Hight has cool day while hot on Phoenix track

Robert Hight drives his John Frce Racing-owned Auto Club Ford Mustang to victory Sunday in the NHRA's Arizona Nationals at Forebird Raceway in Chandler, Ariz. He beat teammate Mike Neff in the final round. (Photo By Ron Lewis)

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- OK -- Which is better?

Is it cooler to win the National Hot Rod Association's Arizona Nationals and beat your John Force Racing colleague Mike Neff in the final round?

Or is it cooler to unbuckle yourself, climb from your Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, receive a Wally statue -- your 24th from 38 final-round appearances -- and look over and see baseball legend Randy Johnson, the five-time Cy Young Award winner, snapping your picture from all angles?

Both happened Sunday to Funny Car racer Robert Hight at Firebird International Raceway, just south of Phoenix.

Hight won this 37th all-JFR final on day that saw teammates take the spotlight.

He shared the winners circle with Top Fuel's Antron Brown, who beat his own Don Schumacher Racing mate Tony Schumacher, and Pro Stock's Jason Line, who defeated his KB/Summit Pontiac teammate and the previous weekend's Winternationals winner, Greg Anderson.

The Anaheim Hills driver said, "I have been to the final here a couple times but I never got the job done. This is big. I'll be honest with you -- we did not have a chance if Mike Neff was running like he was running all day. I am not sure what kind of a problem he had on that last run," Hight said.

He used a 4.139-second elapsed time at 307.02 mph on the 1,000-foot course to edge Neff's 4.168 / 309.91 in the Castrol GTX Mustang. But, he said, "I would not have bet on a 4.13 beating Neff in the final."

Just as it was at last week's Winternationals, the final round featured two John Force Racing drivers. The common denominator was Mike Neff, who was runner-up to Force at Pomona.

Said Hight, "It is pretty exciting -- two weekends in a row, having all John Force Racing Fords in the final. You have to cherish that, because you know that is not going to keep happening. It is so tough to do."

But he couldn't help being a bit awestruck -- like fans are with him sometimes -- when he saw Johnson behind the lens at the top end.

"He was there when I got out of the car. He was lying on the ground this morning in the pits with John's car, taking photos of it," Hight, an avid baseball fan, said of Johnson, who majored in photojournalism at USC.

"It's just cool to see a guy with that much success and so great at what he does out here and loving drag racing," Hight said. "He's a big fan of what we do, just like we're a big fan of what he does."

Neff, who tunes his own car, was more than a little irritated with his results in the final round.

At first it didn't matter that he took over the Funny Car points lead. Hight is second, 42 points behind him, as the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series heads to Gainesville, Fla., for the March 8-11 Tire Kingdom Gatornationals.

Neff threw his driving gloves on the ground and vented before realizing that "anytime you go to the final it's a good day, especially to be leaving here with the points lead.

"Still," he said, "I'm frustrated with letting one slip away last week, and then I feel like I let this one slip away here, too."

Sunday marked the first time that another JFR driver besides the team owner himself had won at Phoenix. Force had won here eight times.

Neff and Hight both had been runners-up at Phoenix, but neither had won at the fixture on the circuit.

Hight evened the score with Neff in final-round meetings. Neff won the only previous one, at Topeka last year. Each has won six of their 12 meetings, including a split of their two meetings here.

This is just the third time that JFR drivers have opposed one another in consecutive final rounds. The last time that happened was 2001, when Tony Pedregon beat John Force May 20 at Englishtown, N.J., and May 27 at Topeka.

The only other consecutive all-JFR finals was 1996, and again it was Force versus Pedregon. Force won both times, Aug. 4 at Seattle and Aug. 18 at Brainerd, Minn. This is the first ever all-JFR final at Phoenix.

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