Jacksonville Sports Day

NHRA: Hight Returns to Gainesville to Defend Funny Car Championship

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Robert Hight returns at Gainesville Raceway as the defending Funny Car champion of this weekend’s AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. But not much else will be the same for the 2009 Funny Car world champion at the race, at least when compared to last season

Hight and teammate John Force, the legendary 16-time world champion, have swapped teams with the changes effective for this weekend’s race in Gainesville. Hight will once again be paired with famed crew chief Jimmy Prock, reuniting a tandem that was successful for a number of years at John Force Racing. So while Hight and his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS will have plenty of changes ahead of the Gatornationals, he appears perfectly fine with the move.

“Jimmy and I, I think I was with him for nine seasons, and we were best friends,” Hight said. “There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t talk about the race car and what we were going to do, and it was a lot of fun. He really included me in things, and I’m excited to be back with him. I was really excited when we got him over the winter, got him back in here, because I knew he was going to make all of our teams stronger. When I called the Auto Club and told them we had made the swap, their words were, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool. It’s a reunion.’”

Hight has had strong recent success at historic Gainesville Raceway, winning three times since 2012. That bodes well for 2017, even with any transition period the changes may provide against a loaded Funny Car field.

“Going into a race as the defending champion always gives you a little bit of confidence because you’ve won before,” said Hight, who has 37 career wins. “A lot of race tracks – if you haven’t done well – it’s all mental. We’re going in with kind of a new team and changes at John Force Racing. I think change is always good. So I think that’s what we’re going to do at John Force Racing, and looking to go there and defend this title.”

Doing so will require yeoman’s work against a field currently led by Matt Hagan, who has posted back-to-back victories to start 2017. Others to watch in the star-studded field include defending world champion Ron Capps, seven-time Gainesville winner Force and Courtney Force. Hight also knows there’s no time to waste in getting his season going. He is focused on performing at a high level at Gainesville, no matter who is calling the shots for his team.

“Everybody at John Force Racing, we build our own stuff, so the cars are basically the same,” said Hight, who is currently 10th in Funny Car points. “The setups are different, and how the crew chief tunes it and runs it, but I’m just going to have to do my job – leave on time and keep it in the groove, and hopefully do that four times on Sunday.”

Brittany Force’s first Top Fuel win last year gave John Force Racing its first double-up weekend in team history. But Force will have to deal with Leah Pritchett, who has won the first two races of 2017, back-to-back world champ Antron Brown and eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher.

Longtime Pro Stock standout Greg Anderson will look for his third straight win at Gainesville Raceway after ousting teammate and defending world champ Jason Line a year ago.

Pro Stock Motorcycle makes its 2017 debut at the race. Jerry Savoie claimed his first world title last year and looks to start fast against the likes of Krawiec, Andrew Hines and Angelle Sampey.

The event is the season-opener for the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series and features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Larsen Motorsports jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech and Matrix System. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.

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 in motorsports 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.

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.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 and 4:15 p.m. on Friday, March 17 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 18 at 12:00 and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 19.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.

 

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