CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With a renewed confidence, 2009 Funny Car world champion Robert Hight is looking forward to keeping his recent momentum going as the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs open next weekend at zMAX Dragway.
Hight stormed to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory on Monday, ending a 35-race winless drought that had the veteran driver and president of John Force Racing scratching his head and taking a deep look within.
Hight powered his Auto Club Ford Mustang to his 28th career victory and third at the world’s most prestigious drag race, by outrunning red-hot Jack Beckman in the final round. With the victory, it increased JFR’s stronghold on the tradition-rich Indy event, as the team has now claimed that trophy in six consecutive seasons.
But more importantly, Hight got his mojo back. And just in the nick of time, as the first of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship opens Sept. 13-15 at zMAX Dragway during the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts.
“(It was) definitely the biggest win of my career,” said Hight of his victory at the Big Go. “You start doubting yourself. We won four in a row last year early in the season and then just went on a complete dry spell.”
Hight has advanced to only two final rounds since his four-race win streak ended last April at zMAX Dragway during the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, producing two runner-up finishes: at Atlanta in 2012 and this past May in Topeka. During that stretch he posted an uncharacteristic 15 first round losses, including five of them during last year’s six-race Countdown playoffs. He ended the 2012 season in seventh place and has been around the 10th place bump spot for most of 2013.
To help Hight get out of the slump and shake things up, he and team owner John Force switched teams earlier this season just before the Western Swing. Before the Indy win, Hight and new crew chief Mike Neff had produced one semifinal finish and three quarterfinal efforts. It appears they have found their groove just as the playoffs arrive.
Now Hight’s mission is simple: win a second world championship title.
The last time he barely made it into the playoffs he won the championship, in 2009. Not that the competition was a cake-walk back then, but with a tough contingent of challengers like playoff top seed Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Beckman, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and his own teammates – John and Courtney Force – Hight knows that winning the title this year will take plenty of focus, dedication and hard work.
“It is not getting any easier,” Hight said. “In fact, I think the competition is tougher now than when I won the championship in 2009. You don’t see people going out there and winning three races in a row anymore. It just doesn’t happen.”
Hight hopes to get off to a good start in the Countdown playoffs. He’s had some success at zMAX Dragway; in addition to his four-wide win in 2012, he also took the 2009 victory at this event to launch his run to the world championship. When he won his world title in ’09 he earned three victories during the playoffs. He’s expecting it to take a similar effort to get the job done this season.
“If we want to win the championship we are going to have to win at least two races,” Hight said, “and go to the semifinals in the rest of the races.”
In Top Fuel, defending race winner and Countdown top seed Shawn Langdon, Tony Schumacher, defending world champ Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas and Khalid alBalooshi will all be battling for a playoff victory to assist in their championship pursuits.
In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards is leading the charge in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro, while defending world champ Allen Johnson, Jeg Coughlin and Vincent Nobile are in hot pursuit at the controls of their Dodge Avengers. Local favorites Greg Anderson and Jason Line will be looking to get back on the winning track at zMAX Dragway.
In the 190 mph Pro Stock Motorcycle category, Hector Arana Jr. enters the race as the top seed with four season victories, and is being followed closely by Indy runner-up Matt Smith and two-time season winner Michael Ray. Others to watch in the two-wheel division include Indy winner John Hall, Indy No. 1 qualifier and past zMAX winner Hector Arana Sr., Scotty Pollacheck and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec.
The Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. In addition to all of the drama and excitement going on in the Countdown playoffs, fans will also enjoy a brilliant night qualifying show on Friday, some powerful exhibition runs by two jet dragsters and an incredible fireworks display to close out Friday’s racing.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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. No other sport offer fans an up close and personal experience like NHRA. Fans can stand close by as teams warm up their high-horsepower machines prior to each run.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Be a part of the action all weekend with a 3-Day Pass to the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts. Purchase a 3-day package for just $99. Bring the kids along for an even better ticket offer: Children 13 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult all weekend.
Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts qualifying opens on Friday, Sept. 13, with sessions at 4:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Sept. 14, at 12:15 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15.
The race will be televised on ESPN2 HD with qualifying coverage on Saturday and three hours of eliminations coverage on Sunday beginning at 8:30 p.m. (ET).
To purchase tickets, call zMAX Dragway at 800-455-FANS (3267) or visit www.zMAXdragway.com. For more information about NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.
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CARLYLE TOOLS NHRA CAROLINA NATIONALS PRESENTED BY NAPA AUTO PARTS FACT SHEET
WHAT: Sixth annual Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts, the 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the first of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories - Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle - earn points leading to 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: zMAX Dragway- Track is located on Hwy 29 off I-85 at exit 49 (Speedway Blvd.) in the Concord, N.C. area.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 13-15
FRIDAY, Sept. 13 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 3:30 and 6:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:15 and 6:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 14 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2 p.m.; first round of eliminations at 4:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 2:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 15 - Pre-race ceremonies, 11 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noon.
Saturday, Sept. 14, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise qualifying coverage at TBA (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 15, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage starting at 8:30 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE (Digital HD feed):
Friday, Sept. 13, 9 - 9:30 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 3C
Saturday, Sept. 14, 5:30 - 6 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 3C
Sunday, Sept. 15, 7:30 - 8 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 3C
(3760 MHz, horizontal; Data Rate: 40.46147055 Mbp; Symbol Rate: 29.27 Ms; FEC: ¾; Bandwidth: 36 Mhz)
Video news release contains race action highlights each day and winners’ interviews on Sunday.
2012 EVENT WINNERS: Shawn Langdon, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Top Fuel - 3.749 seconds by Tony Schumacher, Sept. ’12; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12.
Funny Car - 3.995 seconds by Matt Hagan, Sept. ’11; 322.27 mph by Hagan, Sept. ’11.
Pro Stock - 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ’13; 213.91 mph by Line, April ’12.
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.810 sec. by Eddie Krawiec, Sept. ’11; 196.79 mph by Krawiec, Sept. ’11.
Top Fuel - 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.
Funny Car - 3.986 sec. by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock - 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ’13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
PS Motorcycle - 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: Order tickets by phone at (800) 455-FANS. Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. -- The following are the reset point standings (top 10) for each Mello Yello Drag Racing Series driver, following 18 regular season races and prior to the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s postseason playoffs -
Top Fuel: 1. Shawn Langdon, 2,110; 2. Spencer Massey, 2,080; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,070; 4. Doug Kalitta, 2,060; 5. Khalid alBalooshi, 2,050; 6. Antron Brown, 2,040; 7. Clay Millican, 2,030; 8. Morgan Lucas, 2,020; 9. Steve Torrence, 2,010; 10. Bob Vandergriff, 2,000.
Funny Car: 1. Matt Hagan, 2,110; 2. Ron Capps, 2,080; 3. Johnny Gray, 2,070; 4. John Force, 2,060; 5. Jack Beckman, 2,050; 6. Cruz Pedregon, 2,040; 7. Courtney Force, 2,030; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 2,020; 9. Robert Hight, 2,010; 10. Del Worsham, 2000.
Pro Stock: 1. Mike Edwards, 2,110; 2. Allen Johnson, 2,080; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,070; 4. Vincent Nobile, 2,060; 5. Shane Gray, 2,050; 6. Jason Line, 2,040; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,030; 8. V Gaines, 2,020; 9. Erica Enders-Stevens, 2,010; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 2,000.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Hector Arana Jr, 2,110; 2. Matt Smith, 2,080; 3. Michael Ray, 2,070; 4. John Hall, 2,060; 5. Hector Arana, 2,050; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,040; 7. Eddie Krawiec, 2,030; 8. Adam Arana, 2,020; 9. LE Tonglet, 2,010; 10. Shawn Gann, 2,000.