“Qualifying No. 1 at the first three races, pretty impressive,” Hight said. “It shows we’ve got a really good handle on this race car. That goes back to over the winter. We didn’t get the job done on the last day of the season last year, and my team really worked hard (over the winter). They do not want to be in that spot again. They want to be ready to win at the end of the year.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019