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Defending NHRA Funny Car champion has ground to make up this weekend at Gateway

Funny Car driver Robert Hight talks with fans before the start of qualifying for the 6th annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison last year. Hight, the 2017 season champion, sits fifth in the funny car standings as he prepares for this weekend’s event at Gateway.
Funny Car driver Robert Hight talks with fans before the start of qualifying for the 6th annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison last year. Hight, the 2017 season champion, sits fifth in the funny car standings as he prepares for this weekend’s event at Gateway. Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire

Before the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship started, defending Funny Car world champ Robert Hight thought it would take a certain amount of wins to claim a second title.

After a semifinal showing last weekend and only five races remaining during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, there is heightened pressure on Hight to do well at this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. on Friday and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 5 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday.

Hight is just 23 points behind leader J.R. Todd after the opening race of the playoffs, but wins in his 10,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS are the only thing on Hight’s mind heading to the St. Louis metro-east this weekend. In fact, Hight has a clear number in mind for the rest of his 2018 season.

“I made a prediction before the Countdown for my team that I believe we need to get three wins and have zero first-round losses if we want to win this championship,” said Hight, who has 43 career wins. “I feel the same way now, but we only have five races to get three wins. There’s a lot of cars bunched up and it’s a lot of good cars. We had an opportunity (last weekend), but we just have to minimize the mistakes, both from the driver and with the car.”

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the Gateway Motorsports event, that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23.

The second of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship is the 20th of 24 in 2018.

Hight, a two-time world champ, took the blame for the loss last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway because he went red on the starting line in his semifinal matchup against playoff competitor Tim Wilkerson. It was a frustrating blow for a team that had performed well during the first two rounds of eliminations.

The loaded Funny Car lineup also includes the likes of Courtney Force, John Force, Capps, Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Shawn Langdon. Hight, meanwhile, is focused on improving his own performance as he goes after his second career victory at Gateway.

“You just have to relax, believe in your team, believe in yourself and stay focused,” said Hight, who has two wins in 2018. “I promise my team is focused on nothing but this race car for the next five races. This time of the year is fun. I’m happy with the consistency of the car, and we had a really great car (in Maple Grove) and I screwed it up.

“I’ve got to be better and more focused. But if our car can continue to run like it did last weekend, I like our chances.”

Robert Hight Sept 30 Gateway
Flames erupt from the exhaust of the Robert Hight’s Chevrolet Camaro SS NHRA Funny Car during qualifying for the 6th annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park last season. The defending world champion is back in Madison this weekend. Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire

Defending Top Fuel event winner Steve Torrence is after his first world championship and will look to build on his points lead against talented drivers Tony Schumacher and Clay Millican. Greg Anderson is currently third in Pro Stock behind Vincent Nobile, who won the Countdown to the Championship opener, and points leader Tanner Gray.

LE Tonglet will look to make up ground in Pro Stock Motorcycle at Gateway against the likes of Hector Arana Jr., who won at Maple Grove, and points leader Eddie Krawiec.

The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will also feature competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 10th of 12 races, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (618) 215-8888. Tickets also are available online at www.gatewaymsp.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. Military and first responders receive 20 percent off on general admission tickets at the gate.

Some content for this story was provided by the NHRA

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

7:30 a.m. – Parking lots open.

8 a.m. – Spectator gates open. Sportsman qualifying.

Noon - Midway opens.

2:30 p.m. - Pro Stock Motorcycle autograph session at NHRA midway display.

3 p.m. - NHRA guided walking tour. Starts at the Mello Yello display.

3:15 p.m. - Pro Mod qualifying session.

4 p.m. - Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock car qualifying session.

4:30 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.

5:45 p.m. - Pro Mod qualifying session.

6:15 p.m. - Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock car qualifying session.

7 p.m. - Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

7:30 a.m. – Parking lots open.

8 a.m. – Spectator gates open. Sportsman eliminations.

9:30 a.m. - Midway opens.

12:15 p.m. - Nitro School. Hosted by Robert Hight and Alan Reinhart.

1 p.m. - Autograph session at the Mello Yello display.

1:15 p.m. - NHRA guided walking tour. Starts at the Mello Yello display.

1:30 p.m. - Pro Mod qualifying session.

2:15 p.m. - Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock car qualifying session.

3 p.m. - Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.

3:45 p.m. – First round of Factory Stock Showdown.

5 p.m. - Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock car qualifying session.

5:30 p.m. - Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

7:30 a.m. – Parking lots open.

8 a.m. – Spectator gates open.

9 a.m. - Midway opens; NHRA guided walking tour starts at the Mello Yello display.

9:30 a.m. - Sealmaster Trackwalk.

9:45 a.m. – Race day review, pre-race ceremonies.

11 a.m. – First round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car eliminations.

Noon – First round of Pro Stock eliminations.

12: 20 p.m. – First round of Pro Mod eliminations.

1 p.m. – Second round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car eliminations.

1:15 p.m. – Second round of Pro Stock eliminations.

1:30 p.m. - Pro Mod semi-finals.

2 p.m. - Factory Stock Showdown semi-finals.

2:10 p.m. - Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car semi-finals.

2:30 p.m. - Pro Stock semi-finals.

2:45 p.m. - Pro Mod final eliminations.

3 p.m. - Factory Stock Showdown final eliminations.

3:40 p.m. - Pro Stock final eliminations.

3:45 p.m. - Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car final eliminations. Schedule subject to change.

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