Hight Wins Gateway Just Before His Funny Car Explodes

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 24 2018


Robert Hight won the Funny Car portion of the weekend’s NHRA event near St. Louis. But before he could claim his Wally, he had to make a trip to an area hospital. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Robert Hight was forced to skip the Victory Circle celebration at Gateway Motorsports Park Sunday afternoon following an engine explosion that sent the two-time/reigning Funny Car world champion to a St. Louis-area hospital for evaluation.

The latest in a season-long series of Funny Car engine explosions at John Force Racing saw Hight drive to victory over Tim Wilkerson in the final of the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Madison, Ill. Moments after scoring his third win of the season and 44th of his career, Hight sat through an explosion that blasted the body off of his Chevrolet Camaro SS and sent the chassis into a retaining wall.

Hight exited the carnage under his own power after covering the 1,000-foot distance in 4.036-seconds at 276.29 mph, while Wilkerson ran 4.413 at 201.91 in his Ford Mustang.

“First, we’re happy Robert is OK,” said team-owner John Force, a 16-time Funny Car world champ. “He went to a local hospital to be checked out and after being X-rayed and evaluated he was scheduled to be released (Sunday night). I’m glad Robert has the points lead and now we’re going to rest and get ready for Dallas.”

Hight will take a 30-point lead over J.R. Todd of Kalitta Motorsports into the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis Oct. 4-7, Round 3 of the six-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

Hight, a 49-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., is racing to become the fifth Funny Car driver to win back-to-back world championships and first to do so during the Countdown Era. The last to accomplish the feat was “Brute” Force, whose streak of 10 straight titles ended in 2002. The other back-to-back champions are Don “The Snake” Prudhomme (1975-1978), Raymond Beadle (1979-1981) and Kenny Bernstein (1985-1988), the “King of Speed.”

Meanwhile, Steve Torrence headed back to Texas after scoring his second consecutive playoff win in Top Fuel. Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also emerged as winners in their respective categories. 

Pole-sitter Hight started his day with a victory over Dale Creasy, setting up a showdown with mentor Force. Hght’s 4.017-second elapsed time at 313.07 mph trailered Force, who ran 4.043 at 310.34. Racing Tommy Johnson Jr. of Don Schumacher Racing in the semifinals, Hight fired off a 3.945-second pass at 323.04 mph to Johnson’s 4.008 at 320.13. That lap sent Hight into his sixth final of the season and 70th of his career.

Hight went on to score his 10th Countdown race win and 90th Countdown round win _ both tops in the Funny Car category.

John Force, who has experienced a number of engine explosions this season, sits eighth in points in his Camaro after his second-round finish. Courtney Force, the regular-season point-leader, is third in the standings and 50 points behind teammate Hight.

“We’re going testing (Monday) and tear this thing apart and see what we can get squared away,” said Courtney Force, who exited in the second round against Wilkerson after dropping cylinders in her Camaro. “We’re going to find what’s responding negatively to our tune-up. There have been runs where we felt like it should have gone or not hurt itself and we’re going to figure out where that problem is. We’re going to stay positive. I still feel like we have a good race car.

“We gave a really great effort in the second round. We came close. It dropped a cylinder and hurt itself at the top end. It might have kicked the rods out by the time we got past the finish line. I’m bummed because I feel like we have a car that’s getting us down to the other end and if we wouldn’t have dropped those cylinders I think we would have been right there with him (Wilkerson).

“We made some quick runs in qualifying but these past few races we’ve been battling tire smoke on race day. I feel like we fixed one problem and may have created another one. That’s the tricky part with these Nitro Funny Cars.”

Reprising his victory from Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., to kick-off the Countdown last Sunday, Torrence covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.770-seconds at 323.66 mph to defeat Clay Millican’s 3.798 at 320.28 in the Top Fuel final. Torrence, who earned his seventh victory of the season and 23rd of his career, now has a 70-point/three rounds of racing lead over Millican.

“This is going to be a really hard-fought war,” said Torrence, driver of the Torrence Racing dragster. “I couldn’t have a better group of guys to be backing me up. I’m blessed and fortunate to be a part of that team right there and not drop the ball. I’m very confident going forward; this is all we could’ve asked for to start the Countdown.”

Torrence, a 35-year-old resident of Kilgore, Texas, defeated Bill Litton, Mike Salinas and Leah Pritchett to reach the final. Millican defeated Shawn Reed, three-time world champion Antron Brown of DSR, and Pat Dakin. 

Pro Stock’s Gray drove to his sixth victory of the season and 11th of his career after covering the traditional quarter-mile in 6.567-seconds at 211.06 mph in the final to defeat Drew Skillman’s 11.409 at 78.68. Gray, a 20-year-old resident of Mooresville, N.C., knocked off Chris McGaha, two-time world champ Erica Enders and Maple Grove playoff winner Vincent Nobile to extend his point lead. 

“During qualifying we didn’t run as well as we thought we should have,” said Gray, driver of a Chevrolet Camaro SS. “We made nice runs, but we never got aggressive enough. It was cool to see everyone come in with their head on straight and fight back to get a win. I felt like all of us did a really good job of just going round-by-round.”

Skillman, competing in his second consecutive final, advanced to third in points in his Camaro after beating Kenny Delco, reigning world champion Bo Butner and No. 1 qualifier/five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. 

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith earned his second victory of 2018 and 20th of his career with a hole-shot quarter-mile pass in 6.877-seconds at 198.44 mph against LE Tonglet’s 6.876 at 196.10. Smith took the point lead after his third win at Gateway aboard his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR. Smith advanced to the final after defeating Scotty Pollacheck, Joey Gladstone and No. 1 qualifier Chip Ellis. 

“We hurt our motor on Friday night,” said Smith, a 45-year-old resident of King, N.C. “Angie (Smith, his wife) and I stayed up all (Saturday) night rebuilding it. The Harleys got three bikes out here trying to whoop-up on us but we’re going to try and do our best to stay focused and do our job. As long as we don’t have any part failures we’ll be fine.” 

The 2010 Pro Stock Bike world champ, Tonglet’s path to his 27th career final included victories against Jim Underdahl, Angie Smith and 2016 world champ Jerry Savoie, Tonglet’s White Alligator Racing teammate. Tonglet sits fifth in the point standings aboard his Nitro Fish Suzuki.


Final finishing order (1-16) at the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill. The race was the 20th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and second of six comprising the Countdown to the Championship playoffs:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence; 2. Clay Millican; 3. Leah Pritchett;  4. Pat Dakin; 5. Antron Brown; 6.Tony Schumacher; 7. Blake Alexander; 8. Mike Salinas; 9. Doug Kalitta; 10. Bill Litton; 11.Brittany Force; 12. Billy Torrence; 13. Shawn Reed; 14. Terry McMillen; 15. Richie Crampton; 16. Scott Palmer.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight; 2. Tim Wilkerson; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Cruz Pedregon; 6. John Force; 7. Courtney Force; 8. Bob Tasca III; 9. Jonnie Lindberg; 10. Ron Capps; 11. Shawn Langdon; 12. Del Worsham; 13. Dale Creasy Jr.; 14. Jack Beckman; 15. Matt Hagan; 16. Jim Campbell.

Pro Stock _1. Tanner Gray; 2. Drew Skillman; 3. Vincent Nobile; 4. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 5. Greg Anderson; 6.Erica Enders; 7. Jason Line; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Chris McGaha; 10. Kenny Delco; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Charlie Westcott Jr.; 13. Mark Hogan; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Alan Prusiensky; 16. Deric Kramer. 

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Matt Smith; 2. LE Tonglet; 3. Chip Ellis; 4. Jerry Savoie; 5. Joey Gladstone; 6. Angelle Sampey; 7. Andrew Hines; 8. Angie Smith; 9. Eddie Krawiec; 10. Steve Johnson; 11. Ryan Oehler; 12. Mark Paquette; 13. Jim Underdahl; 14. Scotty Pollacheck; 15. Hector Arana; 16. Hector Arana Jr. 

Sunday’s final results from the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park: 

Top Fuel _Steve Torrence, 3.770-seconds, 323.66 mph def. Clay Millican, 3.798-seconds, 320.28 mph. 

Funny Car _Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.036, 276.29 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.413, 201.91. 

Pro Stock _ Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.567, 211.06 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 11.409, 78.68. 

Pro Stock Motorcycle _Matt Smith, EBR, 6.877, 198.44 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.867, 196.10. 

Pro Modified _Steve Jackson, Chevy Camaro, 5.759, 250.88 def. Chad Green, Chevy Corvette, Foul/Red Light. 

Competition Eliminator _David Rampy, Bantam, 7.240, 166.13 def. Allen Wilson, GTO, 8.238, 163.75. 

Super Stock _Greg Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 9.937, 130.63 def. Brad Zaskowski, Camaro, 10.075, 120.20.

Stock Eliminator _Drew Skillman, Ford Mustang, 8.864, 150.03 def. Daryl Bureski, Olds Cutlass, 11.421, 115.53.

Super Comp _Rick Hughes, Dragster, 8.921, 161.40 def. Don Higgins, Dragster, 8.884, 166.05.

Super Gas _ Tim Nicholson, Chevy Camaro, 9.904, 101.97 def. Mitch Withers, Chevy Corvette, 9.856, 149.48.

Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com _ Jenifer White, Dragster, 6.164, 209.36 def. Afton Swanson, Dragster, 6.104, 226.85.

Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com _ Glenn Butcher, Chevy Camaro, 6.534, 203.68 def. Bill Yates Sr., Camaro, 6.717, 209.85.

Factory Stock Showdown _ Leah Pritchett, Dodge Challenger, 8.001, 172.36 def. Stephen Bell, Chevy Camaro, Broke.

Final round-by-round results from the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park:


ROUND ONE _Antron Brown, 3.728, 328.86 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.792, 323.58; Blake Alexander, 3.730, 330.72 def. Terry McMillen, 5.158, 137.69; Clay Millican, 3.758, 325.61 def. Shawn Reed, 5.084, 138.39; Pat Dakin, 3.814, 322.58 def. Billy Torrence, 4.589, 170.49; Steve Torrence, 3.751, 327.19 def. Bill Litton, 4.245, 211.66; Leah Pritchett, 5.568, 125.37 def. Scott Palmer, Broke; Tony Schumacher, 4.067, 257.73 def. Richie Crampton, 5.641, 115.95; Mike Salinas, 3.758, 324.36 def.Brittany Force, 4.483, 186.56;

QUARTERFINALS _Dakin, 3.946, 286.13 def. Schumacher, 4.115, 270.43; Pritchett, 3.802, 322.73 def. Alexander, 8.032, 80.82; S. Torrence, 3.771, 325.30 def. Salinas, 9.692, 74.79; Millican, 3.803, 323.04 def. Brown, 3.842, 323.66;

SEMIFINALS _Millican, 3.857, 310.41 def. Dakin, 7.703, 70.54; S. Torrence, 3.772, 325.22 def. Pritchett, 3.809, 322.11;

FINAL _ S. Torrence, 3.770, 323.66 def. Millican, 3.798, 320.28.


ROUND ONE _ Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.999, 315.86 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.952, 320.51; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.925, 325.22 def. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.003, 321.50; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.938, 324.75 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.124, 295.34; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.992, 317.05 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.978, 316.23; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.937, 329.02 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 13.179, 70.12; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.348, 251.67 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.585, 201.19; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.954, 318.69 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.997, 320.20; John Force, Camaro, 4.025, 322.96 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.523, 185.28;

QUARTERFINALS_ Todd, 4.064, 307.58 def. Pedregon, Foul/Red Light; Johnson Jr., 3.950, 323.50 def. Tasca III, 9.014, 82.83; Hight, 4.017, 313.07 def. J. Force, 4.043, 310.34; Wilkerson, 4.000, 315.19 def. C. Force, 4.051, 310.70;

SEMIFINALS _ Wilkerson, 5.186, 175.23 def. Todd, 6.100, 152.28; Hight, 3.945, 323.04 def. Johnson Jr., 4.008, 320.13;

FINAL _Hight, 4.036, 276.29 def. Wilkerson, 4.413, 201.91. 


ROUND ONE _ Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.579, 211.49 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 18.901, 42.36; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.546, 211.49 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.554, 211.43; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.544, 210.80 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 8.120, 122.07; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.545, 211.89 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.619, 209.46; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.546, 211.46 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 8.707, 109.64; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.536, 210.24 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.744, 204.63; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.553, 211.00 def. Charlie Westcott Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.746, 204.48; Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.542, 210.60 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.943, 170.04;

QUARTERFINALS_ Gray, 6.568, 210.37 def. Enders, 6.599, 210.18; Skillman, 6.559, 211.66 def. Butner, 13.412, 63.70; Coughlin, 6.573, 210.54 def. Anderson, 6.591, 210.54; Nobile, 6.580, 210.57 def. Line, 10.660, 83.80;

SEMIFINALS _ Gray, 6.579, 210.54 def. Nobile, 6.597, 209.85; Skillman, 6.581, 211.63 def. Coughlin, 6.778, 207.62;

FINAL _Gray, 6.567, 211.06 def. Skillman, 11.409, 78.68.


ROUND ONE _ Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.138, 163.28 def. Hector Arana, Foul/Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.925, 192.52 def. Hector Arana Jr., Broke; Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, 6.885, 194.77 def. Mark Paquette, Buell, 6.938, 190.86; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.838, 195.90 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.953, 193.82; Joey Gladstone, Buell, 6.893, 194.58 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, Foul/Red Light; Matt Smith, 6.889, 197.31 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.955, 193.07; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.889, 194.86 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.915, 194.66; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.879, 193.21 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.849, 194.80;

QUARTERFINALS _Ellis, 6.863, 190.27 def. Sampey, 6.941, 190.83; Savoie, 6.897, 195.62 def. Hines, 6.968, 192.82; Tonglet, 6.864, 195.34 def. A. Smith, 13.648, 57.27; M. Smith, 6.869, 197.45 def. Gladstone, 6.940, 192.80;

SEMIFINALS _Tonglet, 6.890, 195.65 def. Savoie, 6.924, 194.86; M. Smith, 6.879, 198.03 def. Ellis, 6.901, 194.63;

FINAL _ M. Smith, 6.877, 198.44 def. Tonglet, 6.867, 196.10.

Point standings (top-10) following the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 2,346; 2. Clay Millican, 2,276; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,225; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,192; 5. Antron Brown, 2,169; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,135; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,119; 8.Terry McMillen, 2,093; 9. (tie) Brittany Force, 2,085; Scott Palmer, 2,085.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, 2,270; 2. J.R. Todd, 2,240; 3. Courtney Force, 2,200; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 2,196; 5. Ron Capps, 2,182; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,166; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,144; 8. John Force, 2,116; 9. Jack Beckman, 2,113; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,086.

Pro Stock _1. Tanner Gray, 2,296; 2. Vincent Nobile, 2,244; 3. Drew Skillman, 2,222; 4. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,215; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,206; 6. Erica Enders, 2,192; 7. Jason Line, 2,133; 8. Bo Butner, 2,120; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,104; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,064.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Matt Smith, 2,263; 2. LE Tonglet, 2,242; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,222; 4. Hector Arana Jr., 2,214; 5. Andrew Hines, 2,201; 6. Jerry Savoie, 2,154; 7. Angie Smith, 2,115; 8. Steve Johnson, 2,108; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,094; 10. Angelle Sampey, 2,085.

Stevie “Fast” Jackson posted his second consecutive win during the E3 Spark plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service portion of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. This weekend’s Pro Mod racing, presented by Real Pro Mod Association, was the ninth of 12 races this season.  

Jackson covered the quarter-mile in 5.759-seconds at 250.88 mph in his 2017 Chevrolet Camaro to defeat Chad Green, who red-lit on the start line in his Chevy Corvette. Jackson scored the fourth win of his career and second of the season. 

“If you had asked me five races ago if we would win another race in my career I would’ve told you, ‘No!’^” said Jackson, third in points. “This car kicked my butt for a while. If you give Billy Stocklin (crew chief) and I enough swings at it though we can knock the candy out of the pinata.” Jackson defeated Rickie Smith, Jim Whiteley and Mike Janis to advance to the final. 

The Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will continue during the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals atTexas Motorplex in Ennis, Oct. 4-7.

Final finishing order (1-16) at the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park:

Pro Modified _1. Steve Jackson; 2. Chad Green; 3. Mike Janis; 4. Mike Castellana; 5. Jim Whiteley; 6. Danny Rowe; 7. Erica Enders; 8. Marc Caruso; 9. Brandon Snider; 10. Jason Scruggs; 11. Rickie Smith; 12. Khalid alBalooshi; 13. Shane Molinari; 14. Rick Hord; 15. Michael Biehle; 16. Jeremy Ray.

Final round-by-round results from the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park:


ROUND ONE _ Marc Caruso, Chevy Camaro, 5.834, 244.87 def. Michael Biehle, Ford Mustang, Broke; Chad Green, Chevy Corvette, 5.766, 248.34 def. Khalid alBalooshi, Camaro, 6.076, 185.56; Mike Castellana, Camaro, 6.276, 239.82 def. Shane Molinari, Pontiac Firebird, 6.729, 173.61; Steve Jackson, Camaro, 5.721, 251.86 def. Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.852, 248.48; Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.746, 248.34 def. Brandon Snider, Corvette, 5.812, 245.14; Danny Rowe, Camaro, 5.894, 251.95 def. Rick Hord, Corvette, 9.431, 80.10; Jim Whiteley, Camaro, 5.808, 248.39 def. Jason Scruggs, Camaro, 5.820, 247.11; Erica Enders, Camaro, 10.728, 88.73 def. Jeremy Ray, Corvette, Broke;

QUARTERFINALS _ Castellana, 5.746, 251.63 def. Enders, 5.826, 252.43; Jackson, 5.749, 250.92 def. J. Whiteley, 5.797, 249.12; Janis, No Time Recorded def. Caruso, Broke/No Show; Green, 5.802, 247.57 def. Rowe, 5.800, 252.90;

SEMIFINALS _ Jackson, 5.736, 249.90 def. Janis, 5.774, 248.16; Green, 5.816, 248.34 def. Castellana, Foul/Red Light;

FINAL_ Jackson, 5.759, 250.88 def. Green, Foul/Red Light.

Point standings (top-10) following the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park: 

Pro Modified _1. Mike Janis, 650; 2. Rickie Smith, 604; 3. Steve Jackson, 563; 4. Mike Castellana, 541; 5. Chad Green, 514; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 485; 7. Jose Gonzalez, 435; 8. Jeremy Ray, 383; 9. Todd Tutterow, 362; 10. Danny Rowe, 349.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 24 2018
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