NHRA Mello Yello Series finals: Robert Hight holds off hard-charging Jack Beckman for Funny Car crown

Robert Hight celebrated the 10th anniversary of his first Funny Car championship with a third career title on Sunday at Pomona.

The Funny Car final round Sunday between virtual season-long points leader Robert Hight and Jack Beckman at the NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., ended in a split decision.

Hight’s Auto Club Chevy Camaro quit on him during the burnout, leaving Beckman to win the last race of 2019 on a 3.920-second, 323.27-mph solo pass on the Auto Club Raceway 1,000-foot course.

Hight didn’t care. He had all but clinched his third Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship just by making it to the final with a win over Matt Hagan in the semifinals. All he had to do was keep his car off the center line and not hit anything. Hight won the championship by eight points.

“I did not shut the car off, because that’s actually dangerous, leaving the car out there,” Hight said. “I wanted to do a big burnout for the fans. It’s something you dream about. It’s something we don’t get to do anymore because these cars are so finicky. I told Jimmy (crew chief Prock) I wanted to do a big ol’ burnout, and I was trying to do it fast so I didn’t hold Beckman up. I’m backing up and it dies. I have no idea what happened. Kind of a crazy deal.”

After he celebrated with the fans, Hight revealed that “it ran out of fuel. But it was cool – the fans went nuts. Just wish we could have made the run and prove to the crew chiefs that long burnouts don’t hurt anything.”

Hight said, “I’ve always dreamed in the Countdown era of winning a championship from start to finish, being good all year. I’ve had spurts in the past where you’re good in the beginning and you fail at the end or vice versa. We’ve been good all year long,” he said. “All but one race we led the points. That’s a tribute to the guys behind me. I’m going to cherish this championship the most. We earned it.”

He said, “You try to trick you mind that this is just another round, but it isn’t.”

None of his rounds Sunday was routine. The No. 5 qualifier started race day against boss, 16-time champion, and 151-time race winner John Force. Hight said, “John Force has had the best car since Seattle. He was still in this thing. He wanted to win the championship. You never know when these opportunities will come again.”

His second-round victory came over Shawn Langdon, who is known as a great “leaver,” one who launches well, so he said he was grateful. But the key victory was in the semifinals against resurgent Matt Hagan, who won the previous two races (at Dallas and Las Vegas) and was top qualifier here at Pomona. Hight said, “My heart was beating out of my chest when we were staging the car.”

He said “it would’ve been a shame” to waste a dominant season.

“But you know what’s amazing?” Hight said. “Now that you win more than two championships, that puts you in a real elite group. And it’s hard to believe that Robert Hight’s name is with that group. There are some pretty big names: John Force, Raymond Beadle, Kenny Bernstein.”

In the classic John Force Racing vs. Don Schumacher Racing showdown and a rematch of the Funny Car final at this venue in February at the season-opening Winternationals, DSR came out on top. But Hight took home the big prize.

Hight, who previously won Funny Car titles in 2009 and 2017, said with the competition level in Funny Car today, it’s highly unlikely that any driver is going to reel off a long string of victories. “It’s just not going to happen,” he said, although he compiled a career-best seven victories and a 50-18 eliminations record.

For Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car champion, the victory was his second of the year and second of the Countdown.

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