Hight Points Out Problems With NHRA’s Countdown

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 15 2022

Robert Hight says the Countdown’s points-paying format is bull.

ENNIS, Texas – NHRA Funny Car point-leader Robert Hight is in the midst of a self-proclaimed “career year” that doesn’t add up whenever he sits down and does the math.

On cue, High sat down and crunched the numbing numbers Friday afternoon in the John Force Racing compound at Texas Motorplex, site of this weekend’s 37th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals. Sunday’s race is the fourth of six events in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and Day 8 of the 10-day Stampede of Speed.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) emerged as provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the 20th event in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

A three-time world champion, Hight ended NHRA’s 16-race “regular season” at the prestigious Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals outside Indianapolis with a 279-point lead over two-time/reigning world champion Ron Capps. Once points were recalibrated for the Countdown, Hight’s advantage had been reduced to one round.

Hight began the weekend here with a 46-point pad over Capps, basically two rounds of racing with three national events/12 rounds of eliminations remaining.

“So, I’ve won eight races, two-of-three in the Countdown and I only have a 46-point lead,” said Hight, driver of his Chevrolet Camaro SS. “Amazing? It’s amazing NHRA took away so many (points) from us. I had a 280-point lead, OK? And then it went down to 20. Anyway, it’s what we’re dealt with and we’ve just got to keep winning.”

Hight laid out a scenario in which he could win at The Plex and Round 5 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway _ a total of 10 victories, including four-of-six in the Countdown _ get eliminated in the first round at the season-ending NHRA Finals at AAA Raceway at Pomona, Calif., and watch Capps win the title in a race paying points-and-a-half.

“It’s bullshit, I’m sorry,” Hight said. “When you talk about that scenario, it’s like that ain’t fair. That’s not competition. NHRA wants to sell tickets for Pomona, OK? But that’s not crowning a true champion.”

It’s an argument similar to that voiced by four-time/reigning Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence in recent seasons.

“To win eight times in Funny Car with the competition level there is today, that’s an impressive feat,” said Hight, a 53-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “And I’m not trying to dismiss John Force. John Force, when he won that many races in years past, he didn’t have the competition. It’s a new era here. There’s a lot of good cars out here and we’ve been steady every week. We’ve got to continue that. I mean, we have to come out of here with a bigger points lead than we came in with.”

Hagan, another three-time world champion, earned the provisional pole with a 1,000-foot run in 3.825-seconds at 334.85 mph in his Dodge Hellcat fielded by first-year Tony Stewart Racing. Hagan also collected a $15,000 bonus for the quickest run under the lights during the second session.

Hagan now owns the record for quickest Funny Car run in Texas Motorplex history and second-quickest run of the 2022 season. Hagan is chasing his sixth pole of the season as he mounts a late run for the title. He entered the weekend third in the standings and 103 points behind Hight.

“To go out there and do it, what a cool feeling to hang onto a car like that,” Hagan said. “It was really digging out there and it just felt great.”

Hight qualified second at 3.854-seconds and 333.43 mph, while defending event winner Capps is third at 3.865 at 335.40 in his NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Supra.

Hight said his attention will be on Capps. “He’s going to be a threat,” Hight said. “Hagan’s going to be a threat, and John. But those guys, we’ve got enough of a points lead there we can maintain. Capps is the one we’ve got to watch. I need John…you know John’s lost to Capps the last two races in the semis. He can do me some good _ and himself _ by getting him out of there when that semifinal race comes along.”

Force, a 16-time world champion, said he understood Hight’s plight in looking for a team blocker/spoiler. “But no, I’m the spoiler for me to win a championship,” said Force, 73, and driver of the the JFR Chevrolet Camaro SS. “I only need a race and I’m right back in it. But it ain’t like he’s (Hight) going to go out first round. He’s going to win rounds.

“There’s plenty of points to earn and I just need to get on a roll and win some more races. I’ve been to a lot of semis, a handful of finals, won Charlotte earlier in the year (Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway). I’ve been staying in the hunt but not where I need to be.”

Force remains the career leader in victories on The Plex’s famed all-concrete surface via wins in 1993, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2005 and the discontinued spring race in 2000.

“You know I love it here. I just like coming to Texas,” said Force, longtime friend of International Drag Racing Hall of Famer, former Funny Car driver and Motorplex founder Billy Meyer. “This car’s coming around now but I’ve got to get on that Christmas tree. That’s what PEAK pays me for, to come out here and try to win. I’ve got a shot at winning this thing. We’ll see where it goes _ but I’m going to do some damage.”

In Top Fuel, Austin Prock is poised for his first career pole after a provisional, 1,000-foot pass in 3.682-seconds at 334.57 mph in his dragster. Prock earned a $15,000 bonus for team-owner John Force. Prock won the Countdown opener at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., for his second career victory and appears primed for a statement weekend after making two strong runs Friday.

“I’ve dreamed of getting a No. 1 qualifier, so I really do hope it sticks,” said Prock, the 26-year-old son of JFR crew chief Jimmy Prock. “But I think the coolest part was doing it right next to my teammate (Brittany Force). That just says how strong this team is, but this car has been coming along. We just have to make the right adjustments and then you get a performance like this. We seem to be peaking at the right time and to get this on top of it, that’s really cool.”

Clay Millican’s 3.685-second pass at 332.08 mph gave him the second spot heading into Saturday, while Brit Force ran 3.685-seconds to place third. She also set the track speed record with her lap of 335.75.

Erica Enders could complete a Texas Sweep with a Pro Stock victory here Sunday in pursuit of a fifth world championship.

The 39-year-old Houston native earned the provisional “Factory Hot Rod” pole with a quarter-mile pass in 6.524-seconds at 210.53 mph. Enders began the weekend with a commanding 120-point lead over Elite Motorsports teammate Aaron Stanfield.

“I’ve had a great car all year and it’s been up to me in the driver’s seat to get it done,” said Enders, winner of a class-leading eight races in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro SS. “I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished. Just looking to have a great points weekend.”

Enders earned a $7,500 bonus check for quickest run of the second session and collecting the maximum amount of qualifying points for the day. It was another impressive result for Enders, who will try to sweep both races in her home state. Recall that in April, Enders won the Pro Stock final at the last NHRA national event in the history of Houston Raceway Park in Baytown.

Stanfield was right behind his teammate Friday with a pass of 6.529 at 209.52. Cristian Cuadra, one of seven Elite Motorsports drivers competing in the class, took third after his run of 6.533 at 209.30.

Pro Stock Motorcycle featured a barrage of standout runs topped by Angelle Sampey. The three-time world champion set a track record aboard her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki with a quarter-mile run of 6.728-secons at 202.05 mph.

The track speed record was broken three times during the opening qualifying session, with five-time/reigning champ Matt Smith setting the mark with a pass of 203.69 mph. Smith made the best pass of the second session at 6.734-seconds at 203.58 mph, earning a $5,000 bonus check as well. But it was Sampey who schooled the field as she looks for her fifth No. 1 of the 2022 season. Entering the weekend 116 points behind Smith, Sampey knows she needs a huge performance here.

“We did get to test on Wednesday and things went well for us, and we figured some things out,” Sampey said. “Definitely going into the last three races of the year, I have some catching up to do. My mistakes have put me behind. My Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki is the motorcycle to beat, I just haven’t been the rider that it needs, so I need to turn that around.

“I’m looking forward to (Saturday) and seeing how I can do. I have never won this race. I do not own the cowboy hat and I really want to do that this weekend.”

Smith is currently second thanks to his pass under the lights, while his wife, Angie, is in the third spot after her run of 6.793 at 200.96. She entered the weekend third in points, 90 behind her husband.

Two rounds of qualifying are scheduled Saturday, beginning at noon (CDT).


Sept. 15-18 _ Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa: Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sept. 23-25 _ Charlotte NHRA Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.: Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock).

Sept. 30-Oct. 2 _ NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 13-16 _ Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis.

Oct. 27-30 _ NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nov. 10-13 _ Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 15 2022
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