Courtesy: Elon Werner

The similarities are almost scary between Robert Hight’s 2011 and John Force’s 2010 respective positions heading into Halloween weekend and the 11th annual NHRA Big O Tires Nationals.

Both drivers won the season opening Winternationals and followed it up with a win at the Las Vegas spring race. Force outdueled Bob Bode, Ashley Force Hood, Jack Beckman and Ron Capps (on a hole-shot) to start the season in 2010. In Vegas a few weeks later Force took out Hight, Matt Hagan, Force Hood and Tony Pedregon.

This year Hight opened the season at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona beating Bob Tasca III, John Force, Ron Capps and Matt Hagan (on a hole-shot). Two races later Hight was standing in the Las Vegas winner’s circle after besting Jim Head, Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon and Johnny Gray.

The second similarity between Force and Hight focused on how Force wrapped up his championship season in 2010 winning the final two races of the season starting with the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Hight is hoping to do the same this weekend. Heading into the Vegas race last season Force was 64 points behind points leader Matt Hagan and this season Hight is 58 points behind points leader Jack Beckman.

Finally, both drivers had a major stumble in the third race before the end of the season. Force had a broken part in the clutch pedal assembly that prevented his Castrol GTX HIGHT MILEAGE Ford Mustang from shifting into reverse against Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round. Two weeks ago Hight suffered his first career red-light behind the wheel of his Auto Club Ford Mustang in the second round against eventual winner Jack Beckman to end Hight’s chance of making a move up the points.

This weekend Hight is putting all these issues and similarities behind him as he focuses on getting his sixth win of the 2011 season. For Hight a sixth win would put him in a very select group of drivers who have won six times in a season. Hight would join Force, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon and Bruce Larson as the only drivers to achieve this goal. Hight’s teammate Mike Neff is also in line to pick up six wins as he also sits at five wins in 2011.

“We have had a strong season but we need to finish strong these last two races. No one over here at the Auto Club team is hanging their head. We have as much of a chance to win this championship as any of the other drivers in front of us. We won a tough race in Reading and had a set-back in Phoenix. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) has given me a really good Funny Car in Vegas,” said Hight the 2009 Funny Car champion.

“I am excited to be getting back to the track. I am looking forward to qualifying and then race day. John Force Racing is going to be right in the thick of this championship battle. Mike Neff has a Mustang that can win the championship and I think I also have a Funny Car that can win the championship. We are all going to battle down the stretch.”

In 2009 Hight all but wrapped up his first championship with a win at the Big O Tires Nationals defeating Jack Beckman in the final and heading into the final race of the season with a basically insurmountable 105 points lead.

“I remember 2009 and getting that win. That was a great feeling and I am hoping to get another win here. I won’t leave here with a huge lead but getting a win and then going into Pomona with momentum will be huge for this championship. John had momentum last year going into Pomona. I want to have momentum,” said Hight.

Wins – 8, three by John Force for Castrol GTX (fall, 2002 and 2010, and spring, 2010); two by Robert Hight for the Automobile Club of Southern California (fall, 2009, and spring, 2007); two by Tony Pedregon for Castrol SYNTEC (spring and fall of 2003); one by Gary Densham for the Auto Club (spring, 2002).

Last year – After qualifying second, John Force beat points leader Matt Hagan in the final round to win his fifth race of the season and give himself a chance to win a record 15th championship. Robert Hight’s nightmare of a Countdown continued when he failed to qualify his Auto Club Ford.

Last spring – After qualifying third, Robert Hight beat Jim Head, Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon and Johnny Gray to win the Nationals for the second time at the wheel of the Auto Club Ford Mustang.

Notable #1 – Robert Hight’s 2007 victory in the Nationals was particularly emotional insomuch as it was the first event in which John Force Racing drivers participated after teammate Eric Medlen lost his life in a testing accident in Florida. Hight and Medlen had worked together as crewmen on Force’s championship-winning Funny Cars in the 1990s.

Notable #2 – En route to his 15th series championship last season, John Force won both races contested at Pomona, Calif., and both events contested at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Robert Hight is hoping this year to achieve the same sweep with the same result.

Notable #3 – When John Force failed to qualify for the Nationals on April 14, 2007, it ended at 395 his record-setting streak of consecutive starts on the NHRA circuit that dated to the start of the 1988 season.

Notable #4 – Tony Pedregon’s sweep of the two Vegas races in 2003 powered him a series championship, the first JFR title not won by John Force. The year before, Force’s victory over Pedregon in the final round of the fall race secured a 10th consecutive title for the sport’s biggest winner.