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Robert Hight measures up against some of NHRA’s best – Daily Breeze

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Just three races into the new season, the tightest of the four NHRA professional classes is in Funny Car – if you take away the leader.

A total of 86 points separate second place from 11th, fewer than Robert Hight’s margin as the class leader (105).

Hight, the Yorba Linda driver for John Force Racing, is off to one of the best starts in the sanctioning body’s history. He became the first driver since Kenny Bernstein in 1987 to begin the year with three consecutive No. 1 qualifiers, and has secured two victories going to the this weekend’s Denso Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It’s pretty awesome to drive a car like this. Sometimes you count your blessings because you don’t know how long it’s going to last and things change,” said Hight, who has 47 career victories. “It really all boils down to hard work. Qualifying No. 1 at the first three races shows we have a really good handle on this race car.

“We’ve been quick everywhere we’ve been. I really have to give it up to (crew chief) Jimmy Prock and (co-crew chief) Chris Cunningham and my Auto Club guys. They’ve really put in the work to make this thing go rounds and I can’t wait to see how it goes in Las Vegas.”

Hight fell just short of a third world title last season and is using that close finish as motivation.

“There’s been some times when we’ve been on a good run and won some races and you look back and say we’ve had some breaks, but we haven’t had this year because we haven’t needed it,” Hight said. “We’ve been really steady. It goes back to last year … that’s motivated us to work hard and that’s shown this year. We’re on a mission.”

Although he was a first-round loser last year in Las Vegas, he has won twice at the four-wide event in Charlotte. Thus far in 2019, nine of his 10 round wins have been in the 3.80s.

“It feels like it wasn’t that long ago I was just getting in a race car,” Hight said. “To have my name mentioned with some of these guys like Kenny and Don Prudhomme, it’s pretty amazing. I have to pinch myself sometimes.

“But there’s still a lot more I want to accomplish. But it really isn’t just about what I’ve accomplished. You can’t do it without a good team and I have that with Jimmy and Chris.”

Hight is after his sixth win in Nevada. He’s 105 points ahead of Jack Beckman and 115 in front of Matt Hagan, while boss John Force is fourth at 130.

“It’s not like we’re that much ahead of everyone else,” Hight said. “Running this well, you’re going to make these other guys better, so we have to stay focused and work hard, and try to maintain what we’ve been doing. Having a four-wide race last year in Vegas was big. It gave this event a shot in the arm and we hope it continues to grow.

“We’ve had two weekends off and I’m ready to get back to racing.”

Irwindale improvements

A three-phase program to improve Irwindale Dragstrip has started, which is intended to improve the experience for competitors and fans. The PJ1 compound, the same used by NHRA for national events, was recently applied in the first part of the plan.

“I feel it is imperative that we continue to improve our facility each year. The new three-phase project will help give racers an outlined plan of what’s to come at Irwindale Dragstrip,” said Charles Myers, drag strip manager.

Irwindale’s next step will be one of its biggest capital investment ever. The track will soon debut a track scrubber that will help overcome oil-downs, and other fluid spills, and rain.

“One of the areas of improvement we are concentrating on is the amount of time it takes to clean up an oil-down. With the addition of a track scrubber, the downtime will decrease drastically along with providing a cleaner surface to apply the traction compound,” Myers said.

A tire dragging machine is also planned as the final phase of the project. The purpose is to even rubber across the track, and combined with other parts of the plan will allow drivers to apply as much power as possible.

As a result of the improvements, tech cards will increase to $30 per car.

Pit stops

— Formula Drift opens its 2019 season at the Streets of Long Beach, where Toyota driver Frederic Aasbo returns hoping to win his second consecutive race at the course and third in Long Beach.

— Barber Motorsports Park, a 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course in Birmingham, Ala., is the site for the next NTT IndyCar race Sunday (NBCSN, noon). It’s a 90-lap event (207 miles) won three times in the past four years by current points leader Josef Newgarden, who leads Circuit of the Americas winner Colton Herta by 18 points heading into this weekend’s race. Newgarden, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud are the only entered drivers to have won at the track. Power won the race in 2011 and 2012, Hunter-Reay in 2013 and 2014, Newgarden in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and Pagenaud in 2016.

— NASCAR Truck Series regular Sheldon Creed, who grew up in El Cajon, will compete Saturday night when the California Lightning Sprint Series visits Barona Speedway for round three. The 21-year-old Creed was the 2018 ARCA Stock Car Series champion and is now a regular in the NASCAR series. In addition to Creed’s ARCA title, he is an X-Games gold medalist in Stadium Trucks, a two-time Stadium Super Trucks champion and has won five off-road championships. He is one of only three drivers to ever win two Lucas Oil Off-Road championships simultaneously. Defending CLS champion Jarrett Kramer leads the standings coming off a photo-finish victory two weeks ago at the Ventura Raceway. Kramer has a 21-point lead over Eric Greco, who is ahead of A.J. Bender, Bobby Michnowicz and Cody Nigh to round out the top five

— There is no racing at Perris Auto Speedway on Saturday night, but will return April 13 when the USAC/CRA Sprint Cars contest the annual Sokola Shootout. PAS Senior Sprints and PAS Young Gun Sprints will also be on the card.

— Trevor Huddleston won the NASCAR K&N West 150 at Irwindale Speedway by 0.030 in a side-by-side, door-banging duel on the final lap from turn four to the finish line against rookie Tanner Gray, the former NHRA Pro Stock champion who was racing at Irwindale for the first time. Gray drives for DGR/Crosley, co-owned by Chino’s David Gilliland in the NASCAR K&N East Series.

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