Robert Hight pushed his Funny Car dragster to a speed record in May, breaking 337 miles per hour at an NHRA event in Topeka, Kan. He had the record for all of one day — ceding it to fellow driver Matt Hagan, who topped 338 the following day.
Hight was itching for another crack at a big run, but the conditions weren’t right — until a few weeks ago in Sonoma, Calif.
“It was a great racetrack with killer conditions,” Hight said this week. “We ran 339.87. That was so close to 340, and fans really relate to speed and those kinds of records. When they see you getting that close to 340, it draws a lot of attention. That’s a new barrier. It’s been good for our team.”
Hight and some of the other top drag racers in the world are preparing for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd starting Thursday and running through Sunday (see brainerdraceway.com for tickets and schedule details). Hight was asked a simple question: What does it feel like to go that fast?
“You don’t know it at the top end. Where you really know it is in the middle of the racetrack, from 400 feet to 700 feet. That’s when the clutch is coming hard and it sets you back in the seat,” Hight said. “To run that kind of speed you have to be 290 mph at the half track. You can really feel it. At the top end, you can’t tell much difference between 335 and 339.”
Hight is one of the few people in the world who can speak confidently about those subtleties. That said, 340 — while it might not feel much different from a ride a few mph slower while it was happening — would certainly provide a special feeling after it was over.
After coming so close to that benchmark, Hight and his team at John Force Racing have their sights set on topping it — perhaps as soon as this weekend.
“You definitely can run quick and fast at Brainerd. You just have to have conditions — a cool track, with some cloud cover, maybe temperatures in the mid-70s. You can lay those runs down,” Hight said. “A lot of times we come there and it’s hot and humid, but the forecast Friday [during qualifying] looks pretty good. If it’s cloudy, look out — 340 is possible.”
Even under ideal track conditions, it still takes a car running at peak performance. Hight, who was named president of John Force Racing in 2012 and has been with the team for more than 20 years, knows he is just one cog in that machine.
“I feel I’m very fortunate, getting hooked up with this team in the mid-90s. John is a 16-time champ for a reason. He worked at this seven days a week and he didn’t have hobbies. For him to trust me is nice,” Hight said. “I don’t need a title, though. We have a lot of good people here, and that’s why we’ve been successful. I’m only trying to repay John for some of the opportunities he’s given me.”
The next opportunity is this weekend. Sunday is Hight’s 48th birthday, and a victory in Brainerd — and maybe a speed record — would be a nice gift.
“Brainerd is a big race,” Hight said. “This is a very pivotal race for all the teams. You better have your act together leaving Brainerd. Otherwise, you’ll be in trouble.”