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Funny Car’s Robert Hight Becomes The One

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 2 2018

2017 Funny Car champion Robert Hight has a new number on his car.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Two-time/reigning NHRA Funny Car world champion Robert Hight proudly added the No. 1 decal to his race car between test runs during Thursday’s opening session of NHRA Spring Training at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., as preparations began for the 2018 season-opener.

Hight, who won his first title in 2009, designed his two-time champion’s No. 1 with a patriotic red, white and blue look reminiscent of motorcycle icon Evel Knievel. 

“Adding this No. 1 is big, but it’s also a target on our backs,” said Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS fielded by John Force Racing. “We worked really hard to get this No. 1 and my goal and everyone’s goal on this Auto Club Chevrolet team is to start the season strong and lead the points the whole season. We have a great team of three Funny Cars here at John Force Racing and I’m ready to get the season started.”

Matt Hagan of rival Don Schumacher Racing led the Funny Car participants at the facility outside Phoenix with a pass of 3.879-seconds at 330.72 mph in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T. Another two-time world champion, Hagan finished the 2017 season fifth in points. Hight trailed Hagan with a run of 3.880-seconds at 324.05 mph.

Hight will be looking for his fourth career victory during the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season-opening 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals on Feb. 8-11 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

Meanwhile, three-time world champion Antron Brown led the Top Fuel field.  A four-time national event winner in 2017, Brown wheeled his Matco Tools Dragster to a pass of 3.714-

Top Fuel driver Antron Brown showed speed this week in Spring Training. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller

seconds at 328.46 mph to top the leader board. He was followed by Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher, an eight-time world champ, at 3.717-seconds at 330.15 mph in the U.S. Army dragster.

“We’re getting seasoned-in with our two new guys on our team and with crew chiefs Mark Oswald and Brad Mason at the helm,” Brown said. “It just feels good to be back in the swing of things. We’re getting back and getting better and we’ll see what tomorrow brings, but right now I like the direction we’re going.”

Texan Steve Torrence, who finished second in 2017 points, took laps in his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing dragster and another dragster driven by his father, Billy, at selected events.

“We had a really good car the whole time last year but struggled after the wreck at Dallas,” said Torrence, referring to a grinding crash during the Countdown to the Championship AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis. “We were able to spend the offseason getting things addressed and go over everything with a fine-tooth comb. We’re coming here to try a couple of things but won’t deviate too much from our tune-up.”

In Pro Stock, two-time world champion Erica Enders drove her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.555-second run at 210.28 mph, while new teammate Alex Laughlin piloted his Gas Monkey Energy Camaro to a pass of 6.580-seconds at 209.10 mph.

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Virginia Motorsports Park has come to the rescue of NHRA, filling the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule vacancy created by the recent and unexpected exit of Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

The NHRA Virginia Nationals has been added to the championship tour in Richmond, Va., on June 8-10, bringing the number of 2018 national events back to 24. VMP was one of several tracks vying to host an NHRA event after cancellation of the prestigious Summernationals. 

“We’re excited to return to Virginia Motorsports Park under its new ownership and the VMP team is eager to host our drivers, sponsors and fans,” NHRA President Glen Cromwell said in a statement from the sanctioning body’s headquarters in Glendora, Calif.

Virginia Motorsports Park hosted its most recent NHRA national event in 2009. Track-owner Tommy Franklin and family recently purchased the facility. The Franklins and VMP General Manager Allen Carpenter are planning a complete refurbishment of the track surface. 

“We are thrilled to get the opportunity to host an event in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series,” Franklin said in a statement. “We want to have the fastest track in the series and make this a premier destination for drivers and fans alike. It’s going to be a fantastic event.” Tickets for the NHRA Virginia Nationals will go on sale in March. 

Family-owned Old Bridge Township Raceway Park informed NHRA officials on Jan. 18 the facility would not be staging either quarter-mile or eighth-mile drag racing this season, immediately dropping the 49th annual NHRA Summernationals from the schedule. The race weekend was booked for June 7-10 as Round No. 10 of the 24-event schedule.

Founded and owned by the Napp family since 1965, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park had forged a reputation as the Northeast’s premier drag racing facility. The Summernationals and 48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., ended the 2017 season tied as the fourth longest-tenured national events on the NHRA tour. The Napp family plans to re-focus its business program on a variety of entertainment events.

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U.S. Army Racing has added Leah Pritchett to its 11-time championship-winning Top Fuel driver lineup of Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown for the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Pritchett and the Don Schumacher Racing Mopar/U.S. Army Dragster team will join eight-time world champion Schumacher and three-time champion Brown as the Army Racing heritage launches its 18th full season of NHRA competition.

In addition to representing the U.S. Army on the racetrack during the 24-event season, Pritchett will join “The Sarge” and Brown in the Army’s initiatives away from the track, including local high school programs at each track on the circuit, the Army’s Centers of Influence (COI) and the NHRA’s Youth & Education Services (YES) events during race weekends throughout the season.

“Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown and their respective teams have been the ultimate representatives of our more than 1-million U.S. Army Soldiers around the world,” said Elizabeth Wilson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for marketing and director of the Army Marketing Research Group. “We are extremely proud to welcome Leah Pritchett to the Army Racing family and look forward to the addition of a third championship-contending driver and team to the lineup.”

In her first full season with DSR, Pritchett won the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., her first of four event titles and six final-round appearances. Pritchett added six No. 1 qualifying efforts and also twice set national elapsed time records over 1,000-feet _ 3.658-seconds in February in Chandler, Ariz., and 3.640-seconds in August at Brainerd, Minn. She finished fifth in the final Top Fuel standings after qualifying for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs for the second year in a row.

“This is one of the most prestigious partnerships of my career and for our team, and we look forward to joining this very successful Army duo of Tony and Antron, creating the U.S. Army trifecta,” Pritchett said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us, to represent the soldiers who serve and enable us to do what we love.

“Tony and Antron have had an insurmountable impact on my life. I’m humbled and honored to join them in representing the U.S. Army. Tony was my first favorite driver in the NHRA. I met him even before the U.S. Army partnership began for him and watched him from the other side of the ropes. I’ve always seen Antron as a role model since his switch to Top Fuel.

“As every year becomes slightly more surreal, this is yet another new chapter, one that carries the prestige and the honor with my two teammates of representing soldiers around the world. Our goal is to win on the track for my team, win for the Army in the communities we visit and represent the U.S. Army with our entire heart and soul.”

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Mopar and Dodge/SRT have confirmed increased commitments to Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett and two-time Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan for the 2018 season. The brands will take primary placement on Pritchett’s Don Schumacher Racing/U.S. Army dragster at seven of 24 events , more than three times the sponsorship from two races last season.

Hagan, who like Pritchett captured four wins and the fifth spot in the final 2017 standings, will celebrate a decade behind the wheel of a Mopar-powered DSR Dodge Funny Car in 2018. The brands will serve in a primary sponsorship role for 14 races during 2018.

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NHRA’s revised 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule with starting times for FOX and FOX Sports 1 and 2’s television broadcasts. (All times ET and subject to change):

Feb. 11 _ Lucas Oil Winternationals, Pomona, Calif. (5 p.m. live on FS1)

Feb. 25 _ NHRA Arizona Nationals, Chandler, Ariz. (6:30 p.m., FS1)

March 18 _Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Gainesville, Fla. (7 p.m., FS1)

April 8 _ DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, Las Vegas (6 p.m., FS1)

April 22 _ NHRA SpringNationals, Baytown, Texas (2 p.m., Live on FS1)

April 29 _NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, Concord, N.C. (6 p.m., FS1)

May 6 _NHRA Southern Nationals, Commerce, Ga. (6 p.m., FS1)

May 20 _Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals, Topeka, Kan. (2 p.m., Live on FS1)

June 3 _Route 66 NHRA Nationals, Joliet, Ill. (5:30 p.m., FS1)

June 8 _ NHRA Virginia Nationals, Richmond, Va., (television TBD)

June 17 _NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Bristol, Tenn. (7:30 p.m., FS1)

June 24 _Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Norwalk, Ohio (6:30 p.m., FS1)

July 8 _NHRA New England Nationals, Epping, N.H. (1 p.m., Live on FS1)

July 22 _Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, Morrison, Colo. (3 p.m., Live on FOX)

July 29 _Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Sonoma, Calif. (4 p.m. Live on FOX)

Aug. 5 _NHRA Northwest Nationals, Kent, Wash. (4 p.m., Live on FOX)

Aug. 19 _Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Brainerd, Minn. (2 p.m., Live on FS1)

Sept. 3 _Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Clermont, Ind. (11 a.m. Live on FS1)

Sept. 3 _ Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Clermont, Ind. (1 p.m., Live on FOX)

NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship

Sept. 16 _ Dodge NHRA Nationals, Reading, Pa. (7:30 p.m., FS1)

Sept. 23 _AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Madison, Ill. (8:30 p.m., FS1)

Oct. 7 _AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Ennis, Texas (12 p.m., Live on FS2)

Oct. 14 _NHRA Carolina Nationals, Concord, N.C. (2 p.m., Live on FS1)

Oct. 28_ NHRA Toyota Nationals, Las Vegas (7:30 p.m., Live on FS1)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 2 2018
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