NHRA racer Robert Hight sets speed mark with 339-mph run

Updated August 3, 2017 - 5:17 pm

In baseball, you know it when it leaves the bat.

In auto racing, one must wait for the track announcer for confirmation.

During Tuesday’s Rangers-Mariners game, Joey Gallo of Las Vegas hit a baseball so far that some of his Texas teammates jumped over the dugout railing to get a closer look. Statcast said it traveled 456 feet. (Statcast might have shortchanged Gallo.) It was the longest home run of the season. The crowd was roaring long before the ball soared beyond the grassy knoll in the deepest recesses of center field.

It was different when Robert Hight set the all-time fastest speed in NHRA drag racing history — 339.87 mph — during Funny Car qualifying at the Sonoma Nationals in California last weekend. His speed was the first to top 339 mph in any professional NHRA category.

Yes, it looked fast. But any Funny Car or Top Fuel race in which the winning car keeps the candles lit, as John Force used to say on TV, looks fast.

“How about 3.807 (seconds) — 339 miles an hour!” track announcer Alan Reinhart exclaimed as Hight’s car, painted in the colors of the California Highway Patrol, flashed across the line. “Hey Sonoma Raceway! Ain’t nobody ever seen a run like that!”

Only then did the crowd roar.

Nathan Hirschi of Las Vegas, Reinhart’s sidekick in the booth, was standing at the top end of the track when Hight deployed the parachute. Hirschi could tell from the cartoon-ish Roadrunner speed swirls coming from Hight’s car that it was a fast run — a real fast fun.

“But you had to wait for the scoreboard to light up. It was obviously pretty spectacular,” Hirschi said, adding that if conditions are right, it’s possible Las Vegas drag racing fans could see 340 mph when the NHRA returns to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in late October.

A lot of drag racing people were raving about Hight’s 339.87-mph run in his trimmed out police cruiser. But the last word, as always, went to Hight’s father-in-law, car owner and racing rival John Force.

“They said, ‘You almost got Robert’s record,’ ” Force said after topping 337 mph for the first time in his illustrious career. “I said ‘You never want to outrun the Highway Patrol.’ ”

Green, white, checkered

— Noah Gragson’s streak of top 10 NASCAR Truck Series finishes has ended at seven as the Las Vegas teenager crashed out of last week’s run at Pocono Raceway after being tapped from behind. It was a long day for the 19-year-old after he slid his Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota through his pit box on his first stop, going a lap down. “It’s kind of a bummer we ended our streak of top-10 finishes,” the youngster said. “We just need to win races from here on out and be perfect.”

— After following up on his June victory at Pocono with a runner-up finish last weekend, another Las Vegas teenager is eager for a new challenge in the ARCA series. “It’s famous, fast, old and rough,” 18-year-old Riley Herbst said in anticipation of running the half-mile oval at tradition-steeped Winchester Speedway in Indiana on Sunday, where he’ll try to improve on his third-place position in season points.

— Kevin Harvick on teammate Kurt Busch’s uncertain status with Stewart-Haas Racing: “Kurt Busch can drive the heck out of a racecar … I have a hard time buying into that they are just going to boot him out the door.” Harvick called the Las Vegas driver’s situation one of those racin’ (business) deals, and that race fans should not read too much into SHR not exercising Busch’s contract option. “It’s one of those situations where you get to the end of a contract, and you have to negotiate moving forward,” Harvick told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

— The 2017 installment of SNORE’s KC HiLites Midnight Special is this weekend in Jean. This is how veteran off-road racing enthusiast Mike Henle describes the event: “Around 80 competitors will start at dusk, weave their way through the desert for several hours and finally arrive at the start-finish line as the midnight hour quickly approaches … and then those same drivers and their crews must pack up their gear, load up their off-road machinery and find a place to sleep.” Hopefully, somebody will leave a light on for them.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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