Before the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship started, defending Funny Car world champ Robert Hight thought it would take a certain number of wins to claim a second title. After a semifinal showing last weekend and only five races remaining during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, it now puts a supreme importance on Hight doing well at this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Hight is only 23 points behind leader J.R. Todd after the opening race of the playoffs, but wins in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS are the only thing on Hight’s mind heading to St. Louis. In fact, Hight has a clear number in mind for the rest of his 2018 season.
“I made a prediction before the Countdown for my team that I believe we need to get three wins and have zero first-round losses if we want to win this championship,” said Hight, who has 43 career wins. “I feel the same way now, but we only have five races to get three wins. There’s a lot of cars bunched up and it’s a lot of good cars. We had an opportunity (last weekend), but we just have to minimize the mistakes, both from the driver and with the car.”
Hight, a two-time world champion, took the blame for the loss last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway, going red on the starting line in his semifinal matchup against playoff competitor Tim Wilkerson from Missouri.
It was a frustrating blow for a team that looked impressive during the first two rounds of eliminations, but Hight is ready to use that momentum and try to turn it into a second career win at Gateway Motorsports Park. That loaded Funny Car lineup also includes the likes of Courtney Force, John Force, Capps, Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Shawn Langdon, but Hight has always thrived in the big-pressure moments of the Countdown to the Championship.
“You just have to relax, believe in your team, believe in yourself and stay focused,” said Hight, who has two wins in 2018. “I promise my team is focused on nothing but this racecar for the next five races. This time of the year is fun. I’m happy with the consistency of the car, and we had a really great car (in Maple Grove) and I screwed it up. I’ve got to be better and more focused. But if our car can continue to run like it did last weekend, I like our chances.”
Hight delivered a number of thrilling moments during the Countdown to the Championship a year ago, claiming the title in a tight battle with Capps on the strength of two playoff wins and three finals appearances. Seeing the impressive parity in the class, Hight believes he’ll have to take that performance up a notch in 2018, but his focus remains on the continued progress of his team, which is led by standout crew chief Jimmy Prock.
“You can’t control what any other teams do,” Hight said. “If we’re focusing on what they’re doing, we’re looking at the wrong thing. Jimmy tries to get the most out of every run and I believe in his tuning decisions, just like he believes in the team and he believes in me as a driver. This time of year, you have to put more focus on every single run you make because every little point counts.”
AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park
The second of six races in the NHRA playoffs, GMP’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will feature the incredible thrills of 10,000-horsepower, nitromethane-burning cars reaching speeds in excess of 330 miles per hour. Fans will be entertained under the lights during Friday qualifying and then get to experience the intense, high-stakes action on Sunday as the top stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle battle for critical championship points.
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event.
The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 10th of 12 races.
Fans will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. The legends scheduled to attend the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals include Shirley Muldowney and others.
Along with the exciting on-track action, the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will honor first responders with NHRA’s Salute to First Responders celebration.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.
Vegas rockabilly headliners Danny Dean & The Homewreckers will play in the new pavilion bar on the midway on Friday and Saturday.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21
7:30 a.m. – Parking lots open.
8 a.m. – Spectator gates open. Sportsman qualifying.
Noon — Midway opens.
2:30 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle autograph session at NHRA midway display.
3 p.m. — NHRA guided walking tour. Starts at the Mello Yello display.
3:15 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
4 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock car qualifying session.
4:30 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.
5:45 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
6:15 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock car qualifying session.
7 p.m. — Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22
7:30 a.m. – Parking lots open.
8 a.m. – Spectator gates open. Sportsman eliminations.
9:30 a.m. — Midway opens.
12:15 p.m. — Nitro School. Hosted by Robert Hight and Alan Reinhart.
1 p.m. — Autograph session at the Mello Yello display.
1:15 p.m. — NHRA guided walking tour. Starts at the Mello Yello display.
1:30 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
2:15 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock car qualifying session.
3 p.m. — Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.
3:45 p.m. – First round of Factory Stock Showdown.
5 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock car qualifying session.
5:30 p.m. — Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23
7:30 a.m. – Parking lots open.
8 a.m. – Spectator gates open.
9 a.m. — Midway opens; NHRA guided walking tour starts at the Mello Yello display.
9:30 a.m. — Sealmaster Trackwalk.
9:45 a.m. – Race day review, pre-race ceremonies.
11 a.m. – First round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car eliminations.
Noon – First round of Pro Stock eliminations.
12: 20 p.m. – First round of Pro Mod eliminations.
1 p.m. – Second round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car eliminations.
1:15 p.m. – Second round of Pro Stock eliminations.
1:30 p.m. — Pro Mod semi-finals.
2 p.m. — Factory Stock Showdown semi-finals.
2:10 p.m. — Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car semi-finals.
2:30 p.m. — Pro Stock semi-finals.
2:45 p.m. — Pro Mod final eliminations.
3 p.m. — Factory Stock Showdown final eliminations.
3:40 p.m. — Pro Stock final eliminations.
3:45 p.m. — Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car final eliminations.
Schedule subject to change.
For more information on Gateway Motorsports Park, please call (618) 215-8888 or visit www.wwtraceway.com. Follow GMP on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
About Gateway Motorsports Park
Gateway Motorsports Park is the home of INDYCAR, NASCAR and NHRA racing in the St. Louis region. Located just five minutes from downtown St. Louis and covering more than 340 acres, Gateway Motorsports Park is the largest outdoor entertainment facility in the area. Gateway Motorsports Park’s facilities include a 1/4-mile drag strip, 1.25-mile superspeedway, 1.6-mile road course, a state-of-the-art karting facility and a 14-acre, multi-purpose dirt off-road venue. Gateway Motorsports Park was the recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Facility of the Year Award from the Race Track Business Conference and the 2017 Spirit of St. Louis Award from St. Louis Attractions Association.