Robert Hight raced to his third victory of the season Sunday at the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals and is on the verge of winning his first Funny Car world championship crown.
Spencer Massey, Larry Morgan and Andrew Hines also were winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race is the fifth of six events in the Countdown to 1, NHRA's championship playoffs.
Hight beat second place driver and teammate Ashley Force Hood in the first round of eliminations and then pulled out a very close final round victory over Jack Beckman to take a 105-point lead in the standings.
"It's amazing what a win can do and get that confidence back," said Hight, who powered his Auto Club Ford Mustang to a performance of 4.125 seconds at 304.46 to edge Beckman's Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger at the finish line, which trailed with a 4.154 at 303.16. It was Hight's 14th career victory and his second at this track.
"That was a close race in the final," Hight continued. "All the runs this weekend the car was on its performance. The championship isn't over yet, but to have a 105-point lead gives you a lot of confidence. You hate to make predictions, but way back in Bristol I said this car is too good and this team is too good and we will still contend for the championship. Back then we weren't even in the top 10. Sometimes those predictions can come back to bite you, but I believed in our team and now here we are. I may not qualify at Pomona and be out of it, because anything can happen, but the way our car is running right now I like our chances. We've got a lot of work to do."
In Top Fuel, Auto Club Road to the Future nominee Spencer Massey earned his second victory of the season, beating team owner Don "The Snake" Prudomme's former driver, Larry Dixon, in the final round.
Massey, who outran Shawn Langdon, Steve Torrence and Brandon Bernstein to reach the final, powered his U.S. Smokeless dragster to a 3.827 at 314.53 in the final to beat Dixon, whose Al-Anabi Racing Dragster lost traction at the start and posted a 5.503 at 174.87.
"It's unbelievable just being able to get to the final round," said Massey, who replaced Dixon in the cockpit of the Prudhomme-owned dragster in the off-season. Dixon drove Prudhomme's car for 14 seasons before joining Alan Johnson's team this season.
"Every race car out here is capable of winning races," Massey continued. "The competition is so tight out here. Every round was a key round and meant something because for points, we're down to the wire. And not only for points, but we're also going for the Wally at the end of the day. It means a whole lot to me personally and to 'Snake' and everybody because we've been struggling here in the Countdown; we just haven't been on our game. So it's nice to come in here and throw down these good numbers and go A to B and not beat ourselves because that's what we've really been doing all year long. We got a handle on it, and now we've got some momentum."
Massey is among four rookies eligible for the Auto Club Road to the Future award, including this weekend's Funny Car top qualifier Matt Hagan and fellow Top Fuel driver Langdon and Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Doug Horne. Massey says picking the winner this year will be a tough chore for the more than 135 members of the media who will vote to decide it.
"I don't like to think that I should or shouldn't [win rookie of the year]," Massey said. "I don't really think like that. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I would like for it to happen, but Shawn [Langdon] is an awesome racer and so is Matt Hagan and Doug Horne. Obviously, we've got a couple of wins now and the points are the points, but there's a whole lot of different situations and things that happen for the rookie of the year. I don't know if it draws a line under it or puts a check by my name or whatever, but I'd love to find out at the end of Pomona that it happened that way."
With the runner-up finish, Dixon now trails series leader and six-time champ Tony Schumacher by one point. Veteran driver Cory McClenathan, who defeated Schumacher in the second round, is in third in the title hunt, 48 points back.
Morgan scored his first win since 2002 and 10th of his career in Pro Stock, outrunning first-time finalist Rickie Jones in the final round. Morgan posted a 6.720 at 205.69 in his Lucas Oil Dodge Stratus to hold off Jones' Elite Motorsports Stratus, which trailed with a 6.794 at 203.16.
"I threw a hundred dollars in a slot machine and won $1,200, and I thought I might be pretty lucky here," said Morgan, who beat Jason Line, Mike Edwards and Greg Stanfield in earlier rounds. "I felt relaxed all day and everything was going our way. We put ourselves in a position to win and I guess I drove well enough to beat the bad guys out here."
Edwards now holds a 139-point lead over second place Greg Anderson. Edwards needs only to qualify at the season finale to clinch the series title.
Hines took his third win of the season and 18th of his career in Pro Stock Motorcycle when series leader Hector Arana fouled at the start in the final round on his Lucas Oil Buell.
"I felt really good today," said Hines, who rode his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to earlier round wins over Fred Camarena, Doug Horne and Matt Smith . "For some reason, I get into these races and get all caught up in the battles and rivalries, but today I was relaxed. Today, I didn't really care. I just went out there to ride and have fun. I had no pressure today.
"In the final, Hector must have been rattled. He did a neutral burnout. He didn't put the bike in gear, and that's never a good thing. When I heard that, I had a feeling that I was going to get the win light.
With the runner-up finish Arana increased his series lead to 54 over defending champ Eddie Krawiec. Arana defeated Krawiec in a titan semifinal match with a holeshot start.
The 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season concludes Nov. 12-15 at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif.