The second NHRA Countdown to the Championship race outside St Louis at Gateway Motorsports Park two weeks ago boasted a compelling and fiery finish. Funny Car victor and reigning class champion Robert Hight suffered a massive engine explosion as he neared the finish line in his John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro, racing for the win against veteran Tim Wilkerson.
The catastrophic failure sent Hight’s Camaro body to measurable heights and threw the chassis into the guard wall at race speeds. Hight exited the open cockpit with minimal help from NHRA’s superb Safety Safari and was transported to a local hospital for evaluation. Checked and released, Hight returned to the track to celebrate in the pit area with his JFR crew, led by Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham.
“I am bummed we didn’t get to do a winner’s circle,” Hight said at the time. “My guys did a great job working on my race car all weekend and we had a really quick car.” He amassed bonus points and won the race, earning the top spot among the 10 combatants in Funny Car who are all vying for the year-end award. “With the points lead now, our focus is to protect and grow that lead,” he said.
Apparently, the accident at Gateway was more detrimental to Robert Hight’s health than originally thought. He underwent surgery three days after the event, Sept. 26, for a left clavicle open reduction and internal fixation, a procedure used to repair a broken collarbone.
With a week to heal, Hight was seen Oct. 4 by George Hatch of Keck Medical Center at USC’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery. After examination of Hight’s left shoulder and clavicle, the driver was released to unrestricted activity, cleared to compete in all racing activities this weekend and beyond.
Robert Hight and his team took their first lap of the track at Texas Motorplex, as qualifying for this weekend’s NHRA Fall Nationals began on Friday afternoon. While not the greatest pass down the 1,000-foot dragstrip, Hight’s 4.611-sec run at 183.02 mph (.105 RT) occurred without further drama. His second qualifying run was definitely better at 4.013/318.99 (.071 RT). Both runs were against J.R. Todd, whose qualifying runs were demonstrably quicker than Hight’s. It’s likely Prock and Cunningham wanted to make sure Hight was comfortable on his return to competition.