ROBERT HIGHT IS on a winning streak this year in his Funny Car, a type of drag racing car with a fiberglass body and an engine in front of the driver. Hight grew up in Alturas in Northern California and worked his way up from being a crewman to one of the most accomplished drivers in the sport.
Hight is now a three-time world champion and drives for John Force Racing, the most successful team in American motorsports.
Hight comes to the Bay Area this week to participate in the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals from Friday to Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, fresh off two consecutive wins in Norwalk and Denver.
He spoke to Bay City News about his personal connection with Sonoma Raceway, the competition he faces from his own records and fellow drivers, and he reveals his favorite restaurant in the area.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bay City News: You’ve won in Sonoma three years in a row. No one has ever won four years straight. Is there something special about Sonoma Raceway?
Robert Hight: It’s the closest racetrack to my hometown where I grew up in Northern California. It was the first national event that I ever went to, and it just blew my mind away. I knew from that day forward, that’s what I wanted to do. I’ve been to every single national event held at Sonoma Raceway as a fan, a crew member and now as a driver. So, I’ve never missed one. It’s pretty amazing that I can look back and say, I dreamed of doing this and now, I’m winning the race!
BCN: You broke the national record in the Funny Car class at 339.87 mph at Sonoma Raceway in 2017, and the record still holds. Are you trying to out-compete yourself this weekend?
Hight: We’re always looking to go quicker and faster. That’s what the sport is all about. One thing that’s great about that racetrack is it’s nice and flat, and Friday night, when the air changes and that marine layer comes in, that’s when the cars make a lot of horsepower. The track cools down and that’s why we were able to run 339.87 miles an hour. If we’re going to eclipse that, Sonoma would be a great place to do it.
BCN: And how are you feeling about the competition and performance of other racers this year?
Hight: I believe the Funny Car class is as close as it’s ever been. There are 10 cars in every race that have a legitimate shot at winning. There’s a lot of guys that maybe struggled early on but are coming into their own and starting to run better. So, it’s very tough, very competitive, and fans are going to be greeted to races that are separated by inches at over 330 miles an hour.
BCN: Last weekend you had to race against the owner of your team, John Force, and that may happen again this weekend. How does that feel? Is it different than competing against other drivers?
Hight: Well, it’s tougher for me to race John because he gave me this opportunity to drive. I wouldn’t be driving a race car if it wasn’t for John. So, sometimes I find myself not wanting to go after him as much as the other drivers. But I still have a job to do for my sponsors, and he wants me to go after him. He wants me to do my best and try to beat him.
BCN: You’ve been on a winning streak so far this year with five wins and two runner-up finishes in the first 11 races. What is your team getting right that they missed out on last year?
Hight: I think we tried way too many new things last year. In 2019, I had the best car, period. We won the championship and won the most races. We were the best. Then, in 2020 the pandemic hit, and John Force Racing didn’t race. In 2021 we came back, and we tried way too many things. This year, we regrouped, went back to what we did in 2019 and it really paid off. We’re running good, we’re consistent and we’re winning a lot of races.
BCN: You’re also on a winning streak from Norwalk to Denver and now hopefully Sonoma. Are you feeling any momentum from previous race weekends?
Hight: We had two weekends off after the Norwalk win, and that was too much! You want to ride that momentum; you want to keep going. And we came back and won Denver. Fortunately, we get to go right on to Sonoma. We’re on a high and maybe that’ll carry on. Only one person has ever swept the western swing in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle. That’s my boss, John Force. That’s the goal we have. One step is done, and now we’ve got to come to Sonoma and do our job right.
BCN: What can we expect from you over the next few years?
Hight: Just maintaining the sponsorships that we have and taking care of our partners so that we can keep doing this. It’s not getting any cheaper, with all the fuel costs and inflation. It’s hitting drag racing too, so the sponsorships are more important than they’ve ever been.
BCN: Do you have any favorite wineries or restaurants in Sonoma?
Hight: I have a friend in Vacaville, which is about a 45-minute drive from the Sonoma track. He’s got an Italian restaurant called Pietro’s, and my family and I always love going there.
The Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals will take place Friday to Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Tickets are available on the track’s website.