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NHRA: Hight soaks up first Daytona trip, primed for Phoenix

Auto Club 400

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 22: Clint Bowyer (second left), driver of the #15 PEAK BluDEF Toyota, poses for a photo with NHRA drivers John Force (L), Courteny Force (second right), and Robert Hight (R) before the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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Often times it’s John, Courtney or Brittany Force that’s making the rounds as NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and/or John Force Racing ambassador at other racing events.

This past weekend, it was JFR President and a Funny Car ace and 2009 class champion in his own right, Robert Hight.

Hight spent the weekend at Daytona International Speedway in an ambassador role for Chevrolet, JFR and the NHRA as NASCAR kicked off its respective Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series seasons in an off-week for NHRA after the Winternationals at Pomona and next week’s second race outside Phoenix at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

The trip was Hight’s first to Daytona and although he later admitted on social media he’s “not a good spectator,” he said he still thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“I’ve never been here. But you’re right, it’s like going to a state-of-the-art baseball stadium,” Hight told NBC Sports from Daytona this weekend.

“The escalators, the merchandising, the stands, displays and everything else. It’s unbelievable. It’s the way a stadium should be. I’ve got to take a lot of stuff in. (Saturday) during practice, I got to do some on-air stuff from FOX, and promote the next race in Phoenix. These people truly get into this race.”

Hight was coming into Daytona off a high from Pomona, where JFR started its 2016 season with some solid speed across the board both in Funny Car and Top Fuel.

Hight qualified third and could well have made the finals before a blower belt issue sidelined him in the semifinals. Ron Capps edged him, and then proceeded to edge Del Worsham in the finals.

“It was tons better than last year. We were all competitive,” Hight explained. “We all qualified in the top half of the field.

“Race day, I had the quickest car first and second round. I had issues with the blower belt against Capps. The belt was starting to shred. It came off before the finish line. I believe I could’ve won it, but we found the problem.

“We’re running right with the top cars. We were 3-4 hundredths behind (prior to this year).

The step in performance comes with better cohesion and understanding of the product compared to 12 months ago.

It seems hard to fathom John Force Racing as anything but a powerhouse, but with the team needing to get its commercial house of cards in order prior to 2015 and with a major switch from Ford to Chevrolet, there was more upheaval going into a season than at any point in years.

Hight explained how impressed he was with the first race turnaround.

“That was our focus all winter; we had to not leave anything on the table,” Hight said.

“Racing has changed in the last two years. It used to be you could play it safe, and get the win light. You push, and put it right on the edge. But you saw the final with Capps and Del. They’re separated by less than a thousandth at 320 mph.

“For us, we’re 100 percent better. This time last year, we were just worried about putting the organization back together. We’ve got the funding.

“It takes time to work with a new manufacturer. We’d been with the other one for a lot of years. The right hand knew what left hand was doing. Now, we know what Chevrolet wants. We’re working with their engineers.

“It’s a lot of fun being with those guys. They’re so excited about NHRA drag racing. In about two months, we should have a new Camaro body coming. It’s gonna be cool, and help us competitively.”

Hight caught FOX’s first weekend of broadcasts and said NHRA had assembled a good crew, and offered positive feedback.

Heading into Phoenix this weekend, he’s keen to lay down a time close to or exceeding what was a career-best pass in testing.

“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I did a 3.88, a career best, when we were testing there a few weeks ago. There’s no reason to think we can’t do it again, especially coming off how we did at Pomona. You could see one of us from JFR in Victory Lane.”

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